It's probably not a surprise to anyone that Madden on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube this year would essentially be on autopilot. The life span for these consoles are rapidly coming to a close, and the likelihood is that most players have probably pushed forward to the 360, Wii, and PlayStation 3 by now. What is surprising, however, is just how much on autopilot the PC installments of EA's megapopular football franchise continue to be. Despite the fact that the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Madden have taken a long leap beyond what the older consoles could deliver, EA has churned out yet another port of the PS2/Xbox/GC version of Madden for the PC in Madden NFL 08. What this means is that you're going to get the same basic upgrades of those versions (though not all of them), the same EA Sports Online system (which hasn't been updated in a long, long time), and the same tired presentation. To be sure, the game plays just fine, and all told, it's a solid game of football. But considering just how much this version has gotten the shaft in comparison to quite literally every other version of the game, it's hard to recommend it.
The big addition in every iteration of this year's Madden is the new "weapons" system. This system is basically designed to provide differentiation between specific types of star players. Due to specific icons for each type of player, you can now see the difference between a possession receiver and a big-play receiver, an accurate quarterback and a strong-armed quarterback, a shutdown cornerback and a press-coverage cornerback...you get the idea. On the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, this system is fantastic because you can really see the differences in play between the various types of weapons, and the game itself becomes about finding mismatches you can exploit on both sides of the ball. Not so much for the PC. There are certainly some base-level distinctions to be made, but for the most part, players play exactly the way they always have in a game of Madden. There aren't those subtle differences in play styles. Sure, you know the difference between a power running back and a speedy running back, but those have always been obvious differences. Beyond being able to spot who on the field is good and who is not so good, and periodically being able to fix a mismatch you might not have otherwise noticed, it doesn't feel like there's much value to the system on the PC version.
Some of the new control upgrades from the PS3 and 360 versions of Madden have made it into the PC version as well. Most of these updates are on the defensive side of the ball. You can now focus coverage on a specific receiver with a quick button press while zoomed out, though doing so will draw defensive resources away from other receivers. When laying in big hits via the right analog stick, you can hit a player high by pressing up, or low by pressing down. Doing this has different effects on different types of players. Hitting high might cause a less cautious ball carrier to cough up the rock, while going low on a power back is probably the best way to take him down as he pushes past the line. There's also a button that will make your controlled defender attempt to strip the ball from a carrier, provided you time the button press correctly. Fortunately, unlike on the 360 and PS3, the number of fumbles you'll see throughout a game aren't over the top. Lastly, EA finally added the new kick meter to the PC game, and if you've got a good dual analog controller, it works quite nicely.
Beyond these updates, Madden 08 plays a lot like Madden 07 did. Hardly an awful thing by any stretch, but those hoping for something significant or game-changing in these versions of the game won't get it. Likewise, any holdover bugs or issues from previous iterations are pretty much still here, like vibrating blockers, defenders and receivers getting wrapped up in a tango entirely free of pass-interference calls, and all the usual stuff like that.
Ultimately, the biggest change comes in the form of a really goofy mode addition. Titled skill drills, this mode is essentially a series of training minigames against gigantic football dummies. Think minicamp, but with robots. There are four categories to these drills: passing, rushing, defense, and presnap. Rushing has you running from end to end while pulling off specific jukes, spins, and cuts against defenders. Passing has you trying to complete as many passes as you can against the robot dummies in coverage. Defense is like the rushing attack, but with specific types of tackles and defensive hits. Finally, presnap controls having you cycling through various hot routes, audibles, and formation shifts under a time limit. The theory behind this mode seems to be to teach players how to use all the various control mechanics, and for some, it works. It definitely teaches you a thing or two about how to time hits and running-back moves, though for the presnap controls, it's basically worthless. There's zero insight into why you would make any of the changes you're making; you're just making them over and over again mindlessly. There's also something exceedingly silly about the whole giant dummy thing. Why can't you just do these against regular opposing players? Why does it have to be a big robot?
On the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube, an additional new mode called fantasy challenge had you building out your own fantasy team and competing in a series of tiered leagues against increasingly tough competition. Sadly, that mode isn't present here in any form, so you're basically missing out on the best of the new mode additions if you pick up the PC version.
Looking elsewhere to the mainstay Madden modes, franchise, online, and superstar modes are tweaked at best, and unaltered at worst. Franchise mode has seem some menu system adjustments, but actually removes some features, like the Tony Bruno radio show. Then again, considering that's something that costs money to license, and this year's game seems to be pretty much frills-free, that would make some measure of sense. Superstar mode ditches the randomization of your parents feature when creating your own player, and lets you select from any of the available rookies from this year's draft class, and also adds in all the role-playing stuff from the 360 and PS3 versions, minus the improvements to the camera system. Online modes are all but unchanged. You can play head-to-head against other players using the lobby matchup system, and can take part in the same basic tournaments, clubs, and leagues as always. In this regard, the PC version has always been ahead of consoles in that it actually includes these sorts of features. But it's had them for years, and they've gone nearly unaltered for years. At least the game performs reasonably well. We had some issues with connection drops before games began, but once we got into a few games, the matches were mostly lag-free.
The sameness from last year's game extends to the presentation as well. The graphics engine has seen little adjustment, save for some new gang-tackling animations that are actually pretty good. Players still have that squat, mutated look that they've had for a good long while now, and nobody looks anything like their real-life counterparts. The frame rate does at least manage to hold steady for the most part, though the play calling menus and other, similar areas of the game tend to hitch up for a moment or two when loading. Predictably, the PC version is a lot sharper than its console counterparts, but that doesn't excuse the fact that EA is continuing to port an old console game when it has a newer, slicker version it could just as easily port over. Commentary consists of the same rehashed dialogue from Al Michaels and John Madden yet again, so if you were hoping for something new, or even for them to mention a few new players' last names, forget about it.
With the PC version continuing to rank right around the bottom of the barrel as far as new features and upgrades go, you've got to start wondering if EA even cares about its PC sports games. Yes, it plays fine, but it doesn't play much better than Madden 07 did, and that didn't play much better than Madden 06 did. You can buy the PC version of Madden 08 and find yourself with a reasonably good football game, but given how little that reasonably good football game has evolved from previous reasonably good football games on the PC--and how much better the rest of the Madden crop is this year--you're better off looking to one of the console versions.