For the second year in a row, I’ve jumped into a new Madden NFL game more excitedly than ever. Not for the new gameplay mechanics, updated roster, or even-more-lifelike graphics, but to see where the stories of my old pals Devin and Colt were headed.
Madden NFL 19 ($60; PS4, Xbox One, PC) features a sequel to the surprisingly touching Longshot story mode from last year’s installment, which followed high school football stars Devin Wade and Colt Cruise on their last-ditch attempt to make it to the NFL by way of a reality show. While its sequel, Longshot: Homecoming, isn't quite as ambitious or focused, it also cuts out much of the bloat from last year’s game to deliver a fun football story with a bigger emphasis on the actual “football” side of things.
Longshot: Homecoming picks up where the previous game left off, with Devin (J.R. Lemon) and Colt (Scott Porter) adjusting to life after the NFL Draft. Devin fights for a job as a fourth-string quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, while Colt is back home in Mathis, Texas, caught between his NFL aspirations and a changing hometown that suddenly needs him more than ever.
By splitting Devin and Colt, Homecoming feels bigger in scope than last year's story, but also more disjointed. This is really Colt's story -- the cocky former star receiver has a tremendously satisfying and emotional character arc, whereas Devin's more rote NFL adventures feel like an afterthought. I can't blame EA for focusing on Colt -- Porter is funny, charming and all-around excellent -- but I wish I cared just as much about what was going on with Devin.
Last year's Longshot mode played out like a Telltale Games-style adventure title, with quick-time events and interactive dialogue sequences that let you influence the outcome of the story. Homecoming is much more streamlined by comparison, as almost all of its gameplay segments consist of actual slices of NFL or high school football games. Those hoping for a more interactive adventure might be disappointed, but I personally didn't miss the tedious mini-games from last year's story, and enjoyed being able to kick back during cutscenes.
Fortunately, Homecoming retains Longshot's smart, inviting approach to Madden's notoriously daunting gameplay. You'll usually only have to focus on one aspect of the game at a time (such as passing or catching), and the mode does a nice job easing you in to core Madden features such as advanced passes or on-the-fly audibles.
While I'm admittedly not the best Madden player, I felt genuinely challenged by some of the game's later segments, which forced me to read the field and make smart decisions. However, while I appreciated the amount of actual football gameplay in Homecoming, it often came at the expense of the game's pacing. The final third of my roughly five-hour playthrough was a gauntlet of long, frustratingly difficult game scenarios, which I found myself slogging through just to move the story forward.
Madden's story mode once again features a stable of notable actors, including Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us) as Devin's stern quarterback coach and Rob Schneider (yes, Rob Schneider) as a quirky, caffeinated general manager. There's a prominent deaf character, which I found to be a nice bit of inclusiveness.
While the acting isn't exactly Oscar-worthy, there are plenty of funny moments, and others that had me genuinely choked up. The game's character models are incredibly lifelike, though I noticed a good chunk of framerate drops and goofy glitches that would temporarily take me out of the moment.
Despite some frustrations, I ended my Sunday evening with Longshot: Homecoming with a big smile on my face, and sincerely hope that story continues to be a central component of Madden games going forward. It's a fresh, compelling way to experience one of gaming's oldest franchises, and I would love for EA to release Longshot as a cheap, standalone game just so non-Madden fans can experience it.
If you're only interested in the Longshot portion of Madden NFL 19, I'd recommend renting the game or waiting for a steep sale. But if you've already picked up EA's annual pigskin offering, don't overlook one of the best parts of it.