Those of us who love pro football games are tired of having scorn heaped upon us, and we're not going to take it anymore. While the rest of the video gaming world makes fun of us for blindly buying Madden every year (and often nothing else), we're quite content to ignore them and restart our NFL fantasies each summer.
Sure, the first couple of games for the next-generation consoles have been kinda middling, but the promise of a true event horizon has been building with each release. Happily, that promise has finally been kept. Madden 08 for the Xbox 360 is finally the football game we've been hoping for - so the rest of you can go about your business and leave us the hell alone for a few months, thank you very much.
On the field, the action is tighter than LaDainian Tomlinson's cleats on a clear San Diego afternoon. Other than some nagging micro-pauses when menus appear (when will those ever go away?), gameplay is exceedingly fluid and more realistic than ever. Tackling, in particular, is supremely improved, as an updated Hit Stick lets you go high for the concussive knockout or low to ruin a knee or two. There also seems to be a lot more random, momentum-based takedowns and gang tackles, which ramp up the wow factor even more.
A nifty new feature this season is the usage of Weapon icons for different players (similar to what's been recently happening over on NBA Live). While most of these are just informative and can help you exploit mismatches, top-shelf players like Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis have a "light bulb" weapon; as it fills up during the game, you can choose to read your opponent's plays at opportune times. Brilliant stuff.
From a control standpoint, it pays to be dexterous and have a sharp memory. Madden makes near-obnoxious use of every single button before, during, and after the snap to the point of sensory overload. While it allows for an unprecedented level of depth to maneuver the troops, it'll probably scare off the uninitiated. At least the default settings display a list of what each button does before the play; our poor brains need more time to process everything before we turn that feature off.
On-field improvements aren't all that's in store this season. The Dynasty mode is more fleshed out than ever, allowing would-be Daniel Snyders the ability to micromanage the heck out of a team. Even better, you can play robber baron, courting other cities and threatening to move your club in order to squeeze more out of the local economy. If you play your cards right, you can follow through on your public sports blackmail and plant your flag in one of dozens of NFL-starved cities across North America. Sports capitalism at its best!
It'd be easy to say that this Madden is the best yet for the 360 because of the competition from the good-but-not-great All Pro 2K8. Who knows, it may be true; if so, we say thanks to 2K Sports. Regardless, we've got a whopper of an NFL game to play this season, with more good stuff to experience than most of us will ever get to. So if you'll excuse us, we've got some ankles to break and taxpayers to extort - not necessarily in that order. See you sometime next spring.