EA Goes for Two in Latest ‘Madden’ Release

Electronic Arts (EA) appears to have scored a touchdown with its “Madden NFL ’08,” the latest iteration of the 18-year-old video game franchise that hit store shelves Tuesday. Reviewers have generally lauded “’08” as a marked improvement over the last few editions of the game, but some give an edge to gameplay on the version available for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 over that of Sony’s Playstation 3 (PS3).

“It’s an awesome game,” Mike Goodman, a Yankee Group analyst, told TechNewsWorld. “It’s a really well-built game. Last year’s version didn’t push the envelope. [In Madden ’08] we are starting to see the benefits of learning how to program for a specific console.”

The Playbook

With “Madden ’08,” EA has included several new aspects to enhance gameplay. Perhaps the most noteworthy addition to the action is the Read & React System, a player’s weapon assessment system. No guns here, just a variety of icons that help gamers identify the strengths and weaknesses of players on the team. They are a sort of instant-read thermometer on what the team across the ball is preparing, affording gamers the opportunity to counter with those strengths and exploit the weaknesses.

On the defensive side, weapons include Brick Wall Defender — football players in the game identified with this symbol play hard and fast, stopping running backs in their tracks. Offensively, other features include the Smart QB, Cannon Arm QB and Accurate QB. Gamers looking for QBs that can make something out of nothing, throw their receivers a bullet or thread the needle between two defenders will want to choose based on the new information provided.

For players who thrive on hard hits, EA bumped up the Hit Stick a notch, giving gamers the ability to choose where their defenders will concentrate the force of their bone-crushing tackles — high or low. Other improvements include all-new player moves such as auto-motion backward passes and control of receivers to make gravity-defying catches. In bad weather conditions, players can slip and fall or lose the ball.

Off the Field

Gamers can also now take their football savvy into the administrative side with Front Office Mode. They can build their own state-of-the-art stadium, set concession prices, hire coaching staff, draft players and essentially control every component of their NFL franchise form the top down.

True control freaks that play well enough can increase their Madden Gamer Level to even create and customize their own in-game championship ring.

“They are trying to make you into a much better team manager,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld, “and kind of moving out of the head-to-head gaming aspects and into the sim realm.

“It is very much a combination of a simulation game than a typical sports game,” he continued. “They are kind of broadening the franchise a bit.”

It’s good, Enderle noted, for gamers who are tired of just running the same plays over again, particularly if they are playing alone. The “Front Office” features give players a whole different aspect to gameplay and a reason to buy yet another annual addition to the franchise.

Xbox on Top

With this version of “Madden NFL,” Xbox 360 owners really have come out on top, according to Goodman. This is the third version of the series for Microsoft’s next-generation console, and until now the software’s designers still had not covered the learning curve for the new gaming platforms enough to push the envelope on the 360 or the PS3.

“Now you’re into second-generation software, particularly on the 360, and you’re starting to see the benefits of learning how to program for a particular console,” he explained. “There’s a good reason [it is playing better on the 360] because at a bare minimum that is second-generation software and in fact it’s running at 60 frames per second on the 360 versus, [a slower frame rate] on the PS3.”

As a result, the video operates much smoother on the 360 than on the PS3, he added.

The year-long head start Microsoft had over the PS3 and Nintendo’s Wii really shows in “Madden ’08,” Enderle said in agreement. “The other products have not been on the market long enough, particularly the PS3, because they are really trying for the same kind of game richness that the Xbox has, where the Wii tends to have lighter games.”

As the PS3 is a harder platform for which to develop, Enderle said, gamers can expect to see the PS3 do very well on Madden next year.

“It has more virtual cores, and as soon as people figure out a way to get to them, it will be even better,” he concluded.

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