IGN Review of Madden NFL 08
When it comes to big time franchises, few can hold a candle to Madden. Likened to a religion and a holiday by its faithful fans, the latest installment of the football franchise is one of the most eagerly awaited titles every year. The majority of the attention for this year's game was paid to the 360 and PS3 versions of the series, which are continually being touted as the future of football, while the older consoles experienced a new casual gamer focus. The PSP version of the game breaks away from the consoles slightly, implementing one aspect of the latest game system while leaving other features out and suffering from some laggy online play.''''Now, Madden has been known for placing a major focus upon either offense or defense with each release, typically capturing some element or aspect of the cover athlete's game. This year is a slight departure from that formula, since the primary addition that's been made to this year's game is the inclusion of the read and react system. An evolution from the playmaker feature of the past, the read and react system evaluates the skills and abilities of every player on a team and assigns specific traits and icons to them based on their known performance. Mobile quarterbacks might be designated as Scramblers, while defenders that are known for jacking up players with crushing tackles are known as Heavy Hitters. As a result, players can hit a button during a down to see if the play you selected will result in any mismatches in an offensive or defensive scheme that you can exploit, or if you need to quickly shift to compensate and counter your opponent's plans.''''As a result, you'll find a potential chess match breaking out between yourself and an opponent (or the computer at higher difficulty levels) at the line of scrimmage, as you find yourself pulling out audibles, line shifts and other adjustments to tailor that down to develop the way you want it to go. However, there are two big issues that wind up almost invalidating the usefulness of the read and react system. The first is weapons on the PSP are just as ambiguous as they are on the PS2 and older consoles. For instance, if I see a Power Back lined up in the backfield, I want to make sure that my Heavy Hitter linebacker is assigned to negate his yardage and stuff him at the line. While figuring out these kinds of match-ups is relatively easy to do, it's particularly impossible to know what you should do against a starred weapon. The catchall icon for a character that has "skills and attributes to fit into more than just one Weapon category," according to the game, these players are the best in the NFL.''''However, it becomes rather ridiculous to expect that you'll find another star player that will completely negate the abilities of that player, or even affect him in the way that other matchups play out. For instance, Peyton Manning is listed as a Star "Franchise Quarterback," with that classification's description mentioning that these kinds of QBs are always under pressure to perform. What do I need to do, have a safety hold a sign in the backfield distracting him about how much he choked until last year to hamper his accuracy or throwing strength? (Obviously, I'm kidding, but you realize how much this read and adjust system is complicated by such vagueness.)''''The other issue is the ineffectiveness of the Weapons themselves. Within the newer consoles of the game, it's easy to pick up on incredible one-handed catches, laser-like passes and bone-crushing hits due to the specific weapon that performed that play. These spectacular plays don't necessarily stand out on the PSP, even though they're sometimes paid extra attention. For instance, quarterbacks that are good precision passers, that direct their thrown balls exactly where you want, will have a Precision Passer Icon pop up on the screen. You may find some new animations for receptions or for hits, but for the most part, this isn't anything different than what you've seen in previous versions of the game on the PSP. It doesn't really feel like the weapons add that much to the gameplay, but it doesn't take anything away either, which essentially renders the system useless to the overall feel of the game. It's as if the weapon system needed to be in all of the versions of Madden because it was heavily featured in the 360 and PS3 versions, so the other versions of the game had to have the mode in there or it would be left behind.''''Similarly, you'll be surprised that you can't take advantage of the defensive maneuvers that were included within the PS2 version of the game. For some reason, you can't drop a defender into smart zone coverage at the First Down yard line, nor can you spotlight a receiver to break up passing lanes and interfere with the quarterback's chances to throw the ball. While you can highlight a defender as a Playmaker, you're not enjoying all of the defensive adjustments that you have on the PS2, which is a little disappointing, particularly because it seems like Hit Stick 2.0 has been included, which lets a ball carrier either run over a ball carrier or take out their legs. This is really designed to take advantage of the match-up between a defender and a ball carrier's size. If the defender is the same size or a bit larger, you can easily knock someone flat on their back. However, if they're a smaller defender, hitting a ball carrier low is an easy way to take them down on the play and potentially cause a fumble. You may need to be careful, because if you whiff or fail on your hit, a back can take advantage of your mistimed action and break for extra yardage.''''Outside of that, very little has changed in the gameplay, so if you're expecting certain bugs or hiccups to be gone, you're still pretty much out of luck. Injuries, particularly of star athletes, still happen way too frequently on routine plays. Now, last year the camera was way too tightly zoomed in on the quarterback, making it very difficult to see where your receivers happened to be when they were running their routes. As a result, you'd often throw a ball into coverage and be picked off, or find that your receiver was nowhere near the ball for a reception. This has been slightly fixed. While the camera is still zoomed in, it isn't as tight or nearly as restricted as it was in the previous game, so it's a little easier to see whether or not your receivers are covered. AI issues still seem to be prevalent within the game, with time management still being horrendous after the two-minute warning. ''''Now, one thing that has changed somewhat is what features have been included within the title. Gone is the End to End mini-game, which forced you to turn your PSP on end to play the mode. In its place is the Superstar Challenge, which presents you with 25 challenges taken from last year's NFL season broken up amongst five tiers. Players are given a specific task and time limit for a certain star athlete, along with a minor description of what you need to accomplish to complete the challenge. Some of these are relatively easy to complete, such as Chad Pennington driving the Jets to a touchdown in the last six minutes of a game, while others are a bit more difficult, such as getting Matt Bryant to kick the 62-yard field goal on October 22nd of last year to defeat the Eagles. It's an interesting test of your abilities.''''The mini-camp and mini-camp competitions do make a return to this year's game, although there's not really any additions to this mode that you didn't see in last year's game. The other mode that has received a mild adjustment is the Franchise mode, which practically receives the same treatment that the PS2 version gets for casual players of the franchise mode: A number of menus are condensed into a simplified main menu known as My Week. Fledgling owners have access to their game schedules, preparation for the next week's opponent and their team rosters. Basic statistics and news from around the league are also simplified and presented in a tabbed menu bar that runs along the bottom of the screen, which updates with every single week's latest info. As a result, players that aren't interested in delving into more involved features of the mode can easily navigate their way through a pre-season and regular season with minimal use of sub-menus.''''It's an interesting concept that seems to work a bit better on the PSP than it does on the PS2 version of the game. Since there are some elements that are missing in the portable version of the game, such as having to worry about the stadium prices or other financial details with running the organization unless you get invested in the trading block, being able to focus upon a simplified franchise feature can work for some casual fans. Hardcore fans may feel that there are elements that make this Franchise-lite, but it's still a decent presentation of the mode. There is a caveat with the menu bar as well, because pulling it up blows up an ugly, pixilated menu that's not particularly pleasant. Plus, since you can take your franchise files and transfer them back and forth, thanks to the PSP to PS2 Connectivity feature, you'll be able to constantly improve your teams wherever you go.''''Unfortunately, the multiplayer mode is the weakest link for the game. We played games here both over Ad Hoc and Infrastructure, and the lag that we experienced in the games was horrendous. Whenever we tried to select a play, we had a lag or at least two or three seconds before the game acknowledged a command. This made it a bit difficult to make sure that the game actually accepted the play you wanted to run. While the gameplay was a bit more stable than the playbooks, we also noticed freezes for a second or two between snapping the ball and running a play, as well as players that would sometimes freeze before they would speed back up. It's unfortunate, but it's not as enjoyable when you experience that much lag in multiplayer.
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