The Best Thing In Texas: ‘Madden NFL 18: Longshot’

The most interesting sports video game in years tugs on some specific Texas heartstrings.

Texas, like all places, is the site of both triumphs and tragedies. Every Friday in the Best Thing in Texas, we look for something that reminds us why we love our state so much. 

WHAT: Madden NFL 18: Longshot.

WHO: Scott Porter, Mahershala Ali, and J.R. Lemon.

WHY IT’S SO GREAT: Sports video games are usually just simulations. And that’s fine, because that’s what we want from them—the chance to play a game that makes us feel like we’re, like, playing the game. (It’s the Madden NFL franchise’s tag line—”If it’s in the game, it’s in the game”!) But it also means that each year’s version of Madden is kind of just a roster update (here’s Deshaun Watson, Texans fans). With Longshot, though, the franchise added an entirely new way to play a football game—and it is steeped in Texas.

Longshot (which is built in to the rest of Madden 18) is a football-based storytelling game. You play as Devin Wade (voiced by actor and former NFL player J.R. Lemon), a former University of Texas quarterback who washed out of the NCAA after a disappointing season with the Longhorns. Wade’s gone back to his hometown of Mathis, where he and his favorite wide receiver, Colt Cruise (voiced by Friday Night Lights‘ Scott Porter) decide to try make their way into the NFL through the regional combine process. Wade gets approached by a reality TV producer, and the game tracks your progress—playing as Wade—as you work through the regional combine, the Super Regional, and the rest of the process in an attempt to do what very few have done and land on an NFL roster (preferably the Cowboys, although Wade would settle for the Texans.)

The game cuts between playing as Wade, as he hits receivers and shows off his knowledge of the route tree, and flashbacks to his days in Texas—both at UT and at home, with his dad, who instilled in the young man a love of the game. Madden tapped a heavy talent for the role of the dad, too, by hiring Academy Award-winner Mahershala Ali to play Cutter Wade, a high school coach with a heart of gold and a cherished Houston Oilers jacket. That’s one of many touches that makes Longshot feel like a playable movie about Texas football. It’s both a fascinating gameplay experience and genuinely moving way to relate—and with the NFL season finally underway, it’s a fun way to remind yourself of the stories behind the action.