Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Madden '08 best in years

The new "Madden NFL 08" video game that hits stores today looks better than its predecessors, and it plays better, too.

EA Sports appears to have heard complaints from some fans who kept saying not much was changing in new Madden releases except for the player rosters.

In 08, you can instantly identify where your own and your opponent's best players are on the field. This allows you to try to create mismatches and use your audible buttons more than ever before. There's a new front office mode that allows you to create a team and a stadium if you like (which I took as an assault on "All Pro Football," which does the same thing but doesn't have the NFL license).

You can even become the receiver at the start of a play, get yourself open and press a button to call for the ball.

The game has new player moves and new animations that look cool, too, but the running game is the improvement I liked most. It's easier to see the running game evolve. You can follow your blockers and burst to daylight.

I also think Madden is smarter this year. You can't just fade back 30 yards and fling the ball down the field every play. You can't take a speedy quarterback from Atlanta, who shall remain nameless, and dominate a game at will. This plays more like real football. But it could feel more like real football.

At their heart, video football games were always like taking control of a TV broadcast. Take Two's "All Pro Football" -- which trumps Madden in looks -- has that feel. There are announcers talking about the players and the plays. There are TV style cut-ins. We see the players on the field talking. You get the TV-style sound effects.

Madden no longer has Madden and Al Michaels or Pat Summerall doing play-by-play and color. It's a boring one-man "radio" guy. I'd love to see EA Sports hire two or three announcers like Take Two does to spend hours in the studio to create a true TV style audio presentation. It also wouldn't be bad to incorporate a pregame and halftime show.

What we get now on Madden is the voice of former Rams star Marshall Faulk giving pregame predictions -- but not calling the teams by name.

Now it's not all bad, though. Madden, more than ever, looks like the real thing. Players are drawn to scale better than ever (though I wish they appeared larger like on "All Pro"). Steve Smith wears armbands high on his forearms and has a familiar gait. Chris Gamble has long braids flowing out of the back of his helmet. It's little touches like this -- and you'll find them for all your favorite players and coaches -- that make this Madden so much fun.

"All Pro" is an awfully good title with lots of good features, but without the NFL teams and stadiums, it can't give you the experience Madden does. If you can, get both. If you only get one, get Madden. (Rating: 3 stars out of 4.)

Video Games Langston Wertz Jr.

Langston Wertz Jr: 704-358-5133; lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

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