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An old friend returns in Madden NFL 20’s new story mode

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And it’s not Mike Scmyzniak or Tredarious Johnson

Madden NFL 20’s new story/career mode is Face of the Franchise: QB1, replacing Longshot after two chapters. But it brings back the best character, and doesn’t make fans wait long to greet him, either.

Coach Jack Ford! And he’s voiced by Rus Blackwell, whose performance gave the character some emotional depth in 2017’s Madden NFL 18, where he reluctantly mentors Devin Wade through a reality show competition neither of them really trust.

Ford is just as connected to the created player in Face of the Franchise, too. Here he is, before the first game with your created player, going over a change in plans that has agitated the star wide receiver.

Longshot’s first chapter was borderline avant garde for a product and a sport known as iterative and conservative, respectively. In terms of gameplay, it was mostly an elaborate on-boarding for the main game. But Longshot’s story, written by longtime Madden developer Mike Young, was an exceptional piece of needle-threading. It remained upbeat yet realistically cognizant of how hard it is to actually make the NFL, especially for players who wash out in an emotional tailspin in college. The “director’s cut” ending, if you got it, was the best thing in sports video gaming for 2017.

Here’s Ford/Blackwell in the first Longshot’s best scene. It takes solid scripting to do this, but it also requires great acting to make something so expository sound believable.

So, hearing Blackwell’s voice on the bus in Face of the Franchise, I had the same reaction as I did when Clementine meets up with Kenny in the ski lodge in The Walking Dead: Season Two. It was like being reunited with someone who’d shared something difficult and profound.

Unfortunately, not every Madden fan felt as strongly about the first Longshot’s virtues. The fact the mode never plays a down in the NFL was a drawback for some, who were expecting a narrative more tied to the league, with more open-ended gameplay to boot. Last year’s followup chapter, Homecoming, lacked a lot of that personality as it moved into safer territory with its story and challenges. It also didn’t have Jack Ford, but Colt Cruise’s character arc was an appealing substitute, at least.

Anyway, Jack Ford found a solid second act as a coordinator with the Oklahoma Sooners — or whomever you choose for your quarterback at the beginning of Face of the Franchise. So, two years later, Longshot delivers another happy ending.