Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
21 Sep 2007
Yes, this is the world's latest review of Madden 08. Trust us, there is a point to it.
reviewed by Bill Moore
It's that time of year when gamers rush out to get their fresh copies of Madden Football, hoping that their $59.95 annual investment is more than just a roster update. For at least the past two years, expectations have hardly been met. Not this year. Madden 2008 has made several improvements for both the rookie and the all-Madden teamer worthy of its NFL exclusive license.
The first thing I noticed with the '08 version was the slight tip of the hat by EA's Tiburon team to the semi-casual player. Do you have a job? A family? Kids? An odd and time-consuming hobby of gathering football statistics? Other responsibilities besides spending hours in front of the television mastering a fictional electronic universe? Me too. I crave the intricacy of Madden without desire to be an X-bot. As most know, Madden is an excessively complicated game played with a limiting eight buttons and two joysticks -- it's Maddening! Previous versions of the game required the user to memorize all of the line of scrimmage pre-snap actions and button combinations. That's too much for someone who has to battle his seven-year-old just for the right to use the TV. Consequently, of all the great added features to be discussed, the fact that the pre-snap actions and their corresponding buttons are listed on-screen is the single most beneficial feature added in the last three versions. Tackling previous versions of Madden is a daunting task for those new to the game or those who don't have the time to commit to being an expert. If I have only one thing to say about Madden '08, it is that it is much more user-friendly -- and that is a good thing.
Each year, the release of a new Madden generates the cat-calls for what's wrong with the game; however, the '08 version, albeit hardly perfect, is quite well done, and most gamers should be pleased. After a couple years of resting on its exclusive NFL license, the designers and producers truly appear to have dedicated themselves to creating a realistic game both visually and intellectually. The graphics of the game are as near to video quality as I've seen in a sports sim, with spectacular catches, gang takedowns, body shifts, arm reaches, realistic-looking tackles and mid-air collisions. Potential pre-snap adjustments to offensive players as well as control of individual defensive players allow gamers a high degree of customization that brings a level of realism to game plan execution. Overall, this year's Madden is the best yet from a game-playing perspective.
The basics of game play remain mostly unchanged. The opening sequence has a few upgrades. A voice-over of Marshall Faulk provides his pregame prediction and the player introduction actually highlights both teams' star players and their respective qualities. Although I still miss the announcing of John and Al, the "radio" voice provides a logical commentary, even if it doesn't berate you for throwing short on third-and-long. Play calling for both defense and offense are more neatly organized, dividing them by formation, by play type or even by featured player. Again, such simple classification makes the game more friendly to us semi-casual players. A new Supersim feature allows you to toggle in and out of action/simulation at will. This is an especially good feature for those who may not have the time to dedicate to a whole game (especially if time constraints are unexpected) and in Superstar mode.
Yes, the somewhat intriguing Superstar mode returns this year and play is relatively unchanged. This game mode lets you play from the perspective of one player, whether it be a wide receiver, running back or defensive end, it's your choice. Your goal is to make the team and eventually enjoy a Hall of Fame career. Same as last year, your actual time playing is limited to the plays the CPU coach calls, and the play of the rest of your teammates. While last year's edition required you to create a fictitious player, 2008 allows you to slip into the shoes of an actual player from the 2007 rookie class. I spent some time playing as Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, and watched Tarvaris Jackson and Brad Childress giving away my influence points like they were birthday cake. Superstar is where the new Supersim feature may be most useful. It simulates (off-screen) the plays for which you have no involvement as a player. You no longer have to endure the sight of Donovan McNabb rolling over your defense, while you twiddle your thumbs waiting for your number to be called.
Overall, the most valuable new feature added in terms of game play is the Player Weapons Icons. "If it's in the game, it's in the game." We all know that slogan, even if it hasn't always been applied. L.T. is elusive, Rodney Harrison hits hard, Shawne Merriman has a great pass rush move, Champ Bailey is a shutdown corner and Rex Grossman can be boneheaded. Although player ratings have always indirectly replicated those qualities in previous versions, such star qualities seen in real life are now directly attributed to their avatar counterparts, and on-screen icons highlight which player on the field has which quality. A click of the left trigger highlights both offensive and defensive weapons to determine potential mismatches of talent. or instance, an audible to reverse direction of a change-of-pace running back away from a "Brick Wall Defender" can be the difference between a stuff and a first down. Additionally, the A.I. will highlight certain mismatches for you, such as a "Hands" receiver lined up against a nickel back, which can lead to a significant advantage for the offense. The only glitch, however, is that if you call a running play, only to see Marvin Harrison line up one-on-one against Jason David, the offense is unable to audible into a pass without changing the whole formation. (If I'm wrong about that, someone PLEASE tell me. I find it one of the most frustrating glitches, especially when guys are left uncovered.)
