Well, nerds...the time has finally arrived. The draft has been completed, free agency has been...free agented...and training camps and meaningless preseason games are under way. In case you live under a rock, or are Mrs. Nutsack, you should all be well aware that Madden NFL 08 hit shelves at your favorite local video game retailer Tuesday morning at midnight. I've even heard of a few nerds actually going to Best Buy at midnight to purchase their copy. I get the feeling there will be a Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" commercial spot on the horizon for you folks. I digress. Last year's iteration was an abomination to the franchise, and with EA (Electronic Arts) owning the NFL license for the foreseeable future, any fan of the franchise had every right to be furious over the lackluster effort the game developers put forth in Madden 07. Would this year be any different? Well, who else to tell you, but your good friend Mr. Nutsack?
Call me old fashioned, traditional, conservative, or a pretentious a-hole, but I like core gameplay. I like the game to feel and look like it should, and how it is presented on TV (FOX is the very best at NFL TV presentation. It's fact). That means, I want the players to have realistic animations, look pretty spot-on compared to their real-life counterparts, jersey numbers to be correct, and accurate stadiums and uniforms. That being said, Madden 08 has done a pretty good job over last year's title. In Madden 07, you couldn't edit your player's attributes, accessories or appearance. This was a huge drawback for me (not to mention Marques Colston didn't appear in last year's game...whoops!). This year, fully customizable players are back. For instance...WR Robert Meachem's jersey number in the game is 85. However, if you've seen any Saints action this preseason, you know that Meachem dons #17. I can change that in this year's game, done and done.
Back to the on-field action. There's been much said about the new "branching animations" technology this year. What this is, in essence, is a small but vital detail in the core gameplay. In previous Maddens, a receiver would catch a ball, and the player would have to wait for the "catch animation" to conclude, then the player could hurdle...wait for the hurdle animation to conclude...and so on. This year, animations are much smarter. A running back will no longer run in place. He'll put a hand on the fullback's back and wait for blocks and running lanes to open. A receiver will now attempt sideline tip-toe grabs for first downs. Defenses will now gangtackle. And, more importantly, player models can enter and come out of context sensitive animations much more smoothly and quickly. It's a very fine touch, and is the biggest improvement and huge stepping stone for the Madden franchise and it's core gameplay.
The menu is fairly easy to use, but the depth charts and player editing menus can get a bit tedious. However, the menu music is outstanding. You can even choose which songs to include in your menu sessions. The list includes all of those great NFL Films tunes, some remixes of those tunes, and some new stuff from people I haven't heard of. The NFL Films music is immersive, and I applaud EA for putting that in the game. Great touch.
I haven't checked out Franchise Mode or any of the Minigames, but I'm sure they don't disappoint. Franchise is just a glorified Season mode, where you can take the franchise through 30 years, move it to a new city, sign/release free agents over the years, and build your dynasty.
Presentation, presentation, presentation. Will there ever be as good an in-game, on-field presentation as put forth by the team at 2K Sports with their release of NFL Football 2K5? I mean, they had the ESPN Sunday Night Football graphic overlays, in-game graphical progress reports of your players, third down conversion rate graphical overlays, and the ESPN Sunday Night Football commentary team. And, the game was $20.00 for your PS2 or original XBOX. This year's Madden has some lame-duck stadium announcer that sounds like he's locked up in a meat locker in Ted Lilly's basement and vurtually no graphical overlays. That year, 2K Sports stormed EA's football simulation kingdom and knocked Madden off it's high horse. 2K was on a roll, and was looking to topple the Madden franchise for good. It's no coincidence that EA quickly gobbled up exclusive rights to the NFL licenses, crippling 2K's franchise for the foreseeable future. EA's been putting forth lame titles of Madden since then, and the gaming world has had enough. Until they learn to somehow get that presentation aspect of their game down, every Madden from here on out will forever be compared to 2K's 2005 footballer.
Lastly, I haven't been able to play a whole lot of the game, but I've yet to see where I can make formation-based substitutions. For instance, if I'm playing with the Saints, I would like inside linebacker Mark Simoneau to play in the 4-3 and 4-6 run defenses. However, I'd like the other inside linebacker, Brian Simmons, to play the position in the nickel and dime pass defenses. I've yet to figure out or see how I can make these substitutions. I've only seen depth chart substitutions, where I can substitute Brian Simmons for Mark Simoneau for every single defensive formation, which is not what I want. Once again, I could do this in a $20 PS2 game in 2K's NFL 2K5, but I can't do this in a $60, next generation Madden 08 game? Ridiculous. Get it straight, EA. You're pissing a lot of people off.
However, given these small bruises, Madden 08 is definitely the best next-gen football sim on the market. It's got a lot of good qualities, and the core gameplay is solid, if not stellar. On the other hand, the presentation (graphical overlays, etc.) of the game just lollygags and is pretty lame. Formation-based substitutions need to be implemented, because I'm tired of having my starting corner play gunner on punts and then be too tired to play the following set of downs on defense.
I don't know when EA's dominance over the NFL license ends, but when it does, I will be very happy to see new life breathed into the football sim forum. EA's been pretty weak thus far with it's Madden franchise, and for a company with all the rights to the game, I expect better for my $60. That said, I reiterate that Madden 08 is a good, solid game. Don't expect THE Madden experience, but still, it's a good one. If you are a fan of football and enjoy the on-field action Madden gives, go out and get Madden 08.
TDIH Video Game Rating: 4.25 "Telestrator 'Boom!'s" out 5.