I love the month of August, I really do. Not only does it signal the last remaining gasps of Winter here in Australia, but it sparks the beginning of a new NFL season, and hence, a new Madden NFL from EA Sports. August comes with its challenges, though. Being an Aussie who follows the NFL with a passion such as myself can be quite hard - not only is it often difficult to quench my football thirst by actually attending games (damn our lack of teleport transport), but the TV coverage here is
shabby at best, and the Internet can only do so much. With this in mind, NFL videogames have regularly filled the gap and fueled my and I imagine many other non-US people's passion for the sport, and with EA's well publicized acquisition of the exclusive NFL license, Madden has been the only choice when it comes to NFL videogames for the past few years.
Being a PC gamer at heart, Madden on the PC has always been my version of choice. The graphics were better, the animations seemed smoother, and the online community forleagues and editing/game mods is second to none across the Madden platforms. Whether it was the impeccable user created 'Struttdaddy' rosters, or the countless amount of fellow enthusiasts wishing to pit their GM skills in roster management only simulated leagues, the PC version always seemed superior to me.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem many decision makers at EA agree. While the Xbox 360 and PS3 have been seeing new engines with top notch graphics and revamped animation systems from EA with the Madden series, the PC version has been tossed aside and given the scraps from the old PS2 engine for years, and this continues with Madden 08 PC. This means the vast majority of features touted prior to release for 08 on the next gen consoles are not in the PC version, which is considerably disappointing if
not a little misleading on EA's behalf, as actual PC specific features were not announced until very near the release date and were only hidden away in a developer's blog post at that. This was hardly a surprise as every year EA don't seem to show the PC version much love publicity wise, but Madden 08 PC seemed exceptionally neglected in this regard.
Perhaps this was the case because, thanks to the fact Madden 08 PC is based on the PS2 version of the game, there really wasn't that much the marketing department at EA could have focused on. What you will see that is new in 08 PC is so minimal, at times you may think you accidentally loaded up 07 instead. As far as modes go, three minor changes were made - there are a bunch of new mini-game like drills to enhance your football skills with in the new "Skill Drills" mode, in the Superstar
mode you can now take on the role of a real life NFL rookie drafted this past April, and there is now a new addition called "Ring of a Champion", which is not so much a mode but more of a visual aid to track your game achievements through the representation of diamonds on a Superbowl ring. Gameplay wise, only somewhat minor additions were made, such as the ability to "Spotlight" an opposing receiver, the ability to put a defender into a zone that defends the 1st down marker, a change in the
way you kick balls, an extension to the popular 'Hit Stick' known as 'Hit Stick 2.0' which allows you to specifically trigger low tackles by pressing down, a bunch of new pre-snap motion plays, and of course the expected addition of a few new animations here and there.
One of the more prominent features added to 08 PC is the new "Player Weapon" system, although this is really not a "back of the box" grade addition in the PC version like it appears to be in the 360/PS3 versions. Player Weapons on the PC are basically just an extension to 07's Player Roles, which gave labels to players based on their strengths and weaknesses, such as "Game Manager" for efficient QB's, "Hard Hitter" for strong defenders and "Injury Prone"
for players who find their way off the field too often. The Player Weapon system introduces a lot more to the table most of which are very position specific such as "Rocket Arm" and "Power Back", but rather than replace the Player Roles of 07, they basically just mixed both systems together, creating a sometimes awkward mixture of 07 style icons and abilities with the newer Weapons. Combined, you have over 40 different categories, 2 of which a player can specialize in, and while
this is quite comprehensive and detailed, perhaps even more so than 08 on the 360 and PS3, you have to wonder if these Roles and Weapons really do anything other than offer a quick and easy way to identify a player's attribute strengths, much like the game's OVR rating does. I'll give the game the benefit of the doubt and say a weapon ready player is slightly better than an identically rated one without a weapon, but it's definitely not evident enough to disprove the possibility they are nothing more than labels.
As far as what's new in 08, that's about it really. You'll notice smaller things like a slightly modified menu GUI and of course new menu and in-game soundtracks, but ultimately, 08 PC plays an awful lot like 07 PC did. Once you get in-game, the visuals will feel the same outside of a few slight enhancements to the lighting (particularly in weather), the physics will feel the same, and the gameplay will feel the same with perhaps a slight AI enhancement when it comes to CPU passing attacks and
their new found tendency to throw smarter underneath balls. After a while, you may see a few new catch and tackle animations including a few nifty looking 2 defender gang tackles, but a few new animations sprinkled here and there are hardly game savers. There is simply nothing clearly evident at all about 08 that differentiates itself from 07. EA have always been criticized for not adding enough year to year with Madden, but 08 PC is amazingly the same even by those standards.