In all, there are 20 Weapons Icons. OK, boneheadedness is not actually one of them, but Rex Grossman's avatar must have it embedded in a macro somewhere. Some of the other Outsiders staff have noticed that Grossman is so amazingly bad, it's comical. Grossman holds the ball for seconds on end waiting to get sacked, or makes deep throws over the middle to no one in particular. In one CPU vs. CPU match-up, there were 14 Grossman turnovers!
The actual execution of the offense post-snap is essentially the same as previous editions. Use of the passing cone and leading the receiver are great for the avid competitor, but require user skills I do not yet possess. There was, however, a noticeable change to the defense. The Defensive Playmaker feature allows pre-snap individual control of players regardless of the defensive scheme employed, and that adjustment is above and beyond the normal audible level. For instance, the controls allow you to spy Vince Young despite the fact that you've called all-out blitz, or put Dre' Bly in man-to-man coverage on Lee Evans in spite of the Cover-2 Zone coverage scheme. Another new feature allows the defense to spotlight a specific opposing receiver. Such action gives the defender help in coverage, but just like in real life, spotlighting one receiver may create opportunities for another. These changes provide realistic, yet simple levels of game-planning.
In conjunction with an industry-wide trend, EA has players keep score of themselves. Madden â€˜08 has a points-based skill level "Showcase." Users score points by accomplishing achievements on the field. Each user's points status is updated and highlighted at the end of every game (including the points status for the CPU, which I don't completely understand). Those points tie into Skill Levels. Each Skill Level has its own "Championship Ring." The ring visually develops over time as points are accumulated. It is a completely pointless feature -- although, like a lemming, I do ironically check my point status.
For all the intricacies and nuances that the gameplay mode exhibits, the Madden franchise mode lacks interesting features, and sometimes even common sense. The '08 edition was a euphemistic bow to the gaming community that has long complained that the designers had gotten lazy. It is a huge improvement in game play, but not a leap forward for anyone looking for something beyond a great arcade game. Madden '08 has the potential, but not the execution to be a great GM game. There are too many things wrong with this game for someone who is as interested in building a franchise and developing players as he is scoring the 58th point in the final 30 seconds of a blowout win.
What's wrong with it? There are too many things to list them all, but here are a few:
There are a some new features to '08 franchise mode. There is the Gems and Busts feature, where draft picks can be transformed into players that will outperform their ratings ("gems") and those that underperform ("busts") in their first three seasons. It's not only rookies who act more realistic, but old-timers as well. The A.I. has built in a more intuitive aging/progression aspect. No longer will your 35-year-old who had 1,000 receiving yards retire on the spot. Retirements are now more based on relative performance and actual usage. Encapsulated in the franchise mode is the front office mode, which tracks income and expenses of the franchise. It is an attempt to bring finances into the game, but it also is largely a useless accessory.
EA had its chance. Sometime inside ten years ago, Electronic Arts distributed a product called Front Office Football, a game that has potentially the best general manager A.I. of any football game out there. However, as we stated in our review of last year's FOF, the game lacks the visual quality of Madden. It would have been a great match-up for sophisticated GMs-to-be, but alas, EA gave up its distribution rights. Frankly, franchise mode in Madden is a convenient feature in that it creates league-wide schedules, ages players and allows progression of young talent. However, as a true "feature" of the game, it falls flat. Madden '08 is built for on-the-field action, not front office mode. Part of me wonders whether EA really wants a good franchise feature, for fear of cannibalizing future $59.95 sales.
Although I seriously crave a good GM mode to go along with visually compelling graphics, I love playing Madden '08, and I think many FO readers will too. Changes to this year's edition should satisfy numerous constituencies. If the experience of playing Madden has been too daunting in the past, this edition is the one to buy. If you have been frustrated with EA's lack of advancement over the years, this is the one to buy. If you don't care about on-field action, and only want the intellectual stimulation of building a roster -- buy FOF for the PC.
reviewed by Aaron Schatz
I'll start this review the same way I started my NCAA 08 review. When we contacted EA about reviewing their games this year, I requested two copies of each: one for Xbox 360 and one for Playstation 2. EA recently dropped the price on Madden for PS2 by ten bucks, clearly recognizing that us slowpokes who don't care enough to upgrade our systems need an incentive to buy an upgrade for a specific game. Given that most of the development resources are now going to the next-generation games, did they manage to put anything new and useful into the PS2 version, or is it just a lame roster update?
