Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Review: Madden 08

Hype sucks. What has hype ever done right? Nothing. What's the purpose of hype? To get people excited about something. But all it really ends up doing is giving everyone a poor idea of what something is about. When a product is hyped most people take two sides - they buy into it and like it no matter how bad it sucks (the last two "Pirates" movies, any American Idol singer, the Super Bowl) OR people are so jaded from bad over hyped experiences that they figure it sucks and stay away even if its good (the third season of "Lost"). This doesn't do anybody any good.
This naturally brings me to the Madden series, one of the worst offenders of over hype. The EA marketing machine cleverly plays on the average Joe's love of football and its loyal, die hard fans to put up huge sales numbers for its consistently solid title. It works. I freely admit to falling victim to this ploy. By the beginning of August, I can't wait for Madden to come out - the fantasy football trash talk has begun, Broncos training camp has started and the latest NCAA game has been out a couple of weeks (which does just enough to make me hungry for more). Like every other football fan, when Madden comes out I'm salivating like a Kirstie Alley at a buffet - and Madden is the only cure. Thankfully after a couple of games, I'm satiated. I can wipe the drool off my chin and look at the game objectively. So after the hype has cleared, how does this years Madden stack up? Very well. Damn! They got me again!
Great gameplay has been a hallmark of this franchise, so has innovation. Every year Madden comes out with some new gimmicks and upgrades. The years these tweaks work gamers get a great Madden. When they don't, we get Average Madden which gets traded in 1 month later. This year they work.
The big feature in Madden 08 is the Read and React System. New player skill icons (there are 20 including Big Hitter, Elusive Back, Quick Receiver, etc.) help gamers identify weaknesses and strengths of players on the field. While a form of this has been used in the past, it didn't feel as well rounded. This time all players are categorized and because each strength has a skill that counters it, the opportunity to create mismatches and exploit weaknesses feels more realistic. My favorite feature of the Read and React System is the Smart QB and Smart Defender meters. On offense when a defensive play has been called four times, a Smart QB (a Manning or Brady type) can actually see the play the defense has called. The same works for the defensive side of the ball for all players except lineman (Hmm, what does that say about d-lineman?). It doesn't happen nearly as often as it should but when it does its very cool.
Adding to the realistic feel of the game is the new Madden control scheme, which is more complicated than the plot of "Lord of the Rings" but also as enjoyable. The defensive and offensive pre-snap options are overwhelming at first but once you get used to them you won't know how you lived without them. Particularly nice is the Receiver Spotlight. Say Terrell Owens is kicking your ass. Now you can call a defensive switch that allows you to cheat the safety or linebacker over, helping you to shut him down. Maybe somebody should tell this to Broncos defensive coordinator Jim "Master" Bates.
There are also a number of features already in place that have been fine tuned. Thanks to my incessant nagging, the next-gen consoles create-a-player feature is back to being fully customizable. For those of us who live in the world of pro football minutae, the franchise Front Office mode has been beefed up to Hulk Hogan like proportions. It seems like the only thing you can't do as owner is sell the concessions yourself. That'll probably be a mini-game next year. Also looking sharp are the enhanced player movies, tackling animations and some stunning catches by the better receivers.
But wait, there's more! As mentioned in previous posts, you can pimp out your own Madden ring and earn in-game awards to create and customize a championship ring that you can actually order from Jostens. Sure I'll probably be the only gaming nerd on the planet to order one (when I discussed this with my brother, he couldn't stop laughing at me) but its still a cool idea.
So is this Madden perfect? Close, but no cigar. The multi-player feature still mysteriously doesn't offer leagues, the AI is inconsistent depending on the level your playing at, the 360 title looks much better than other versions because it runs at a lovely 60 frames a second, and if I have to listen to that radio play-by-play announcer talk about "our" team one more time I'm going to tackle the next person I see. Minor annoyances all but combined prevent the game from being truly great.
Hype still sucks, but those rare moments when something can match the hype are still sweet. If you're ready for some videogame football that lives up to its billing, Madden 08 is the way to go.
Madden NFL 08
Cost: $29.99 - $59.99
Players: 1-4 (2-4 Online)
Formats: Xbox, Xbox 360, PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii, DS
Category: Football Sim
Rating: E (Everyone)
You take the good: Great gameplay, Tons to do, Solid graphics, Great new features, Realistic new animations
You take the bad: No online leagues, Jam-an-ice-pick-in-your-ear radio announcer, Wishy washy AI
And then you have – The Grade: A-

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're crazy. Every madden game has sucked for years. Ever since their "Fear the Defense" campaign about 3 or 4 years go.

Defense is absurd now and it has nothing to do with the player. Just drop into a soft zone and watch the 75 MLB chase down passes for 25 yards to make amzing leaping swats to defend what should be wide open WRs.

Works almost every time. And if they find a play that works against your zone you just audible out to a somewhat different zone.

Using this method about 1 out or 4 passes will be intercepted. Offense is a joke.