|Madden 08 (2007)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii
Just as the first summer blockbuster marks the start of the movie industry’s biggest time of the year, Electronic Arts’ “Madden” football series has become synonymous with the holiday game season. It’s nice to have a game that you can look forward to coming out of the summer drought, and for sports fans, that game has always been the latest “Madden” title. Of course, the mood on the field hasn’t been quite so cheery since the guys at EA began working on the first next-gen version of the best-selling franchise, but with “Madden 08,” they finally deliver a next-gen experience worth talking about.
Gone are the days of paying $60 for updated rosters and lackluster features, because “Madden 08” is about as close to a virtual overhaul of the series as you’re gonna get. Granted, the same basic features are still present in the latest installment. You’ll still spend a majority of your time in Franchise Mode, while the training-in-disguise Minigame Challenge, first introduced in last year’s installment, returns virtually unchanged. Oh yeah, and if you absolutely must, the Superstar Mode is also available for those obsessed with creating their own character and living his virtual life.
So what’s new, you ask? Well, for starters, the look of the game has received an impressive makeover. Character models are sharper than ever, and with the exception of excruciatingly long load times and those strange pauses while transitioning between menus – an annoyance present in all EA sports titles – the game runs incredibly smooth. A key has also been added to the upper left corner of the screen to serve as a reminder of all the preplay controls that can be utilized. Call an audible or hot route before the hike, and instead of having to remember what play you want to call, your options are generously displayed in the aforementioned box.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can now identify key players by their strengths (Accurate, Pass Blocker, Possession Receiver, etc), guarantee solid coverage by spotlighting certain receivers, or even take advantage of particularly rewarding mismatches – all before the ball is even snapped. On-the-field action is even more fleshed out. Players can take control of their wide receivers to ensure they make a big play; the defense can strip the ball away with the simple press of the “A” button; the new-and-improved hit stick gives you the option of performing both high tackles and cut tackles; and running backs can hurdle over those trying to take you out at the knees.
Even the minutest details are accentuated – from the brutal tackles made on the field to the dragging of a toe when your receiver brings in a ball near the sideline. They don’t exactly change the outcome of the game, but it makes the experience that much more lifelike. Of course, there’s still a problem with the AI getting a little turnover happy at times (I witnessed two interceptions and three fumbles within a single five-minute quarter), and the fact that John Madden is absent from the commentators box is a bit puzzling. But it hardly takes away from all the positives that make this game so great. Next-gen football is finally here, folks, and it’s a helluva way to start off the season.