The bad news is that PS2 Madden has many of the same flaws that PS2 NCAA has. In an attempt to keep the franchise consistent across platforms, developers added half-assed, useless new features that are far more complex and work far better on the next-generation machines. For the PS2, that means the new "weapon" system. There may be little icons above players' heads like on Xbox 360, but the only difference I can figure out is different animations for running backs when you use the "highlight stick."
The other flaw is not really a flaw, but an unavoidable reality -- some of the features just don't make it into the PS2 version. There are no "Gems and Busts," so all draft picks after the third round are still basically useless. There is no "Supersim" feature. Ps2 Madden franchise mode still has the same eight training camp minigames that PS2 Madden has had since the beginning of time. (On the other hand, we still get Madden and Michaels. Seriously, how can it be Madden without any actual participation from Madden? Just change the name at that point.)
The good news is that there is good new stuff in the PS2 version. The "Hit Stick 2.0" actually matters -- there's a big difference between hitting the ballcarrier low and hitting him high. It's nice to see plays with motion built in, such as the fake end-around. Most importantly, there is fantasy challenge mode. Like NCAA, Madden got a special mode that only exists in the old-generation games, but unlike NCAA, it doesn't completely suck.
The NCAA "points pursuit" was stupid because the game itself was completely the same. The only change was the way the game was scored. "Fantasy challenge" mode is far, far better because EA changed the game off the field. For the most part, the game on the field is the same. The result is a somewhat less complex "franchise mode" that can appeal to both hardcore and casual fans.
In "fantasy challenge," you can either pick an existing NFL team or build your own roster with active players and/or Hall of Famers. Your team gets a salary cap, and each player is simplified with a single overall rating and a "cap price." Trying to figure out what kind of team you want to build is fun, as is putting together weird combinations like a defensive backfield with Willie Brown, Cedric Griffin, and Rodney Harrison. The team size is small, which is a bit of a problem -- your running back ends up as your nickel corner, and I really don't want Todd Sauerbrun showing up in my goal-line package -- but the point is to make things easier on the casual fans. Games are set shorter (although you can change that) and there are no injuries.
The league is set up as a set of eight-team tournaments, where you simply play three round-robin games and then two playoff games. You get more cap points with bigger wins, and in between games, teams will try to "steal" your players by offering them more cap points. You can do the same with other teams. Teams will also challenge you to minigames where you can lose players or get your opponent's better player at a position. It sounds stupid but it is weirdly addictive, even for a hardcore fan like myself. Apparently, the final league has "super teams" with weird powers, not real NFL players. This sounds like something either very cool or very lame, but I have not played enough to get to that point.
Is "fantasy challenge" mode worth buying the game? Actually, if you are the kind of person who wants to play Madden in short bursts of a half hour at a time, the answer is probably "yes" -- particularly in conjunction with the roster update and the recent price drop. If "fantasy challenge" sounds stupid to you, then obviously the answer is "no." (By the way, "fantasy challenge" is a really stupid name, because it makes it sound like the mode revolves around fantasy football, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with fantasy football.)
Finally, I'll reiterate what Bill wrote above. It is time for the Madden people to re-do the franchise mode. There are a ton of problems, and it is far, far behind the NCAA dynasty mode. They need to take the higher processing power of the next-generation machines and totally overhaul the AI, and they need to fix some of the places where franchise mode is nothing like the actual NFL. Bill Barnwell played a season where 14 different running backs went over 400 carries. You can't tell the AI your team has a base two-tight end set, so the second tight end for teams like Dallas and New England will always get angry because he's not starting. There's no earthly reason to limit scouting to a handful of college players. It's ridiculous that your team has the same size roster in the preseason and the regular season, and even more ridiculous that placing a player on IR does not open a roster spot.
Honestly, the franchise mode has stagnated so much that if it wasn't for "fantasy challenge," I would spend the next year playing nothing but NCAA instead.
We've gone through team by team to look for one or two players that are rated too low and one or two players who are rated too high. We didn't decide on specific new overall ratings, but these are players you want to look to change. We also aren't giving specific instructions on what ratings to change -- with a few exceptions -- because there are more sub-categories in the new-generation version than in the old-generation version. Use your best judgment, and feel free to bring up other players in the discussion thread. This is not an exhaustive list by any means.
