First, so you know who is writing this review, I am not a Madden guy. I play all sorts of video games, but Madden is not normally one of those games. I have been thinking about this and the last time I played a Madden game was on one of these. That being said I am a football guy. I am a huge fan of the NFL. (It really is going to be the Houston Oilers year this year. With Buddy Ryan leading the defense and Warren Moon leading the Run and Shoot this is our year. Dont ask) I watch a ton of football every year and certainly feel very well versed in the NFL in general. So I really have no idea what has been added since last year, if this feature was dropped or is less responsive. I just want you to know where I am coming from. I do like this game.
The first thing that I noticed is that the graphics. The look of the players, their faces, hair and even down to how the grass looks fantastic. The best part of the players isnt simply how nice they look, it is their motion. Gone are the days of sliding players, and unbelievable motion. The player animations are silky smooth, but and after a while it is easy to forget that you are playing a game and not watching an afternoon game on Sunday. Some of the players still do slightly funky things when there is a ball bouncing around but overall the player motion is very believable. The stadiums seem to be fairly honest replications of the different home fields. Playing against The Packers on the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau field brings out the goose bumps.
Controlling those sweet looking players is fairly intuitive. The left stick gives you left, right and back jukes, while pressing the stick up gives you the Truck. Having your big muscle running backs bowl over a DB is a great feeling. One thing that does happen with this game for a new player is control overload. Spin, cover the ball, juke, speed, order sushi. For myself I have only been playing this game for a bit more than a week so I still tend to get a bit befuddled by all the options. I am still terrible at controlling my players on defense. I run around like a complete idiot trying vainly to point my player somewhere in the vicinity of the ball. I have had players who obviously have had much greater amounts of playing time just tear me up online with a good running back as well as being able to put their defenders in exactly the right position to make the play. On defense you arent without your options as well. The right stick is the Hit Stick. Up has your defender deliver bone crushing hits, while down has your player go low for the tackle, great for taking out the feet of some of the more crushing running backs or tight ends in the game.
At least it is easy to identify those special players on the field. Madden 08 has taken to using something called Weapons. There you have it, there are different kinds of weapons based on the positions they play. Big hitting linebackers, pass blocking linemen, elusive backs or spectacular receivers. There are different icons for each of the weapon skills, so with a quick glance at the field you can get a good idea of what players have what abilities. It really does make a big difference when you use your players specific weapons strengths. From fly routes on speed receivers to spin moves on your finesse defensive linemen, they can be game breakers when you use them properly. And also doing things like running away from brick wall defender on your opponents defense can help your offence to keep the chains moving.
The real NFL is a chess game where your pieces are 300lbs linemen. This game isnt that much different. Play calling is a huge part of the game. The best players with the best team arent going to be able to get anything going if they cant get the play calling right. Once again, there is a bit of a learning curve here, but if you have a good grounding in football it wont take long to get things sorted out in your head. One of the things that used to happen in these football games is that the guy you were playing against would have two or three plays. Some of those plays would be all but unstoppable. This is one area that this game has a great strength, the line audibles for both offence and defense. On defense you can control everything from moving your DBs up into press coverage, shifting your defensive line or linebackers around the field, all the way to completely different defensive coverages. On the offensive side of the ball you do have some audible options, but not quite the plethora that exists on the defensive side. It gives you the ability on defense to react to those plays that your opponent keeps running to give you a better chance of shutting him down or even better coming away with an interception. Setting those audibles is one of those thing that you want to have available is one of the first things that you should do once you have a couple games under your belt. You also can customize your playbook or just stick with the one that setup for the team you are playing.
There are a couple different game modes available in Madden 08 as well. There is the Franchise mode where you either take control of an existing team or build yourself a new team from the ground up. Doing a complete fantasy draft really is a fun thing. Seeing Payton Manning suiting up in a Bears uniform does take a bit of getting used to though. In Franchise mode, not only do you get to control the on the field play calling, but you also get to control all of the front office bits as well. That safety being paid too much? See if you can unload him in a trade and pickup another wide receiver after your starter got hurt last week. While Franchise mode is great, the one that really grabbed me was Superstar mode. In this one you create yourself a superstar. You do this with some physical statistic and then by competing in a number of mini-games. This gives your superstar a set of starting stats and gets you rolling. In superstar mode you are not the coach of the team. You dont call plays, as a matter of fact, you simulate all of the plays that happen when your superstar is not on the field. I made up a running back and then had to get used to running pass patterns or pass blocking when the coach had a max protection pass blocking play called. It certain is different seeing the ball being thrown and you not being in control of the quarterback or even the player that sometimes ends up receiving the ball.
It gets interesting as well as when you do well on plays your superstar gets influence. He can then spend that influence on temporarily increasing his stats and helping him out on him next series. I did enjoy playing as a specific player. Now I just need to go back and create a wide receiver and try the whole thing again.
The online multiplayer side of the game fairs well. I was a bit worried that lag might make the game all but unplayable, but it was surprisingly lag free in general. I do have one major beef that may have just had to do with my opponents. I was unable to talk to my opponent while we were playing our game. That was very disappointing as I was hoping to ask various players for how they felt about the game as well as asking for advice on different aspects of the game. It may well have just been that the players I squared off against just didnt have their mics enabled, but it certainly was annoying. Also I dont quite understand why I had to create and EA account for LIVE play.
I thought that was the entire idea behind Xbox LIVE in general that is was supposed to be a one stop shop for keeping all of your online stats. I am sure they have a reason for it, but as of now, it completely evades me. Another thing that seemed to be missing was online leagues. The ability to create an entire league and then play through the season is really what an NFL football game on LIVE is all about in my opinion. I certainly hope put this on the top of their Must Add list for next year.
If you cant get on LIVE and have to play alone, the UI was actually pretty impressive. It didnt seem to make any horrible calls and seems to do a very good job of running the players on the field. I wasnt exactly a clock management expert by any means, but really I suppose that is a good thing as with 5:00 quarters it would be too easy to control the ball and chew up the clock. As for chewing up the clock, I hope you like doing that because the game seems to favor a smash mouth style play as opposed to a west coast offence passing style. It could have just had to do with my general inexperience with the game but I was unable to get a pass oriented offence to keep any kind of rhythm going and get much in the way of points. Then again, smash mouth football and defense is what I prize the most in the NFL in general so it might just have had to do more with mindset.
Overall Madden 08 really is a fantastic game. Its graphics are spectacular and game play is wonderfully immersive. The player animations are great to watch, even if it is your linebacker that just got straight armed. There are number of games modes, so lots of play time to invest your time into. If you are a football fan this really is a must have game, but I am sure you already know that. Now back to getting my superstar into the hall of fame, wish me luck.