It’s Game Time
If you live for football, you know how it can consume you. Your head is a virtual database of statistics, players, and the history of the game. You can make deft calculations for your fantasy football teams in the blink of an eye, and you are immovably planted in front of the TV on Sunday. If this sounds anything like you, then Madden is your game.
The Madden series set and re-set the bar many times over the years, winning over hardcore sports fans, avid gamers, and dilettantes alike. With its complex playmaking interface, in-game movement, and graphics always ahead of the curve, Madden is the last word in football video games. That’s why so many gamers were disappointed by the lackluster Madden 07.
The game was criticized for a variety of faults, ranging from unimpressive graphics to stop-and-start gameplay. (Insert snarky comment about instant replay here.) The truth is when someone, especially a young person of limited means, shells out 60 dollars for the latest next-gen game they expect a gaming experience like no other. Almost across the board, gamers and reviewers alike found Madden 07 to be unworthy of the next-gen consoles it was created for and, generally, a disappointment.
Madden 08 not only must be excellent for the sake of the franchise, but also represents an opportunity for Electronic Arts and their new developing arm, Tiburon, to set the bar even higher. Next-gen consoles are powerful enough to handle the complicated programming required to create complex in-game physics and realistic graphics. Football games demand both, and early previews indicate Madden 08 may just deliver.
The format should be familiar to anyone who has played Madden. The playmaking and in-game movement have remained more or less the same, just stepped up in complexity and sophistication. The player manages their team, makes trades, calls and runs plays, and generally runs the team from the ground up. All the logistical details are in place, but the real action takes place on the field.
Realism is a hallmark of the series and developers have worked hard to bring even more to this installment. The in-game movement has been made more complex on a variety of fronts. In previous versions, players could often hurdle to avoid tackles. The hurdling function is still in place, but now a receiver can have his legs knocked out from underneath him in mid-air. It happens all the time in the real thing and visually impressive tackles add a thrill to the game, like car crashes in NASCAR. Mid-air collisions are also featured in the game, taking the action a few feet higher off the Astroturf. EA has included a feature called Hitstick 2.0 which uses the right analog stick to make fine adjustments in tackling. Tackling placement can mean the difference between clipping a receiver as he runs into the end-zone or planting him in the turf with extreme prejudice.
Gang tackling is a common part of any real NFL game but is relatively hard to reproduce in video games. EA is confident about the realism of gang tackling in Madden 08, going so far as to claim it is the best gang-tackling engine they’ve ever created. Strong words, considering the strength of past games in the series, but preview players have praised the feature. You can add on tacklers as you go, useful for taking down star receivers who can be harder to catch than a greased pig. One, two, even four or more tackles can be thrown at receivers at virtually the same time. It’s definitely a step up from the old one-at-a-time tackling format of previous games.
Offense has been stepped up as well, with passing and reception that are more flexible in terms of movement and making quick decisions on the fly. EA reportedly hired a former college player and engineer, along with the Canadian Football League to develop blocking in the game. Now backs can read blocks along the line of scrimmage and pick their way through the defense more carefully. This should have a tremendous effect on the number of ways your receivers can find holes, your QB can escape the blitz and pull off last-second passes, and even the way your defensive line can adjust to the opposing team’s offense mid-play. Offense and defense have been improved and make for a more involved game experience, and this is complemented by the array of smaller details developers have added.
For example, height, weight, fatigue, climate, past performance, and playing style will affect your team on the field. Defensive backs will take advantage of shorter receivers to maximize interceptions and disrupt plays. A team that is used to summer’s swelter or winter’s chill will perform poorly in climates they are not used to. Fatigue will affect even your star players if you run them into the ground or play them in weather they’re not used to. Past performance and choices made by players, especially QBs, will affect the outcome of plays and games as a whole. It’s little details like this that make professional sports perpetually entertaining and add elements of surprise and drama to the games. How boring would it be if star players never had to sit on the bench for a few games due to injury, or if 300-pound linemen never lagged in their performance in extreme heat? EA knows how integral these random factors are in professional sports and has made them a sophisticated and important part of Madden 08. It’s all in the name of making the latest in the series the best it can be.
With their official NFL license and glowing track record, EA’s Madden series is the pinnacle of football gaming. Just like in football itself, even the top dogs need to stay on top of their game. After the disappointment of Madden 07, the pressure is on and expectations are high. In other words: it’s game time.