Without a doubt, the Madden franchise is one of the most beloved and scorned titles ever created in video game history. “Hardcore” gamers tend to shun the series because of the lack of innovation, while millions of rabid pigskin fans eat up the title in droves year after year. All you hardcore gamers better grab a tissue to dry your eyes, because Madden is back for another run—and it’s one of the best entries in the series since it made the jump to next-generation consoles.

But don’t get in a big hurry, crazed American football nuts—Madden 08 is not without problems. One of the main and most obvious flaws to the gameplay is the tremendous amount of interceptions and fumbles that occur throughout a game. Just when it seems like you are getting some momentum, your butterfingered receiver, quarterback or running back will act like the football is a hot potato, fumbling it two to four times throughout the course of a five-minute, four quarter game. Interceptions are equally as rampant, but that has more so to do with great defensive AI that pick up on your receivers routes, as well as the tendency for players to throw into tight coverage.

Aside from the unrealistic amount of turnovers, the gameplay on both sides of the ball is a godsend for Madden fans out there. EA has added and spruced up many of the transitional animations in the game, which allows the game to look so much more fluid than past iterations because of the more cohesive animation system. It also impacts the gameplay, because for the first time in the series, running the ball up the gut won’t result in your running back getting stuck behind your offense line—instead, he’ll extend his arm and push his lineman forward in an attempt to push through and gain valuable yards.

Aside from some of those minor tweaks though, the Madden gameplay is more or less intact. There are those small upgrades that have been previously mentioned, but Madden has always been about delivering a solid game of football that is approachable on the surface, while at the same time offering tons of depth for those that seek it. On both sides of the balls, players that are completely immersed in the strategies of the game can shift almost any player in any direction, as well as give specific instructions to each groups of your defense or offense to increase your chances of getting a much needed first down or making a big play. Needless to say, I didn’t take advantage of all the finer points to the game, but if you know your routes, defensive schemes, etc.—boy are you going to have a lot of fun tinkering with your offense and defense. That isn’t to say that novices won’t have fun playing the game, though. Offense is a lot of fun to play and supports whatever style of play you want to—whether you want to play smash-mouth ball and run it straight at the defense, or if you’d rather air it out and let your star receivers make plays. Defense will be a little drier inherently, but with the inclusion of the hit stick, which allows you to use the right stick to unleash some devastating hits to your opponents, it’s not all that bad.

A definite weakness of all next-generation Madden games, and 08 is no different, is the lack of features and modes that are available for you to play. The main modes included in 08 are a quick play, franchise mode, superstar mode as well as a few mini-games thrown in for good measure. The franchise and superstar modes are definitely the main attraction, but they are not unlike what Madden players have come to expect from the series. Superstar mode, surprisingly, is a lot more fun than you’d expect it to be. In this mode you create your own player, get drafted by an NFL team, and play only your position. If you want to be the QB that leads your team down the field or the shutdown defensive lineman, you can do that. In fact, you can play any position on the field that you’d like to. It’s surprising how much this freshens up the gameplay, even if you are playing the same exact game of football. However, the mode forces you to be extremely focused on your specific task to make sure the entire team succeeds. Thankfully, though, when you’re not out on the field you can choose to simulate past the parts where you aren’t playing, up to the point in where you are, just so you aren’t sitting on your couch watching the CPU play each other. The mini-games come into play within the superstar mode, where you can run the 40 yard dash, bench press weights, and run drills to determine your created stars stats. As a stand-alone game type, though, the mini-games fall completely flat after you play them once or twice. (There are only six mini-games in total, so how could they stay fresh?)

Madden’s online offering leaves quite a bit to be desired, especially when you consider the upgrades that many of the other EA Sports franchises got—most notably, online leagues. It’s definitely a bummer, but the online play featured quite a bit of intermittent lag, so perhaps they’ll have to work the kinks out on that end before they even consider putting online leagues in Madden.

Graphically, Madden doesn’t shine nor look bad in any way. Character models look fine, sporting a decent amount of detail (especially with the jerseys), but the crowds and sidelines look a bit underwhelming. When you’re running down the sideline, you’ll notice the bench players and the coaches look like they were thrown in there with just the base character models—they aren’t really defined and look like low-end PS2 models. As previously mentioned, the best part of the entire graphical package is the silky smooth animation system, which more than make up for Madden’s generally average look. In terms of the audio, Madden succeeds for the most part. There are some sweet sound effects for the hits, as well as when players are screaming out to each other out on the field. The announcer is the same one that has been in the Madden franchise since John Madden left, and while he does a passable job—can we please get some recognizable announcers back into the franchise?

My man-crush for Al Michaels notwithstanding, Madden 08 is the best entry into the series since it made the leap to this current-generation of consoles. Sure, if you don’t like Madden to begin with, this game is not going to change your mind at all about the franchise. However, if you are predisposed to the pigskin, the beefed up animation system adds to an already solid core gameplay base, making it an experience that no football fan should turn down.

Originally Written By: Art Green


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