9 things you have to know about Madden 18’s ‘Longshot’ story mode – direct from its creator

Just as GamesRadar+ predicted in May, Madden 18 is getting its own story mode. It’s called Longshot, and has been in the making for four years – but a total secret outside of developer EA Tiburon until this weekend. Ahead of the mode finally being announced at E3, I got to scrimmage with its creative director, Mike Young. Here is every critical detail on Longshot, in the words of the man who conceived it in the first place…

1. It's like FIFA's The Journey, but even more cinematic

“Yes, we are going to have a story mode, and it’s called Longshot. In some ways it’s similar to FIFA’s The Journey – the main one being that you play as an IP character, Devin Wade, rather than in a create-yourself storyline. It’s like a campaign mode for sports: very cinematic. Our motto for four years has been, ‘it’s a movie you can play.’

This is an origins story that takes place between the NFL Combine and NFL Draft, across a three-month window. It’s a redemption story, with a guy who’d given up on an NFL career giving it one last shot.”

2. You never play in an actual NFL game

“We really do feel like you’re playing a true campaign mode. It feels like one seamless cinematic movie experience, that you are controlling through choices and how you play on the field. There’s not a single NFL game. You experience high school football, you see Devin at different stages of his life including Pop Warner [youth football], some college football, and other surprising twists.

Devin Wade, our protagonist, was at one point one of the best high school quarterbacks in Texas, and went on to play Division I college football, but along the way he quit. Now he’s back with his best friend: an all-heart, under-talented wide receiver, called Colt Cruise. They’ve always been a great duo. It’s two guys trying to beat the odds. Definitely a buddy film.”

3. Influences include Telltale adventures and Uncharted

 “Longshot has multiple endings, and choices have big impacts. There are traditional Madden mini-games, but many ways to play this. We’ve introduced 7-on-7 padless football. There’s an interactive NFL combine where you throw a route tree and take pocket movement drills, and branching dialogue, more in the style of a Telltale game than what you’ve seen in other sports game career modes.

We have unique new ways to throw the ball, and even Uncharted-type moments – quick-time-events for some of the more cinematic action moments. And because Devin is going from college washout to potential NFL quarterback, he’s doing a lot of work. Devin is in classrooms, and on the practice field, learning the sport in a really cool narrative way.

There’s a popular show over here called Gruden's Camp, where Jon Gruden coaches draft prospects, and this works similarly: putting you on the hotseat of calling a play in the huddle, or identifying defensive coverages. Our hardcore really loves the challenge, and for those who don’t know the sport I think we do a good job of coaching you up. Our hope is that you end the mode knowing quite a bit about the sport and its terminology. It’s about the emotional journey. You don’t earn the chance to call plays until the final game.”

4. 7-on-7 padless football sounds amazing

“It’s a major accomplishment to have padless football in the mode. There’s no pass rush, there’s four seconds to deliver a pass before a play is whistled dead. It has its own playbooks because there are no linemen, other than the Center snapping the ball. There’s no tackling! It’s more of a wrap-up-style ruleset. 

We looked at the authentic Texas 7-on-7 leagues, and did a lot of special stuff to make it happen. [Whether it could make its way into the main game someday] depends on the reaction to it.”

5. You'll earn cool rewards for Ultimate Team, like a playable Dan Marino

“Along the way you’re getting feedback via a dynamic scouting report. Your draft grade is constantly being evaluated. And we have a really cool plan for Ultimate Team where you don’t have to finish Longshot to unlock rewards. There’s a sticker album with coaches, stadiums, and jerseys unique to our mode. You’ll unlock some of our fictional characters such as Devin and Colt, and some of the celebrities in the storyline too. People like Dan Marino.

Marino is a major character. You spend a lot of time with him as a big brother mentor. We have a lot of cool cameos, actually. You pay alongside Chad Ochocinco, who in the mode is trying to make a comeback. Josh Norman chimes in on social media and appears too.”

6. It's home to a wide-ranging character list

“We have 45 characters. All ages, genders, races. Kids, women, old men, cowboys boots… stuff you’d never have seen in Madden pre-Frostbite. We have 45 different sets. Past sports games felt restricted to three or four environments: locker room, tunnel, field, coaches office. This moves beyond that. We couldn’t just have scenes with two people talking; we had to have people in the background doing their jobs, movie-quality blocking, characters that might take a month to make despite being in only one scene. No being cheap, no cutting corners. We’ve got up to 11 cameras in these scenes, and I think people will be shocked by the acting quality and cinematography.”

7. The cast includes a 2016 Oscar winner

“Devin’s father is played by Mahershala Ali, who just won an Academy Award for Moonllight. To me, this story mode having that gravity, and level of actor in it, is mind-blowing. I started planning this four years ago, and when you write you mentally cast people and shoot for the stars. As it happened Mahershala grew up playing Madden with his cousin, and [the series] meant something to him. He agreed to do it and was unbelievable. His character, Cutter Wade, is a central part of our storyline.”

8. Other cast members are no less impressive

“The first person I pitched this to was Scott Porter from Friday Night Lights. He played Jason Street, the paralysed quarterback. I pitched him on this wide-receiver, best-friend role, we had some great talks, and he committed. That gave Longshot some early wings. Once you have an actor of his calibre attached to it, it starts to feel more real. Scott is so versatile in this. He does some singing, humour, emotional scenes – he’s just fantastic. 

JR Lemon plays Devon Wade. In real life he played Division 1 football, and was the star running back at Stanford. To the point where Oakland signed him as a free agent and he spent one training camp with the Raiders. His locker was right next to Randy Moss. He got cut and pursued acting, and we met him when he was doing some stunt work on Madden gameplay. I needed to film an internal teaser for this type of story, and he’d just landed in a role in the The Night Shift on NBC, so we tried him out on one scene. Since that moment he’s been Devin Wade and I’ve been able to write for him – particularly with the stuff he’s shared regarding his final days in football. That’s added a level of gravity to the whole story.”

9. The door is open for a Madden 19 sequel

“[For it to continue in future years] we have to have success, and the fans have to say they want it. Imagine this is the pilot. If the fans love it, I would love nothing more than to continue these characters. That being said, it was written in a way that this feels like a complete journey, like how Rocky 1 could have been a one-and-done movie. But I do believe Devin and Colt have more stories in them, and I’ve been working on that just in case. You never know.”

Madden 18 is out on 25 August. For further reading, be sure to check out the 11 key changes Madden 18 needs to make according to fans.

Ben Wilson

I'm GamesRadar's sports editor, and obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB, AEW, and occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym – such as Chvrches, Bill Bryson, and Streets Of Rage 4. (All the Streets Of Rage games, actually.) Even after three decades I still have a soft spot for Euro Boss on the Amstrad CPC 464+.