Over the past few years Firaxis has managed to do the unthinkable. First they rebooted a beloved strategy series with a deep cult following and managed to make it great. I mean against all odds they were able to breathe fresh life into X-COM (now just XCOM) and turn it into something that was easy to play on a console. And it was good. Really, really good. So good in fact that there's maybe an argument to be made that if we put nostalgia aside, these new games may very well be better than the original X-COM series. As much as I loved Terror From The Deep as a kid, I'd personally rather play the new games now than go back to the old.
But this isn't the unthinkable thing that I'm talking about that Firaxis did. I'm talking about the fact that they've now made two full games and two full expansions in this new series - and while the first game, 2012's Enemy Unknown was excellent - they've somehow managed to make each new entry even better than the last. While Enemy Unknown came out feeling fresh and confident and well... perfect at the time, it now feels quaint to my memory having spent many hours with each subsequent release.
XCOM's first major expansion was Enemy Within which added things like mech-suits and telepathic abilities for soldiers. The "Within" part of the title sort of alludes to the fact that you get to mess around with the alien tech in this one. Enemy Within wasn't just a fresh coat of paint, it was some drastically new colors. But the core of XCOM remained the same.
When XCOM 2 finally hit in 2016 it was a really big deal for me. It was easily one of my most anticipated games in a very long time. And it managed to do everything better than the first game(s). Well, everything other than loading screens. And once again I felt like the game had been perfected. How could they possibly improve upon this?
But War Of The Chosen is incredible. I can tell you this with total confidence given that a horrible crash actually deleted my Ironman save file thirteen hours into the campaign and y'know what I did? I just started right back over again. Losing thirteen hours of progress would have probably killed my interest in any other game, but in War Of The Chosen... eh, whatever.
Perhaps the biggest addition to this iteration are the titular Chosen. These are three aliens who will spend their time hunting you on the map. They can randomly appear (one at a time) in various missions and totally ruin your day. Each one has specific powers and downfalls. It's totally interesting stuff. Anyway, as part of the new campaign you'll want to turn the tables and hunt each down yourself, thus saving you a much bigger blowout later in the game.
I will say that once I had killed the three Chosen the game started to feel slightly less novel as a lot of the later mandatory missions basically made me feel like I was playing through the vanilla XCOM 2 again. But I'm probably just nitpicking since there's so much new content here. For instance there's The Lost which is a swarm of alien zombie things. There's also new classes to align with for your own troops. Oh and there are soldier bonds that add even more depth to leveling up your team. Basically anything you can think of from base facilities to weapons to enemies and so on - everything has gotten a fairly major upgrade here.
So yeah, this is now the fourth time that I'm citing an XCOM game as the new perfect example of such a thing. I look forward to calling XCOM 3 a perfect game.
Madden NFL 17 was the first Madden I had played since 08. So you'd think I wouldn't really need a new Madden game already, right? Well there were a lot of selling points for 18. The most superficial was that they put Brady on the cover. I'm a Pats fan. It's tough for me to not buy a Madden game that has a Patriots player on the cover. But there was more than just that, like the fact that Madden 18 would be the first game in the series to actually feature a single player story mode. And then there's the fact that the game would utilize the new Frostbite engine meaning it was the first game in the series to actually be properly "next gen."
The first thing I did once Madden 18 was finished installing was to fire up this new story mode. Entitled "Long Shot," this could easily be called Football: The Telltale Series. That should just about tell you whether or not you'll care for it. Y'know it's mostly a choose-your-own-adventure game with some quick time events and mini-games thrown in for good measure. I liked it a lot actually. For the most part it felt better written than I had anticipated. Long Shot tells the story of a draft hopeful, Devon Wade. But what makes it a pleasant surprise is that it isn't just a simple rise from high school ball on up, but rather tells a twisting tale that touches upon death and fear and redemption. It goes to some odd places at times such as reality television and even a military base. But the story does have a lot of heart and I commend it for that. Unfortunately Long Shot is rather brief. I believe I finished it in just three hours.
But a story mode is just icing on the cake, right? Nobody's buying a Madden game for a story mode. So how does the base game play? Well... it's excellent. I mean even in comparing the game to last year's iteration - which should feel like just a continuation - Madden 18 is amazing. The new Frostbite engine really is incredible. And this kind of jump can always go two ways: either the devs aren't ready to make the transition and we get an undercooked game, or they are and we get something this great.
Everything here is exceptional. The visuals are top notch, whether we're talking about players' likenesses or single blades of grass on the field. Even the way the players move between plays is insane to watch. It goes a long way to selling realism when there's a scuffle between two players after a hard hit. And the commentary is just mind-blowing. I raved about this with last year's game as well, but it's impressive just how on-point a lot of what they say really is. They're not just talking about the current game, but also the previous game; the whole season leading up to it really.
After playing through Long Shot I started up my season proper. I'm a believer in letting things happen the way they happen. So sadly I was starting the season without Edelman. The AI here is commendable. Early on I had to be reminded that if you're careless, a ball will be intercepted. There's a tendency to start to feel cocky and treat the game too arcade-like. The AI is more than happy to remind you that this is a sim first and foremost. In my own season I watched carelessness turn to tragedy as more and more of my starting lineup went out for injury. Gronk and Amendola happened early on. Then eventually Brady. Hogan would follow, and so on. So let's just say that even making it into the playoffs as a wild card was impressive this year. But sadly I couldn't hang on to the win. And so now my season is officially over.
Madden 18 proudly wears the "if it's in the game, it's in the game" motto on its sleeve. I'm not talking about playbooks or cheerleaders here. I'm talking about the drama. An hour-long game can easily cycle through celebration and agony. There's a flow to these games: four-act plays with plots and tension and lessons to be learned. I've spent nearly thirty hours with the game and I'm still contemplating advancing the calendar and starting up my next season, because it kills me to walk away from the game without even seeing the Super Bowl.
This is also the first Madden game I've actually bothered playing online. I've convinced a friend of mine to pick it up and we've been playing some games against each other which has been great. But then there's this My Ultimate Team stuff which involves playing games online competitively and sort of drafting a unique team to do so. It's interesting and really just more playtime I can eek out of this game. All in all, it feels like money well spent.