Note that players who have switched teams in roster updates are listed here with their original teams, and the ratings may not exactly be the same as your version because overall ratings seem to be slightly different on different consoles.
BUF: Raise: Keith Ellison 76 (specifically, pass coverage) and Jason Peters 87 / Lower: Darwin Walker 86 and Larry Tripplett 83
MIA: Raise: Yeremiah Bell 78 and John Beck 74 / Lower: Chris Chambers 88 (specifically, catch rating.)
NE: Raise: Ty Warren 89, Dan Koppen 87 and Stephen Gostkowski 80 (kick power way up) / Lower: Mike Vrabel 89 (specifically, pass coverage) and Tory James 85.
NYJ: Raise: Bryan Thomas 78 / Lower: Kimo von Oelhoffen 82 and Shaun Ellis 88
BAL: Raise: Kyle Boller 76 / Lower: Samari Rolle 87
CIN: Raise: Stacy Andrews 74 / Lower: Deltha O'Neal 84
CLE: Raise: Leigh Bodden 82 (possibly the worst rating in the game) and Brady Quinn 77 / Lower: Braylon Edwards 86
PIT: Raise: Nate Washington 75 and Daniel Sepulveda 81 (kick power up) / Lower: Ike Taylor 87 (What is this, Madden 07?)
HOU: Raise: Eric Winston 77 and DeMeco Ryans 88 / Lower: Ahman Green 88
IND: Raise: Ryan Lilja 81 / Lower: Adam Vinatieri 98 and Bob Sanders (INJ only)
JAC: Raise: Byron Leftwich 82 and Gerald Sensabaugh 78 / Lower: Donovin Darius 89
TEN: Raise: Cortland Finnegan 75 and Michael Roos 82 / Lower: Nick Harper 85 and Ben Troupe 81 (No way he should be higher than Bo Scaife)
DEN: Raise: Elvis Dumervil 79 / Lower: Rod Smith 84
KC: Raise: Damion McIntosh 78 / Lower: Ty Law 91 (What is this, Madden 05?) and Larry Johnson (not much, but make sure to lower his INJ due to the Curse of 370.)
OAK: Raise: Ronald Curry 79 / Lower: JaMarcus Russell 82
SD: Raise: Mike Scifres 80 and Eric Parker 80 (specifically, catch rating) / Lower: Quentin Jammer 87
DAL: Raise: Chris Canty 79 / Lower: Roy Williams 94
NYG: Raise: Fred Robbins 80 / Lower: Sam Madison 87 (years old?)
PHI: Raise: Kevin Kolb 73 / Lower: Jeremiah Trotter 91
WAS: Raise: Joe Salave'a 71 / Lower: Brandon Lloyd 82
CHI: Raise: Adam Archuleta 81 / Lower: Ricky Manning 86 and Robbie Gould 92
DET: Raise: Teddy Lehman 75 / Lower: Damien Woody 91 and Tatum Bell (pass blocking only)
GB: Raise: Cullen Jenkins 84, Jason Spitz 74 and Ruvell Martin 69 / Lower: KGB 86
MIN: Raise: Chad Greenway 79 / Lower: Tony Richardson 89 (What is this, Madden 03?)
ATL: Raise: Grady Jackson 83 / Lower: DeAngelo Hall 93 and Keith Brooking 92
CAR: Raise: Richard Marshall 82 / Lower: Ken Lucas 88 and Chris Gamble 88
NO: Raise: Jahri Evans 83 and Olindo Mare 79 / Lower: Fred Thomas 82
TB: Raise: Barrett Ruud 80 / Lower: Simeon Rice 92
ARI: Raise: Roderick Hood 82 / Lower: Reggie Wells 84 and Edgerrin James 91
SEA: Raise: Marcus Tubbs 82 (He should be at least 90 -- but also lower his INJ rating) and D.J. Hackett 82 / Lower: Mack Strong 96 and Shaun Alexander 95
SF: Raise: Moran Norris 74 / Lower: Kwame Harris 82
STL: Raise: Adam Carriker 81 / Lower: Torry Holt 98 and Alex Barron 89
We can give guys some benefit of the doubt based on draft position, but going by the Lewin Career Forecast, JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, and Kevin Kolb should all have the same rating -- probably 80 or so -- with John Beck slightly below.
Marion Barber should be higher than Julius Jones, but if you notice, the Madden people specifically gave the same rating to both running backs in Dallas, New Orleans, Carolina and Jacksonville. It probably is not worth messing with.
48 comments, Last at 29 Sep 2007, 12:54am by Corey