Thu, Sep 06, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Video games reviews

AGENCIES

Sim City DSElectronic ArtsNintendo DS

Are you ready for some football? The NFL season kicks off today, but the action's already under way with the release of the latest in the Madden franchise.

This year's game is a tale of two next-generation systems. While the 360 version runs flawlessly at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, the PS3 version sometimes stutters at half that speed.

The quick frame rate of the 360 and a new "branching animation" system that does not lock players into animation sequences make for a much more responsive game. The new animation system creates a lot more visual variety when running, tackling or making highlight reel catches.

Controls remain largely the same, though ball strip and hurdle moves have been added. On defense, the right thumb stick can be used to deliver bone-crunching high or low tackles.

Playing a local friend is still the most entertaining way to enjoy Madden, but online play is lag-free. When taking on the computer, an improved artificial intelligence system makes it more difficult to routinely find holes in zone coverage or connect on deep passes. And on offense, the computer actually plays to its strengths instead of randomly picking plays.

Franchise mode is deep, but largely unchanged. Superstar mode, where players take control of a custom athlete, is more playable because the camera has been pulled back to show more of the field. A new Finance mode makes it possible to relocate teams to new cities and adopt a new name and logos.

Though easily the best effort to date, Madden 08 still manages to drop the ball in familiar ways. Fumbles occur far too often; six or seven a game is typical. And there's still no support for online leagues, something fans have been clamoring for. Strangest of all is that John Madden still doesn't lend his voice to the play-by-play. Instead, a monotone, unnamed announcer does his best to lull football fans to sleep.

The release of All-Pro Football marks 2K's return to the gridiron, but it is not glorious.

When Electronic Arts signed an exclusive licensing deal with the NFL in 2005, gamers were left with only the Madden franchise to get their football fix. The competition had helped create two of the strongest football games ever released. ESPN NFL 2K5 is a classic, and three years later it is still the one to fire up on a PlayStation 2.

All-Pro Football still isn't allowed to use current players or teams; instead mythical teams are filled with Hall of Famers like Joe Montana, former NFL greats such as Randall Cunningham, and many lesser lights. Does anyone remember Jim Harbaugh?

Before playing an actual game, a team of old-timers must be assembled, which can create some interesting combinations, such as Johnny Unitas hitting Jerry Rice for a touchdown. Instead of a regular draft, a team is created by selecting two "gold star" players, three "silver star" players and six "bronze star" players. The rest of the team is made up of generic grunts.

Unselected talent is distributed unevenly among computer squads. One computer team may have no gold star players, while another can have five. This, combined with fairly boneheaded AI, can create mismatches.

Once your squad hits the field, the game plays a lot like 2K5, only with improved graphics.

But, there are times when an All-Pro referee blows calls to such an extent it may lead to broken 360 controllers. In one instance, a safety was awarded when a defender who intercepted a pass in the end zone was immediately tackled. That just shouldn't happen. And there's no franchise mode, just a weak one-season mode.

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