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Football frenzy kicks off in Madden 08

Damon Jason | Monday, September 3, 2007

This year’s version of Madden is the third year the immensely popular series has appeared on next-gen consoles. Fans of the series will remember choppy animations, control issues, reduced game play options and awkward character models have plagued the series for the last two years. So how does Madden ’08 fare on third down?

The issues above have been addressed and tweaked, with mixed results. Veteran players will notice a much revamped control system that is admittedly a little too complex at first. It will take some time to master all of the pre-play defensive/offensive controls. Traditional defensive playmaker controls remain relatively unchanged, as do most of the post-snap defensive controls.

When playing the game, a new addition you will notice is that little icons surround major players and designate what type of “weapon” that player is. There are tons of designations, including multiple per position. Running backs suited for pounding the ball inside, such as Rudi Johnson, are “Power Back” weapons. More shifty backs, like Stephen Jackson, are designated “Elusive Back” or “Stiff Arm Ball Carrier” and are more adept at breaking and avoiding tackles. In addition, each weapon has a complimentary opposite. For example, big play receivers are vulnerable to big hitters.

Some players are given the “smart” quarterback or defender designation. After a certain defense has been called multiple times, a meter fills up, and when activated, these “smart” QBs, such as Peyton Manning, can see the defensive formation on the fields and attack these holes.

“Smart” defenders, on the other hand, are able to react with greater probability to where the ball is going to be. This is especially helpful with corners like Champ Bailey, who are much more likely to get the drop on a pass and create an interception.

One notable change is the Hit Stick. Flicking the Hit Stick up or down with your right thumb will cause you to hit a player high or low, and the choice of which to choose can mean the difference between a fumble and a missed tackle. It is better to hit Power Backs low to throw them off their center of gravity, while you should almost always hit Elusive Backs high to try and cause them to cough up the ball.

This brings up a point of contention in this year’s version of Madden. In an effort to create a more realistic and lower scoring game, developer EA Tiburon has modified the defense to the point where turnovers occur way too often. Fumbles definitely happen frequently, even when the offense is protecting the ball. Interceptions, however, occur way too often. Interceptions from bad passes are understandable, but too often defenders get an extra step on open receivers to force interceptions.

Franchise mode is finally back, with most previous features completely intact and with a few new wrinkles thrown in. The best new feature here is the ability to train individual players each week. For example, you have a quarterback who has a “Cannon Arm” designation, like Rex Grossman, but has some accuracy issues.

You can fix this by forcing “Sexy Rexy” to practice accuracy drills. The amount of points you accumulate in these drills converts directly into that player’s ability ratings. Therefore, you can upgrade Grossman’s accuracy from “sub par” to “almost competent.”

New this year is the off-season finance mode, in which you can manage finances, purchase stadium upgrades, choose sponsors and many other options. You even have the possibility of moving your team to a new city and changing its uniforms and logos. This is a novel feature that fits into the game very well.

All things aside, Madden NFL ’08 is a solid addition to the Madden lineage. While certain shortcomings such as the massive amount of turnovers during game play, no true in-game commentary (why is this so hard if EA has the ESPN license?) and weak online play hold this title back from being truly innovative, Madden NFL ’08 is still a great game.