Madden NFL 08 Preview
If there's one franchise that might need a bit of an overhaul, it's the long-running Madden NFL series. Some will say the last great installment was in 2004, and most will agree the last few entries haven't shown the same level of quality and polish we've come to expect. But thankfully, EA has heard the cry of the fans, and it appears they're prepared to respond with Madden NFL 08. From an upgrade to player responsiveness and sensitivity to the very cool "foot-planting technology," the latest Madden could totally rejuvenate the franchise. Every once in a while, the developer needs to take a step back and reevaluate a flagship series, and sometimes, they let the staleness drag on forever. But EA's not about to let that happen. Let's take a closer look at just how much improved this one will be, and pray the team will come through in fine fashion when it comes to implementing these sweet ideas.
Some of the best changes may be the most subtle, but veteran fans will immediately take notice. For example, when a receiver goes over the middle, he's often doing so at great risk to life and limb...in real life, anyway. In Madden, it was never such a bad thing, and it actually gave your receiver a bit of an edge to get away from the sidelines. But that's one of the first things EA is changing, because you had best not make a habit of going over the middle in this new installment. You can really get nailed this time around, and if you get hit just right, the defender will successfully knock the ball from your hands. In addition, the infuriating "got caught in the catch animation" problem should disappear as well: the instant you catch a ball, you will have control of that player. Now that's something we've been hoping to see for quite a long time, so kudos on the receiving end of things, EA.
But hey, there's another part to the offense in the game of football, and that's the running game. Here's where things really start to get interesting, because player-specific ability and skill will have a huge impact in Madden NFL 08. For example, a smaller back won't be able to bowl over oncoming defenders, but he'll be more adept at breaking their ankles. The opposite is true for a bigger back, like a Jamal Lewis, for instance. In order to take advantage of these skills, they've redefined the highlight stick for easy use; when faced with a very large lineman or linebacker, you can move the stick up (quickly, we assume), and the small back will try to shake free to the left or right. In this way, you won't be able to approach the running game in the same way with every running back, which is a significant upgrade. The "foot-plant technology" is another major enhancement, allowing the back to change direction on a dime, provided he's got the ability. Lastly, you won't find yourself running in place behind one of your blockers, because that's another subtle drawback that has been erased.
Running backs aren't the only players on the field that have gotten smarter. Some players may fall into the "smart" category, and if you don't know what that is, let us elaborate a bit. This is the weapon system, which is designed to provide players with one or more descriptions that will directly impact their performance on the field. For example, those "smart" players will be able to figure out tendencies - and ultimately, weaknesses - in the other team. Each of these players will have an icon that fills over time; once a "smart" defensive player's icon is full, you can execute a perfect read of the offense's play. However, this can only be done once, so it's probably a good idea to save it for one of those momentum-swinging plays. There are 24 descriptive categories in all, and multiple special abilities for certain players, so the options appear to be endless. We just hope savvy players can't abuse this, turning the game into less of a simulator and more of an arcade-y joke.
We doubt that will happen, though. EA has said many times over the past few months that their focus is on the gameplay for this entry, and that seems very true thus far. The defense is also getting plenty of attention, as they've increased the effectiveness of defensive backs, linemen, ends, and corners. Before, it was extremely difficult to do anything all that special with a lineman, but now, you'll have plenty of extra maneuvers at your disposal. You could always try to swim your way through the line, but only the most talented linemen really had a chance of securing multiple sacks in one game, and that was generally annoying. This time, while the skill of a lineman will certainly factor into his performance, your own skill with the controller should play an equal role when rushing the quarterback. Corners and linebackers will also be able to utilize a variety of those aforementioned special abilities, depending on their categorization. In short, both the offense and defense is looking all kinds of robust, as these enhancements and additions are much-needed and much-appreciated.
Finally, EA has worked to up the flashy appeal of the game. Next to the expected visual upgrade, gamers will be able to earn trophies for a variety of on-the-field achievements. And after winning them, you can actually turn right around and bet them before online and offline games. We're not sure if you can bet them against the computer, or if it needs to be a versus match, but it's still a very nice addition nonetheless. And rather than simply trying for that Super Bowl ring, you'll have your own personal ring that will dictate your EA Gamer Level. Yup, by increasing your achievements, scoring more trophies, and of course, winning more big games, you'll add all kinds of glitter to your ring. Your initially empty ring could get a lot glitzier with the addition of a big ol' diamond once you win the Super Bowl, and over time, it could become the most expensive ring anybody's ever seen.
Those presentation features don't make or break the game, and really aren't anything more than a small, mostly cosmetic additions. But they're still nice to have, and hey, effort is effort. In the end, though, EA has apparently made good on their claim that Madden NFL 08 will be all about the gameplay. Players will be as responsive as they used to be back in the day, long before the addition of flashy graphics and other improvements that complicated things. But that's the best part: we get all the complexity, all the intricacy, and all those improvements with the old-school sensitivity and responsiveness we came to love with the 16-bit entries in the franchise. Yes, it will be as realistic as possible, but it will also be accessible, fast, and fluid. And that's something we can really wrap our heads around, so needless to say, we've got very high hopes for this one.
It's too early to say for sure, but we hope we get a chance to say it come August: Madden is back!
6/18/2007 Ben Dutka