Xbox 360
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Published by: EA Sports
Developed by: EA Tiburon
For: PS2, Xbox, GC, PC, DS, Wii, PSP, PS3, Xbox 360
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: E for No Descriptors

Madden. The name brings up two images to many people’s minds: a rather large, obnoxious sports broadcaster with bushy eyebrows, or hordes of football-hungry gamers, looking for a way to spend the next months of their lives, away from work and family. Well, okay, that’s an exaggeration. But the fact of the matter is that many go crazy for Madden when it comes out, despite quality and despite lackluster showings in the past two iterations of the game. And what do most gamers do when they get home from the game store? They boot up the game, picking their favorite team, and hope against hope that EA Sports has actually made some worthwhile changes to the game.

In the past few years, Madden has been a mixed bag. Many consider Madden 2005 to be the last truly great year for the franchise, with the addition of the Hit Stick to the equation. Basically, the Hit Stick introduced analog stick tackling, instead of happily mashing the square, b, or x button, as was the case for years, depending on your system of choice. Madden 2006 was where there started to be major stumbling blocks in the series. Dubbed “The Year of the Quarterback”, the major addition the franchise was that, when playing as the quarterback, the right analog stick controlled the QB’s field of vision. This really made the game even more difficult. Offense boiled down to quickly scanning the field with the right stick, pressing the corresponding button for the receiver you wanted to pass to, and hoping the defense didn’t blitz you. Cool idea, shoddy execution. The 06 version also saw the addition of the Truck Stick, which allowed players to break free of tackles that once resulted in a canned animation. Madden 07, more fully realized on the 360 and the first Madden to grace the PS3 console, refined the running game more than in past iterations. Introducing Lead Blocker controls to the game, it allowed players to set up blocks to open holes for their running backs. In addition, the game also added jukes to the right analog stick, further refining the Truck Stick that was added in the 2006 game by making it easier to use and adding more animations to its repertoire of moves.

Madden 08 takes all of these things and makes them better. It makes them run at 60 frames per second (on the 360; PS3 and previous gen versions run at 30 fps, with the PS3 also having issues with a stuttering frame rate). Basically, that means that more animations can be seen. It upgrades the Hit Stick, meaning that now the hits are harder and more painful looking than ever before, and adds in control of the wide receiver, much like the Lead Blocker control. In addition, the AI (artificial intelligence) receives a boost, as is the case in most Maddens. Other features have been added, and these will be discussed later in the review, but for now, know that this is the most impressive Madden in years (both graphically and in how the game plays).

Game Play 20/20

At first glance, Madden might look like the same game as it was in past years, if only prettier. But first glances don’t make a game. Because of how smooth the game moves, it feels like a much faster, hence more realistic, brand of football, and so plays a lot better. Tackles feel more significant, partially because they look better. The fact is, the graphics play into every facet of the game, including how the game plays. New this year is the weapons system. Each team has at least one player that has been designated as a weapon, and so has special skills. These skills don’t make the game play arcadey, but in fact make the game much more realistic. For example, a player like LaDainian Tomlinson is considered an “Elusive Back,” and this actually effects game play. Tomlinson is harder to stop than in past years. Peyton Manning, on the other hand, is a “Smart QB.” This ability allows the player to better read plays, and at designated moments, actually see the defense that the opposing team has chosen. Each of the weapons has a counter on the other side of the ball, so Tomlinson would be countered by someone like John Lynch (a “Big Hitter,” who is more likely to cause the ball to fumble) or Troy Polamalu, and Manning would be countered by a player called a “Smart Linebacker” or “Smart Safety.” Of course, every position has multiple weapons, and multiple counters, which results in Madden starting to feel a little like a game of chess on the higher difficulty settings.

As mentioned previously, the AI in the game has received a massive boost, resulting in a game that plays more like the game of football. The computer actually runs the ball now, instead of just throwing the ball as in previous years, and acts smarter in terms of pass coverage than ever before. Because of this, and especially because of the weapons system, the player needs to be especially careful as to ball placement, or there will be a guaranteed interception. And, of course, all of the major improvements to the game play system from previous years have been included. As mentioned above, the Lead Blocker control has been upgraded, as has the Hit Stick. Most of this stuff will be covered more thoroughly below, in the Control section, but all of it does factor into game play. Running is somewhat easier due to the Lead Blocker, but it’s not completely so, due in part to the weapons system. Defenders are not as easy to fake out anymore, and because of that, that game’s difficulty is increased on the harder difficulties, like All-Pro and All-Madden. However, it does seem that the developers made the game way too easy on the two lower difficulties, as the player’s scores racket up and the computer’s scores stay in the single digits after just a short time.

