Madden is back for the 2008 NFL football season and it’s got something to prove. The Madden franchise has one of the strongest fan bases in all of video games and sells millions of games worldwide each year. On the flip side, the Madden franchise is often flamed by video game junkies who site a lack of innovation as a major pitfall. For the last three years Madden has been the only Pro football game on the market since EA purchased the exclusive rights to the NFL license in 2005.
After a lack luster debut on the Xbox 360 with Madden 06, EA went back to the drawing board and emerged with a beefed up Madden 07. Features that failed to make it on the bus for the Xbox 360 debut returned and EA made a step in the right direction. So what about the newest addition to the Madden family?
Let’s get the big question out of the way first. Is Madden 08 improved over last year’s version? Yes it is. In fact, Madden 08 is arguably the best football experience available on the Xbox 360. EA has done a lot of things right with this one.
Lets start with the most important aspect of Madden 08, the game play. Things flow very smoothly on the field this year thanks to a much needed frame rate increase. Madden 08 runs at 60 frames per second and you can immediately tell the difference when you pick up the controller. The game is much faster and more responsive than last year’s version. This year also sees a significant improvement in the animation department. Madden 08 features a ton of new animations including more running styles and gang tackles than ever before. You can go an entire game without seeing a duplicate tackle animation. Also, gone are the frustrations of watching a receiver catch the ball and spin out of bounds because they were stuck in a canned animation. Now you can interrupt any animation and change direction quickly. This added responsiveness is not immediately recognizable, but after playing numerous games you won’t know how you ever managed without it.
Another improvement over last year’s Madden 07 is the artificial intelligence. Madden 08 features some stiff competition from the computer. You can’t just sit back in the pocket and bomb it long to your speedy wide out play after play. I’m not saying it’s impossible to complete a long pass, but it’s not as simple as last year’s aerial extravaganza. The A.I. improvements are also very noticeable when running the football. Wide outs will hold blocks 25 yards down the field instead of just trailing off or stopping completely. It’s these little things that really bring a smile to your face when you play Madden 08. These small improvements seem to add a greater sense of balance to the game. Running and passing flows together and creates a more realistic football experience. These are things that are crucial to the Madden experience and its nice to see them finally being introduced into game play.
The graphics in Madden 08 seem to be a slight improvement over last year’s game, but the improvement is marginal at best. Players still look great in high definition, but it would be nice to see upgrades to the graphical engine at the same rate that the game play improves. The sound in the game is another area that has gone virtually untouched since last season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. The soundtrack in the menus and audio on the field all work very well. The announcers don’t get overly annoying this year, which is greatly appreciated. The sound department is also where you can spot the ESPN integration in the game. Live updates while navigating the menus via a bottom line ticker and audio updates keep you connected to the real world of sports. Its nice to be making some key front office moves in your franchise while hearing the latest sports headlines in the back round.
Every year that Madden steps on the virtual turf for a new season, EA touts a new gimmicky feature. Last year was the lead blocker and this year is the addition of weapons. Most of the time these features do not mean much to the overall game play and they usually only last one season before getting the axe. Last years lead-blocking feature is still included in Madden 08, but it’s taken a back seat on the field. This year’s new weapons feature designates superstar players with heightened abilities. Weapons are labeled on field by circular yellow icons and can be found on both offense and defense. These players have added moves that make them hard to stop. The Weapon’s special abilities are activated using the regular controls, but they produce a more impressive outcome. It’s not that great of an addition, but also not annoying enough that it takes away from the game experience.
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