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.
If you bought Madden 07, or Madden 06 for that matter, this might all look a bit familiar.
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?