Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: August 14, 2007
Do you remember the "target video" that EA showed of the NFL Draft on ESPN? It occurred about two years ago and immediately preceded the launch of the Xbox 360. For those of you who do (and those who don't should definitely look it up), you probably had emotions very similar to mine when you saw an extremely lifelike Michael Strahan rush an opposing QB in a snowy stadium. That moment represented the essence of football in video game form.
While that video got many of us excited, the prior two "next-gen" installments of the Madden franchise were extremely underwhelming, with sub-par gameplay and graphics that looked nothing like we were expecting — in a bad way. Thankfully, Madden NFL 08 has arrived, and this is the first Maddenholiday in a long time that everyone should be excited about.
The improvements within Madden 08 can be seen in every facet of the game. We've been waiting for a version of Madden that is actually worth $60, and we don't need to wait any longer. Madden 08 is jam-packed with all of the game modes to which we've all become accustomed after all these years.
Franchise mode is back, which is a breath of fresh air after we've played slimmed-down versions for the past two years. It has everything you would expect it to have, from your rosters and coaching, to league news and stats. Within it, you'll also see that Front Office mode has returned, which is where you keep track of your team's finances and scout players for the upcoming NFL Draft. Similar to the way you were able to scout players in NCAA Football 08 before they came out of high school, in Madden 08, you'll be able to look at various players and assess their NFL potential. Even though you obviously don't know where your draft position is going to be, it still gives you an advantage once you prepare to scout players during the NFL Combine and whatnot.
Superstar mode is also back, so you can create a player from scratch, play his little heart out and vie for a spot in the Football Hall of Fame. You're also given the option of choosing an NFL rookie or importing a player from NCAA Campus Legend. I've always felt that Superstar mode had a great deal of potential, but unfortunately, it's still running on potential this year, although EA has fixed the awful camera angle that plagued the mode last year. There is still a points system that indicates where you are on the depth chart and displays where your skills and attributes are increasing, but it still seems to be pretty shallow.
Now that some of the basics have been covered, it's only right to begin talking about the gridiron battle that occurs on the field. Madden 08 totes the best graphics ever to been seen in the franchise, and they're finally beginning to stand up to the level of what EA was trying to go for years ago. Right off the bat, You'll notice the new animations and visuals in the team introductions and even the first kickoff. Players will also enjoy the fact that your receivers can actually catch sideline passes and stay in bounds. EA incorporated new branching animations with the help of the technology that was used in the development of NBA Street Homecourt, and it makes a world of difference in gameplay and visuals.
The virtual athletes of Madden have always improved somewhat on a yearly basis, but Madden 08 visually takes the cake. The overall shape of the players has progressed greatly; they no longer look as bulky as they previously did, especially the linemen. You can actually see the difference in a lineman who weighs 300 pounds, compared to a lineman who weighs 350. It's one of the little details that gives Madden 08 a greater sense of realism.
Xbox 360 owners are fortunate enough to play at a smooth 60 frames per second, which, when combined with the newly improved visuals, make for an incredible virtual football experience. Tackles are much more intense thanks to better gang tackling and the addition of HitStick 2.0, which allows you to either hit the opposition's ball carrier high or low. You'll be cringing at some of the hard hits that you'll see within the game.
One of the only gripes I have with the game in regards to visuals and presentation are the (still) lackluster sidelines. I'm still waiting for a football game where coaches, teammates or even ball boys will run with me, or at least cheer me on while I'm running down the sideline toward the end zone. With everything that's being put into these titles to mimic the actual experience, the sidelines and crowds are vital components of the NFL essence that have thus far been neglected.
EA has been trying to figure out what to do with the audio commentaries for a few years now. This year, they included commentary from ESPN Analyst Merrill Hodge and former NFL running back Marshall Faulk, who give team analyses and make predictions before the game. Unfortunately, neither the announcers nor the commentaries make the overall presentation of the game any better. Aside from that gripe, the audio in Madden 08 is great. You can really hear the difference in the bone-crushing hits and the basic wrap-up tackles. Quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning will shout out audibles, and linebackers such as Ray Lewis will constantly taunt the offense and notify their teammates of any changes the offense is making.
The hands-down most intriguing addition to this year's Madden is the Weapons feature. The best players of the NFL are given icons that represent their best attributes on the field. For example, if you're playing as the Indianapolis Colts, Marvin Harrison will have an icon that resembles hands under him, which means he's a possession receiver. Peyton Manning, on the other hand, will have a crosshair icon under him, which means he's an accurate QB. On the defensive side, linebackers such as Brian Urlacher will have a hammer icon, which indicates a hard hitter, while Champ Bailey has a ball and chain as his icon because he is a lockdown cornerback.
The Weapons feature is more than just a way to indicate who's a threat and who isn't. While it displays the present mismatches on the field, it also gives Madden 08 a sense of strategy that has never before been seen in a football game. Every weapon has a counter-weapon that can nullify another. Quick receivers can be shut down, but lockdown cornerbacks and fast-running backs can be bulldozed by hard-hitting linebackers, and so on. The Weapons feature makes this year's Madden much more than just a "roster update."
Frustration will also set in with the high number of injuries, interceptions, and fumbles that will occur in some of your games. I'm happy that the AI on both sides of the ball plays a much smarter game, but some of the random interceptions and fumbles drain some of the fun that can really be had with this title. Those who also just launch the deep ball at all times to win games will be upset because you won't have that luxury this year, but that's honestly a good thing since the AI of the secondary has finally stepped up.
Madden 08 still contains the basic multiplayer gameplay that it's always had. Two to four players can compete on the gridiron, or you can find challengers on Xbox Live. The online mode is still very slim, as you can only compete in one-on-one games and there are still no online leagues. EA has finally jumped on the bandwagon with online leagues in NHL 08, and 2K has been doing online leagues for a while now, so let's hope that EA can work on the online aspect of next year's Madden a little more than they have.
Maddenites, you now have reason to rejoice, because Madden is officially back and better than ever with Madden NFL 08. We've actually been waiting for this game for years, ever since people started coining the term, "next-gen." Thankfully, that time has finally come. Now, who's ready to play some football?
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