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. However, with the rise in attention being paid to the 360 and PS3 versions of the series, which are continually being touted as the future of football, this year's version of Madden on the Xbox was a radical departure. This year, Madden NFL 08 features a much larger emphasis on casual football fans than the hardcore player. While it doesn't completely abandon its roots entirely, it doesn't significantly build on them either, which makes this year's title somewhat disappointing for gamers on older generation systems.''''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; while there is a major emphasis on defensive adjustments this year, the largest 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 are much more ambiguous on the Xbox than the Xbox 360 version of the game. 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. In the Xbox 360 versions 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. On the Xbox, these spectacular plays don't really stand out. While you'll still pick up on some slick receptions or some nice stops at the line by a defender, they aren't anything you haven't seen before in previous installments of the game on the system. In fact, with the possible exception of containment and shutdown corners seeming a bit more ferocious in their coverage, weapons don't really feel like they make a major impact on the game. It's almost like the Xbox version of the game put the system in because the 360 had it, which is pretty useless. ''''The defense has a little bit of an advantage this year, as any defensive player can be dropped into a defensive smart zone (regardless of their weapon status) to the first down yard line in order to help deny the other team from easily picking up that key yardage. On the other hand, if you find that a star receiver is lining up against one of your DBs and you need a little extra help to deny the pass, players can automatically spotlight that player before the snap. By doing so, the defense will rotate over to help deny passing lanes and will frequently result in double or triple coverage.''''Finally, defensive players have access to a redesigned Hit Stick. Dubbed Hit Stick 2.0, it allows players to choose between trucking a ball carrier or taking 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. Some character models are still woefully inaccurate by comparison to the real player: for instance, if you have cornrows or dreadlocks, you shouldn't have a close cut hair or a bald head. This is just sad. While a lot of the stuttering hiccups that would happen during cutscene playback have been fixed from last year, there are some new issues that have popped up to take their place, such as render passes on faces and face masks that will snap into focus.''''AI issues still seem to be prevalent within the game, with time management still being horrendous after the two-minute warning. What's more, some ball detection issues seemed to occur a number of times during fumbles. Hilary and I witnessed one play where a running back lost the ball behind the line of scrimmage and no one in the ensuing dive for the ball managed to pick up the ball for at least three seconds. Finally, a receiver swooped in and snagged the loose ball, gaining an additional twelve yards on the play. ''''While all of the gameplay adjustments seem to cater much more towards the hardcore fan, Madden NFL 08 is featuring a larger emphasis on appealing to the casual player with their inclusion of Skill Drills to help players gain their footing with the title and improve their play. The game will evaluate how you play the game in four different areas: rushing, passing, defense and pre-play audibles. Depending on how poorly you perform in these tasks, you'll have one of these drills suggested to you, where you take on a team of tackling dummies to accomplish specific goals. While this is an interesting diversion and learning tutorial for newcomers to the game, as well as a refresher for veterans of the franchise, these don't particularly serve the purpose of explaining why you want to call specific pre-play adjustments to plays, for example. As a result, the casual gamer may learn how to play the game, but not necessarily fully understand what they're doing. Considering that Madden 08 has axed the informative NFL Network Mode, which actually explained different plays, the casual gamer is actually losing knowledge that they would've gained in last year's title.''''One of the other casual inclusions is the new Fantasy Challenge mode, which allows players to pick their favorite teams and either using the preexisting roster, hand picking players from the NFL, or drafting current or hall of fame players via a fast paced mini-draft. Players are given 730 Roster points to select individual and packages of offensive and defensive squads to comprise their team. Once you've built your team, you then attempt to take on other teams in a tiered league system, where players fight through three rounds to reach a four-team single elimination playoff season. Each successful win earns your team skill points, which can be allocated towards increasing the stats of players on your team. It also opens up game challenges where players can wager their skill at a mini-camp challenge against another team's score to gain a new player or lose their best athlete. The overall goal of the Fantasy Challenge is to defeat all the competition and become the champion of each one of the four leagues. While the first three leagues will test you, the Supreme League, comprised of Hall of Fame teams and EA created super squads will challenge you with various quirks like disappearing during plays or continually forcing fumbles during tackles. ''''The Fantasy Challenge is one of those modes that is engaging, particularly because you can essentially field your dream team and try to make them four time champions. However, the team that you start out with will never be the team that you finish up with, whether you'd like it to be or not. As you play through each game, your squad will constantly be assaulted by trade negotiations or offers for players. You can either match these deals with roster points to keep them on your team or you're forced to release them to the other team. What sucks is that you won't always receive roster points if you defeat an opponent or win a mini-camp challenge, so you may find that your squad is somewhat whittled away as you move through each tier without anything that you can do to prevent it. When you realize that you can even receive negative roster points depending on who gets taken in a trade, you know that the system is somewhat skewed.''''Many of the older modes have also made a return, with some tweaks made. Online is the same as it was last year however, with players needing to adjust to the lag during kicks to successfully take full advantage of the kicking meter. However, you won't find yourself in online leagues or anything significantly different than what you've been playing for at least two years, which is somewhat disappointing, but to be expected. With so much attention being paid to the newer consoles, it wasn't likely that there would be any new adjustments, but it would've been nice to see some new facets to the online experience.''''For the most part, players will still experience the same elements within the Franchise mode, with one significant adjustment: many of the menus have been condensed into a simplified main menu option known as My Week. Primarily constructed for those casual players that might be interested in trying their hand at a franchise, fledgling owners have access to their team emails, game schedules and preparation for the next week's opponent, amongst other elements. 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 the deeper menu systems of the game can easily navigate their way through a pre-season and regular season with minimal use of sub-menus.''''It's an interesting concept, but the condensing of these menus doesn't actually wind up helping these novice players find their way through the finer details that they'll need to successfully run their franchise. As a result, solely relying on these screens will probably cause that target audience of the casual player to become frustrated when they realize that they don't necessarily know where they need to go or what needs to be done to handle the dipping support of their fans or what to best do in trade situations. This will probably force them to rely on the game much more instead of trying to understand the nitty gritty of Franchise management, and as a result, they'll probably stop paying attention to this mode after a few games. What's more, veterans will probably find themselves somewhat annoyed by this new presentation of the franchise mode, primarily because it will feel like owner mode with training wheels that can run pretty slowly. For example, what's up with pulling up newspapers taking forever in this redesigned mode anyway?''''Superstar mode has made a return in this year's game, but there is a significant change to the gameplay this time around: Players can take on one of the players from this year's rookie draft class and attempt to make them legendary players worthy of being enshrined in Canton. That means that you can take the training camp absent JaMarcus Russell and use his abilities to make the Raiders return to their glory days if you so choose. This provides a much larger pool of players to pull from to experience the ups and downs of being a superstar in the NFL, which adds a lot of flexibility to this mode. If you're still looking to create your own player instead of stepping into the cleats of the draft class, you now have some more flexibility to create the player you were always looking for without constantly having to worry about that athlete's parents or the "stats" you'd roll. Players are given a pool of points with which to allocate to different abilities, giving them some new flexibility towards how to best create the player they want to become.''''Unfortunately, while you've got these new adjustments to the Superstar mode, you'll find that the old issues that plagued the mode from last year still apply. Camera angles, particularly for wide receivers and defensive backs, can still be pretty sketchy when on certain plays. Similarly, players still get penalized for mistakes that they have no control over. For instance, if a receiver drops a ball or fumbles after making a catch, your chosen player still receives an influence hit, even though you have nothing to do with that mistake. That's still extremely annoying.''
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