Electronic Arts’ most famous franchise, Madden NFL 08, returns with fresh animations and a new arsenal of gameplay. The Madden franchise is definitely known as one of the longest running franchises in videogame history. Fortunately, Tiburon got its act together with 08 and the result: the best version of the Madden football series since Madden NFL ’05.
The most noticeable difference that makes this title unique is a branched animation and tackling system. Pre-made animations are no longer used. This new branching animation system works in tandem with the realistic football physics. Depending on a player’s skill, momentum, and positioning, a large variety of animations become possible, all of which display a varied and different tackle.
Group tackle is another important feature that Electronic Arts wants to stress. Open-field tackles by bulky defenders are still possible, but it is more likely that the first only tackler will realistically slow down the ball carrier and not knock him down, as if he was pounded on by 3 guys. In many ways, this creates a more realistic version of football from what we have seen from Madden in the past. But it also allows for strong backs to fall forward and gain extra yards, a slightly weird edge as this would not happen in real football too often.
Madden 08 runs at 30 frames per second throughout most of the game, and sometimes drops to as little as 27 frames per second. You might be sitting back and going, “well, it doesn’t make much of a difference.” Think again. At 30 frames per second, there are not only frame rate hitches that will likely frustrate players, but also the loss of quality in animation. Imagine going in for a touchdown with your QB, and he suddenly pauses for one second as the frame rate stammers. Most of the time it might feel like the animation is fine, but it’s definitely not. Despite the 30 frames per second, the majority of the gameplay plays out well. Only around heavy animations, for example if you go in for a tackle towards someone who already has 5 guys on him, will it drop to 27 frames per second.
Aside from the horrible animation hitches, fumbles are severely discomfited. Even if you cease from a juke and hold fast to cover the ball, it will jump around 2 feet—something very unreal. You might expect this from heavy ball carriers, but it’s just annoying when you have an amazing ball carrier such as LT.
Hit Stick 2.0 can be seen as the scapegoat for this. The newer Hit Stick now allows defenders to choose to tackle high or to go for a cut low. Low tackles go at a running back’s legs, making it a great tactic to use against bulldozing backs too tough to take down square at the shoulders. And it often flips the back off his feet, something which isn’t realistic or impressive. In an average game, you might see a lot of turnovers between fumbles and easy picks. With a lead late in the fourth quarter, you may actually give yourself up with an open-field dive just to avoid the chance to having the ball pop loose easily, one major problem in Madden 08.
The bulk of Madden gameplay is quite solid, as it is a far more enjoyable game than what we have seen in the past few years. The battle at the line of scrimmage is now more realistic and is supplemented by intelligent blocking from your Offensive line. The beefed up animations allow for the game to present itself more realistically, without the bowling-pin effect. The blocking is genuine, and the AI snaps quickly to it when the time comes to attack Payton Manning trying to pull a fast one.
Receivers have been given an AI upgrade. If you throw the ball near the sidelines, most receivers will actually try and stay inbounds to avoid offside. They’ll shuffle, or struggle. It all depends on the player’s ratings. These sideline moves correspond with the addition of new catch animations. If a player has a cruddy rating, expect him to make a fool out of himself.
In the offseason you can purchase a significant number of stadium upgrades. These do not change the visuals of your stadium, but they can but they can affect your income. Sponsorships are back, though all offers come from advertisers that are already over Madden 08.
The idea with the weapons system is that while there are many talented players in the NFL, there are some who excel in very specific areas. Quick Receivers are great at running routes and shaking coverage Left Side Running-backs are more likely to heave through the offense; and Smart QBs can make a strategy accordingly to the defenses structure. The weapons distinction is linked to specific ratings. Anyone over a 90 rating in one of the categories earns the weapon tag. Basically, the weapon tag coincides with a sort of “secret weapon” the team has, just that in this case there are more than one.
In previous iterations, there was a move to counter move priority, clearly seen in Madden 08. On offense you have strong route options and on the other side, you have more defensive coursework. If you see a hole in the defense, expect to dive in. You can order a player to leave his zone assignment and instead blitz for the hole. You can adjust the entire D-line, linebackers, or corners in one play, but the flexibility in improvised plays is impressive.
The weapons become a key component to this system. Holding L2, you can search for a weapons mismatch. It is then up to the defender to try and compensate quickly before the ball is snapped. At the same time, the player can call a strong route, or put a receiver in motion to try and create a mismatch situation.
This flexibility strap plays better against in online, though. The computer AI, while enhanced, is still unimpressive. There will be idiotic calls on both offense and defense that really open things up for a skilled player. On the default Pro difficulty, the AI does catch up quickly, making the perfect call against your defense and performing some extraordinary plays in the game. The AI still screws up, but it is a slight and minor improvement. For anyone, Madden 08 will still remain a challenge in some form.
Another area Tiburon neglected is special teams. You still can’t do a reverse, your blockers do not know many terms and every kicker has to ability to boot a kickoff out of the end zone, which happens too much—even for a skilled player. There are only three aspects to football: Offense, defense, and special teams. Coaches will tell you that special teams often decide the game. In Madden 08, special teams are completely and utterly pointless. If anyone has a tremendous effect, it is purely you.
As usual, the announcer presentations remain bland, and dull. As with all years, we are forced to suffer through a radio broadcast. Despite having the ESPN license, Madden 08 is sour in delivering a broader variety of announcers to truly make our game come alive. We want uproar when we make a touchdown from center field. We do not want a mark by mark “at the 30, the 20” count. We want the announcers to exclaim realistic emotion—like on TV football games with extraordinary plays.
Finance Mode serves one function: the ability to relocate your team. There are dozens of locations for your NFL franchise to move. You’ll have to propose a new stadium and find funding. Your proposal will be approved, with luck, and you can move elsewhere for more money. You can even change names and uniforms later on. The best thing, to me about the change, is you can play any unlocked Hall of Fame-er.
Superstar Mode is similar to Madden ‘07, but with a couple of key changes. You can choose to take the role of any member of the 2007 rookie class. You can now, most importantly, import your superstar from NCAA 08 and play them in Madden. The training elements (which are used to boost your Weapons ratings) are almost all identical to ‘07. The camera is a bit better this time around.
Despite the negatives, Madden 08 is a decent game for any football fan. With the certain improved AI factors, the animations, and the texture details, this Madden video game definitely is more impressive than the previous iterations. The PlayStation 3 version of Madden 08, however, just suffers from frame rate drop. Though the feature set is identical to the 360, the drop to an unstable 30 frames per second hurts the game a lot. The visuals and the gameplay suffer tremendously. But then again, despite all the animation hitches and frame drops, any football fan will find Madden 08 a solid game worth playing.