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New mode peels back the curtain of life as an NFL prospect

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2017/9/1 15:12:48   
Sports stars are not supposed to be human. They are viewed as something closer to gods than mortals. It is rare that the curtain is peeled back and we see the Wizard of Oz standing at the switches.

Maddens The Longshot changes that.

The brand new mode is a cleverly disguised tutorial for Madden, and there is no way to ignore that. For someone who is less than confident with the NFL, it teaches fundamental lessons about how the game - both video and real life - works.

But it also provides a well put together story and, in a genuinely surprising turn, a brilliant representation of grief and what it can do to people - even ultra-talented footballers.

Devon Wade - played by JR Lemon - is the main character of the Longshot, with the story surrounding his comeback from dropping out of his college football programme to a place in the NFL.

Amid all of that, there is a dynamic involving the death of his father, whose role was acted out by Mahershala Ali of House of Cards.

And Alis casting is an important decision. The story is really about Wade getting over his own grief at the death and the way that grief can hold a person back.

As his best friend Colt Cruise comments: First sign of trouble, you head for the hills.

That is grief. Wade was a top prospect at the University of Texas but let the grief overwhelm him without asking for help. In the rest of his life he still struggles for motivation. There is an element of doubt to everything. Why does he deserve his chance? Hasnt he already let enough people down?

Ali provides a father figure who has exactly the right touches to his character to make everyone reflect on their own relationships with family. A lesser actor would not have done it as easily as Ali does, but that is why he is such a highly coveted talent. 

By the time Wade runs through the last of his flashbacks, you feel a genuine emotional pull.

What that allows the player to do is connect to a character in a world that sometimes seems completely and utterly unknowable. Beyond a social media post or two, how does the average watcher know the impact real life has on their favourite quarterback?

This is a rare occasion when a video game not only draws you in but also allows you to reflect on the way you view the world.

Beyond that, the Longshot is entertaining. EA Sports were open in previews that there had to be an element of Disney-fication to the story. There is still an exploration of some of the more difficult themes.

One of note is mentor Jack Ford admitting the harsh way in which he treated a top-rung draft pick. The word abuse is used, which is something of a revelation in this sort of work. Fords own arc is very well realised.

Another, Cruises relationship with Wade, benefits from the setting of Mathis, Texas.

Fans of Friday Night Lights will spot an immediate link to Dillon, not least in Cruises actor, Scott Porter, who played Jason Street in the show. Cruises dynamic with Wade also draws the player in. And the tributes include a joke around the clear eyes, full hearts, cant lose slogan of the Dillon Panthers.

It makes sense that Friday Night Lights was cribbed for the Longshot, given the way in which it branches out into life surrounding football rather than being constrained by what happens on the field of play.

In fact, one of the only major criticisms of the mode comes during the on-field action. There could have been more, especially ahead of the game defining final challenges.

The small-sided action that the game provides at points is incredibly fun, bringing to mind FIFA 1998s indoor football mode.

And there is the benefit of being run through what a safety does and then being challenged to repeat it on the field, answering one of the biggest questions around football in Madden for an international audience - how do you defend?

But the difficulty ramps up suddenly in a legends match and its difficult not to come out of it feeling like a little bit of a failure.

While there is a clear benefit to ending the mode when it finishes - at the NFL Draft - it would have been good to play slightly more football around the story.

Then again, there is the full game for that and these are only minor criticisms of what is an otherwise worthwhile experience.

Its rare to find a game that makes you run through a whole series of emotions effectively, but the Longshot pulls it off.

Put it this way - after finishing it, I already felt like I wanted to continue Wades story, in the same vein as a good Netflix series. That can only bode well.

For a serious innovation, the Longshot sails through the Combine, takes a spot in the Draft and would be a worthwhile inclusion going forward in future Madden games.

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