It’s the Superbowl, only a few seconds left. The coach has called his last timeout, and your team is 4th and goal with along five points between loss and the coveted title. The quarterback takes the ball at the snap and looks across his offensive-line, a linebacker as burst through and is heading towards him at pace. At the last second he spots a receiver open, he tosses the ball as the linebacker flattens him. The crowd goes silent, flash bulbs from cameras supernova as the ball sails into the hands of the receiver winning the game. That feeling is what Madden ’08 is all about. Unfortunately, since EA got the exclusive NFL license for Madden ’06, that magic had been lost and we were all left wanting more in a next-gen gridiron simulation. Thankfully it looks like Tiburion have managed to recapture the awesomeness that was Madden ’05, although it isn’t exactly very progressive.
The biggest leap that has been made in Madden ’08 is visually, especially with the range and fluidity of the animations. Tiburion seems to have tapped into the 360’s power far more in this update and the majority of the canned animations have been dropped. It is especially notable during tackles; the animations are far more organic, with the positioning of the involved players directing how the tackled player falls. This often results in some awesome-looking acrobatic flips, or bone-crunching stops. The whole game also looks very crisp, and unlike Madden ’07, there are no drops in framerate—important in a game where half-seconds make the difference between a win and loss. As you’d expect however, the crowd and stadia do look like they’re made out of Lego.
With most sports games updates, there’s always some new ‘killer’ feature that makes it worth the purchase, other than the updated teams and player ratings. In Madden ’08 that feature is the ‘Weapons System’. The premise is that in every NFL team, there are players that excel in one or more areas and have the potential to changes games. A wide receiver capable of spectacular passes for example, or a safety that can predict what play the offense is going to run. These weapons allow the player to find mismatches at a quick glance, and some even offer the ability to read the playart of the opposition team.
As with Madden ’07, a key part of the gameplay is the gridiron version of chess that happens before each play. Before the snap both the offense and defense can make audible calls, in an attempt to gain an advantage. Changes can be made from micromanaging each player, to moving a whole defense or putting a receiver or blocker in motion. Many of the options available will seem unnecessary to the average gamer, but for diehard fans they give a real immersion into the game. This is also where you look to use your weapons to create a mismatch, which can also be done automatically by pulling the left trigger. Generally the audible calls will give you a huge advantage against the CPU, especially when on offense. They come into their own when coming against human players however, and really add some depth to the standard game.
Reiterating the point about the tackling animations at the beginning of the article, Tiburion have now introduced gang tackling to the 360 Madden series. In an attempt to make the game more real, initial tackles will often only cause a player to slow down or stumble. Previously this would have meant the attacker would be on their way to the endzone, instead it often means they’re about to get boshed. Big time. One downside to this is that the player in possession will often gain a few extra yards from the initial tackle, making rushing even easier than it usually is. The developers seem to have noticed this, and have made fumbles much more frequent. Unfortunately this is so infuriating it’s untrue, balanced but annoying. Plus you always seem to fumble more than the CPU.
When playing Madden ‘08 in single player mode, Superstar is where you want to be. Essentially a mini-sports RPG, you take a class of 07/08 rookie or one custom designed by yourself on their path to making the hall-of-fame. Throughout the coming games you then play just as your character, from an over-the-shoulder camera angle. Not only do you become increasingly attached to your character emotionally (in the sense of jumping in the air every time you score a touchdown) but for people that haven’t played American Football for real, gives a real insight into how a player’s role makes a difference within the team. Progression of your player’s stats now seems to be purely concentrated on earning a weapon or even more than one. This needs to be done in the preseason, most significantly before the draft, often leaving you branded as a certain type of player before you even get the chance to play! One area that does need to be sorted out is the custom player creation. In contrast to many EA games, such as Tiger Woods PGA, you only have a choice of a few skin tones and around 20 faces. In essence your character will look very little like you. Very disappointing.
Aside from the usual franchise mode, there is also the fast-paced world of Financial Mode, imagine a big fanfare or something here. For those that love this kind of thing, the mode allows you to be the owner of a franchise and make most of the financial and organisational decisions associated with that. Generally the mode involves scouting college players, and pretending that you are rather wealthy. But in the off-season, you can wreak all types of havoc. Apart from gaining new sponsorship or improving the stadium, you can also whisk the team off to a new city. To do this you’ll have to put forward a financial case to backers and go through a few menus, but once done the fun begins. You now get to rename your team, and give them a really, really ugly kit—or if you’re not mildly sadistic, actually do it seriously.
On Live the game hasn’t changed much, it’s still 1v1, and although the lobby system is excellent some games still suffer from lag and disconnecting opposition. Hopefully EA will see fit to include online leagues in the future, as 1v1 matches don’t encourage any sort of community or incentive to play online repeatedly and to a high standard.
The big negative in Madden, which does really tarnish the game overall, is the sloppy presentation. When 2K games also had the NFL license, they produced a slick, well-presented game in co-operation with ESPN. Now EA have exclusivity, they’ve done nothing to recreate this. Commentary is a very dull play-by-play, which just about describes what is going on pitchside. There are also no instant replays unless you go through the menus, although at halftime there are a few clips are mocked up to be coming through a mobile phone handset. EA and Tiburion really need to sort this out before the next instalment, because it really is severely lacking in an otherwise quality game.
Overall Madden NFL ’08 is a solid American Football game, with a good amount of depth and features catering for both the casual gamer and hardcore fan. The online features and presentation still leave a lot to be desired, but apart from that the game is well worth a purchase.
Originally Written By: Ali Owen