Madden NFL 08 Review
Watching Madden develop on the Xbox 360 has been kind of like watching a young team come together over the course of a few seasons. Madden NFL 06 was sorely lacking in the features department, but the game looked so good in HD that you could tell the potential was there for something really great. Two iterations later we are finally starting to see a full feature set and can begin looking at Madden NFL 08 as a truly next-gen title. It's not quite there yet, though, and we're left with a playoff team that's another year away from being championship caliber.
Let's start by going down to the field because if Madden can't deliver at game time it doesn't really matter how many game modes it supports. The most obvious change to this year's game is the addition of special abilities for a team's best players, or “weapons”. Weapons are signified by a special icon under the players' feet on the field that signifies their special abilities. For example, a good run-blocking lineman will have a bulldozer icon, a power runner will have a big rig truck, and a smart QB will have a light bulb icon. Each weapon also has a counter, so that power runner may have a little trouble with a hard hitter at linebacker. Many of the weapons have a special ability mapped to the right, or “highlight”, stick. You can use the right stick to punish a ball carrier with a heavy hitter or to pull off a pancake block with a lineman. The smart weapons have the ability to read plays. If the opponent runs a play one two many times, the smart player will recognize it and you can use his ability to see where the opposition plans to go once the ball is snapped. The weapons feature is probably the best new feature to appear in the 08 version of the game and is a welcome addition. On the other hand, the increased turnover ratio is not.
Madden NFL 08 suffers from the same turnover bug that bit NCAA Football this year. Perhaps in an attempt to tighten up the pass defense this year DBs have been given near superhuman recovery skills. You can have five yards between your receiver and the DB only to watch the DB leap straight up to pluck your pass out of the air. Receivers that are open downfield will have three DBs on top of them before the ball can get there. It's maddening to say the least, but not nearly as much so as the fumbles. Players in Madden NFL 08 simply can not hold onto the ball. It is not uncommon to see four or five fumbles per team in a game. I played one game that would have been number two in the NFL record books for most turnovers in a game by both teams. Ugly.
What's not ugly is the game's graphics. The game's graphics engine really takes advantage of the Xbox 360's hardware. Not only are animations smooth and realistic, but there are distinctive moves for different play styles. This makes your team look more than ever like, well, a team instead of a collection of clones going through the same motions. The stadiums all look great and you can see shadows move across the field and the turf get worn as the game progresses.
On the other hand, the audio is pretty disappointing. The crowd seems to stay at about the same level throughout the game, and it would be nice to see a big play send the home crowd into a frenzy or to stun them into silence. The play-by-play is again handled by a generic “local radio' broadcaster that while functional is hardly all that interesting or exciting. The game has a license from ESPN, but there are no NFL shows, ESPN announcers, or halftime analyses to be found anywhere in the game. Madden himself only shows up when you use the “Ask Madden” option in the play-calling menu and you'll sometimes here him pipe up in the background at random. It all feels like next-gen has taken a big step backwards in the audio department.