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Madden's surprising story mode gives players their own seductive sports movie

Madden's surprising story mode gives players their own seductive sports movie
From Deadspin - September 8, 2017

Descent Into Maddeness is a mini-series that follows football neophyte William Hughes as he attempts to understand the video game institution of Madden NFL. Every other week, William will dig into a different mode from the series latest iteration, Madden NFL 18, all in an effort to appreciate this chart-topping series and maybe even the sport of football itself. This week: William takes on Longshot, Maddens first attempt at a cinematic story mode.

Sports movies are the gateway drug of real-life sports fandom, a guaranteed dose of the high-stakes drama that comes from years of pledging yourself to a team but without all the heartbreak, emotional investment, and hat purchases that real sports devotion requires. After all, its not like The Mighty Ducks are going to let you down five years running by getting knocked out of the playoffs before the post-season can even begin; no, when you ride with The Flying V, youre going to get the juicy, addictive high of watching scrappy underdogs do the things that scrappy underdogs in sports moviesbarring your Rockys, your Cool Runnings, or your Bad News Bearsalways seem to do.

So if theres one clear sign that Madden is trying to open itself up to outsiderseven literally fumbling football idiots like myselfits the inclusion of whats basically an eight-hour sports movie, front and center, in the series new edition. The franchises new story mode, Longshot, is many things: a football-focused version of the tried-and-true Telltale adventure formula, a bizarre parody of reality TV production, a vehicle for a truly terrible country-rock song, or just an opportunity to stare in horror at the sight of veteran TV actor Barry Corbin awkwardly covered in mo-cap balls. But its primary goal is to serve up a big, super-sized meal of sports feelings directly into the players mouth. And maybe this is just a reflection of my own deep-seated desires to have Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali beam paternally at me, proud that I (his handsome football son) have become not just a good football player, but also a good, complete man, but damn if it doesnt work far better than it has any real right to.

Longshot is full of problems. Its rote. Its predictable. Its hyper-masculinized, silly, and occasionally outright insulting. But, like all the best sports movies, its also nakedly open about the ways it wants to manipulate your emotions, whether that means kicking things off with a scene of our hero, Devin Wade (played as an adult by J.R. Lemon), tossing the pigskin around with his poor, doomed, Coach-Taylor-from-Friday Night Lights-knock-off dad (Ali), or having a heartfelt reconciliation with the disgraced, redemption-seeking coach who once threatened to give up on them both. (Dont worry: In the end, he does not end up giving up on them both.)

That total lack of subtlety acted as a strength, not a weakness, as I played through Devins journey from college football drop-out to reality TV star to potential NFL quarterback. Like some sort of parasite laying its eggs on, around, and in me, I could feel my nascent give as**t meter slowly start to grow despite myself with each turn of the plot, buoyed along by predictable but effective plot twists, simple but meaningful-feeling dialogue choices (Do I chastise my annoying best friend or lie and tell him that hes tolerable?) and Lemons quiet, engaging performance.

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