Graphics 9/10

Graphically, this is one of the best-looking sports titles on the 360 to date. The NBA games look good (if not a little gross, due to the massive amounts of sweat that the players seem to have), and the hockey games look excellent, but EA has managed to squeeze quite a bit out of the Madden game engine here. Stadiums look authentic, crowds roar and pulsate, and the players both look and move realistically. In addition, everything moves as smooth as butter. It’s fun to just watch the game, to see the in-air collisions, to watch a running back juke under a defender or a receiver spin away from a tackle.

Everything looks phenomenal, and this is in large part due to EA’s innovative animation tech called the branching animation system. Players now drag their toes to stay in bounds. No longer do running backs get caught on the line when running up the gut, but instead duke and juke and slide through the gaps that blockers create. It’s not perfect, but for the most part, it looks much more realistic than in past games. There are two problems that I noticed with the game, graphically, and they are very minor. Every once in a while, there is some clipping in the game, mostly players extremities going through each other. This is most noticeable on replays, and doesn’t really affect how the game looks. No longer are there players walking right through each other, no longer are players just standing around pre-snap. The other thing is that once in a while, the game hitches up. I don’t know if this is a result of my 360 getting too hot, or what. If anyone has any of the same problems, please post below. An interesting side note is the dynamic advertising. Last year, Microsoft purchased a company called Massive, Inc., a company that provides dynamic advertising to gamers hooked up to the internet. I didn’t even notice this at first when I was playing the game, but as I went along, I started noticing movie ads put in unobtrusive spots in the stadiums, or ads for gaming web sites. It’s not all the time and it’s not everywhere, but it is worth noting.

Sound 8/10

On the field, everything sounds great. Players taunt each other and impacts sound bone jarring and real. The crowds roar, swelling and waning as would be expected, and booing in certain situations. The play-by-play, however, is horrible. John Madden and Al Michaels are on the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube versions of the game, but not the 360 and PS3. Those versions of the game have a boring radio announcer that has lasted way too long on the next-gen versions of the game. It’s weird to hear the lackluster commentary, considering the high-quality nature of the rest of the game.

Hopefully, EA will make the needed changes in next year’s inevitable edition, but for now, players are stuck with an alternately unenthusiastic or over enthused announcer with more than his share of team spirit. An interesting addition is that Marshall Faulk, former running back for the St. Louis Rams, makes predictions for the score prior to the game. It’s a pretty cool idea, one that would be better if the game was more fully integrated with the ESPN license.

Stability 3/5

For the most part, this game is very stable. However, I’ve had two major problems with the game itself. The game pauses every once in a while after a play. Whether this is because of loading or some other reason, I don’t know; however, the pauses are only momentary, and don’t really affect the game or the flow of the game itself. The second problem with the game happens during training. Whenever you try to train a running back, the game freezes and you have to restart the system in order to continue. So, if you haven’t saved, this is almost a game breaking glitch. Hopefully, there will be a patch at some point in the future, but for now, it’s a pretty big problem.

Control 4/5

As usual, everything controls as it should. And, as usual, there is a half second delay between the press of a button and the quarterback passing the ball. It’s a little bit of nuisance, but one that’s easy to get used to. In every other area of the game, everything is fast and intuitive, in only a little complicated. It is a nice feature that EA included a list of pre snap actions and their corresponding controls so that nothing becomes too cumbersome.

Appropriateness 50/50

There’s nothing inappropriate or gross or sexual in this game. I wouldn’t consider any of the tackles violent either, especially considering the NFL’s vice like grip on any of the content in the game. The music is appropriate, and if there are any curse words in the lyrics, they are all censored out, so the game definitely earns its ESRB rating.

Final Ratings

Game Play 20/20 Graphics 9/10 Sound 8/10 Stability 3/5 Control 4/5 Appropriateness 50/50

Final Score 94/100

This is an excellent addition to the Madden franchise. It improves on the franchise after two less-than-perfect years, and adds much needed depth and intricacies to the game. Only a more TV-like presentation and better use of the ESPN license, as well as improved commentary could improve the franchise at this point in time.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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