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Madden NFL 08

For: PSP   Also on: DS, Mobile

Another season at the top

Product: Madden NFL 08 | Format: PSP | Genre: 3D, Simulation, Sports | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network) | Version: Europe
Madden NFL 08 PSP, thumbnail 1
Neanderthal man is an enigma. Driven to extinction by homo sapiens some 30,000 years ago, the Neanderthals were large, hirsute, wordless and wedge-browed – the very image of the grunting caveman. However, while it's tempting to assume that mankind pruned them from the evolutionary tree using logic and guile, we couldn't have: Neanderthals were not only bigger and stronger than us humans, but brainier, too.

Likewise, for all that football players are the grunting behemoths of the American high school, the game they play is bafflingly complicated, and beneath the crunching bones and gasping lungs are plans that wouldn't look out of place on the wall of a war room.

For those who've never watched a game of American football or played a Madden title before, the premise is both brutally simple and insanely complex. You goal is to reach the opposition's endzone either by running with the ball or throwing it to a team mate farther up the field. If you're close enough, you can also opt to kick a field goal, albeit for fewer points.

Your progress up the field is incremental, achieved by means of a series of skirmishes called 'downs' strung together by whispered conferrals about the following down. If you fail to advance more than ten yards up the field over four downs, you forfeit the ball. Same goes if a defender intercepts it during a throw, or retrieves a fumble, or if you decide to take a punt.

Simple enough, but the complexity of the game – and part of the reason for Madden NFL 08's success – lies in the huge number of plays available during your whispered conferrals, when you're whipped away from the pitch to survey tiered permutations of arrowed tactical options.

Once you choose a play, the game returns you to the pitch and you watch as your players assemble into formation. From here, you can press the right shoulder button to zoom out and have the arrows of your various players' trajectories appear translucently across the grass. Each of these players is bound to a button, and – assuming you've chosen to throw – the aim is to watch how the play unfolds and then select a receiver by pressing their associated button.

As always, it takes expertise to get the most out of Madden NFL 08. For newcomers, though, the game provides an excellent education. As well as a Practice Mode, in which you execute each of the game's myriad plays ad infinitum, a training Mini-Camp enables you to hone particular skills such as swatting down a ball, timing a pass, taking punts, and so on. Once you've become proficient, you can even enter a Mini-Camp Competition to test yourself.

For final proof of your skills, you can also participate in the Superstar Challenge, a feature new to the series, which drops you into scenarios that have actually occurred in the NFL, such as the game-winning comeback drive led by Chad Pennington against the Titans. Yes, that comeback drive. While this is a great exercise for beginners, it's also a treasure trove for fans of the sport, and an excellent feature.

This review has so far been for beginners because those who've played a Madden game before know almost everything worth knowing about Madden NFL 08. Like generations before it, 08 is more refinement than sequel. The controls are more subtle and fluid, the options more current and copious, the graphics smoother, the sound crisper, but the fundamentals are largely untouched.

The most obvious addition is the new Read and React system, which enables you to quickly survey the abilities of every significant player by pressing the left shoulder button. Madden NFL 08 uses a series of symbols to denote the various players' qualities – or Player Weapons. A truck, for instance, signifies a run stopper, while an open hand indicates catching ability. A star, unsurprisingly, means star player.

The purpose is to allow you to exploit weak-spots in the opposition line by pitching your heroes against their zeroes. However, while this system works very well on the home console versions of Madden NFL 08, the differing skills of the players are less appreciable on the PSP – the truck of a run blocker won't necessarily do as much damage to the winged shoe of a runner as the icon suggests, making the whole thing slightly redundant.

The game's presentation is superb, with detailed, well-animated sprites, a good selection of rap and soft-rock backing tunes, largely appropriate commentary, and realistic grunts and crashes from the pitch. The menu interface, meanwhile, is slick and solid, dressed up in shaded cobalt and beefed up by nail-gun clunks that sound every time you touch the D-pad.

And in the corner of the screen, to hold your attention while the PSP chugs, a football quiz cycles eternally. Experienced entertainer that it is, EA Sports has worked out how to keep you entertained for every second that the game is running.

Madden NFL 08
may not be perfect, but it comfortably reasserts EA's command not only of the franchise, but of the whole genre.
Madden NFL 08
Reviewer photo
Rob Hearn | 20 September 2007
The crown prince of the American football game, Madden is showing no signs of weakness as he enters his eighteenth year at the top. It may not justify disposing of 07, but this is a great time for newcomers to join the party
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