Note: This comparison pertains to the Xbox 360 versions only. All games played at the All Pro difficulty level.
I’m going to let you know right off the bat: I’m going to lament Electronic Art’s exclusivity deal with the NFL. I know this is old news, but it’s still irritating nonetheless. The whole thing is antithetical to the competitive aspect of both sports and capitalism. This pertains not only to the video game world, but also to the overall corporate scheme of the NFL, including the much maligned cable-rights dispute last year.
Hopefully the NFL comes to its senses and refuses to reward EA Sports with another monopoly when their exclusivity contract expires, thereby refusing to further alienate many fans like me, whose patience for such outright greed is growing thin. It’s awfully hypocritical for the NFL to condemn its players for deplorable behavior, when the league as a whole is so guilty of greed and exploitation of consumers and fans without whom the league would be nonexistent.
There, I’m done. I love football!
Kudos to 2K Sports for again finding a way to compete with the juggernaut that Madden has become. Many ESPN NFL 2K5 fans feared that 2K Sports was done with football after EA’s NFL exclusivity deal was announced. Happily, 2K has managed to release another great game this year and one that, regardless of NFL rights, should encourage further competition in football video game ingenuity.
Although the two games are very different in some fundamental and obvious ways, – and owning one isn’t necessarily a reason to not own the other – they nevertheless beg for and require comparison. And so, I humbly offer this comparison for consideration.
General – More and more Madden seems to be an arcade-style game that is year-in and year-out becoming increasingly dependent on implementing gimmicks, without tweaking the gameplay mechanics much at all. APF2K8, on the other hand, seems more dedicated to an ‘on-the-field’ experience, which I find much more satisfying. The only problems with 2K8’s approach are the bizarre death-mask-chewing-on-a-cud facial animation renderings and the absolutely embarrassingly terrible place-holder-quality voice acting. I applaud 2K for their efforts to make the game feel more authentic, but I feel they should’ve done better than to have what seems like interns approximate what they think John Elway might have sounded like on the field. I don’t know much about how he actually does sound, but I know this much: he doesn’t sound like a squeaky-voiced 22-year-old.
AFP2K8 has also continued with its sometimes lame color commentary and comparatively un-lame half-time and post-game shows, which I find entertaining and not necessarily superfluous. Madden eschews this approach in favor of getting you into and out of the game faster, which is very no-nonsense and can be appealing for those of us who just want to play and don’t want to have the game constantly interrupted by annoying announcer generalities.
In my opinion, APF2K8 has the superior overall gameplay. The players move slower and so their actions are more deliberate, and, as a consequence, more fluid. As a result, the person controlling the player has a little bit more time to consider his options – like which receiver to pass to, or whether to spin, juke or stiff-arm. Madden moves too fast. I don’t always find this enjoyable. It seems like 2K8’s rhythm is closer to what game-speed appears to be on TV. Madden, on the other hand, is probably closer to what game-speed actually feels like on the field. But I’m not a pro football player and I can’t make decisions that fast. Of course, you get used to the varying game speed, but it still seems like a little much, especially when you consider that given the game speed, it’s hard to take advantage of the aforementioned gimmick-ery, which makes the existence thereof seem rather pointless.
Madden has the superior appearance, color quality and overall presentation. But I don’t care for how wide the camera is/how small the players appear on field with the default camera settings. The players are so small that it’s hard to see any detail, although I know there is a lot of detail. 2K8 actually varies the camera and shows faces inside the helmets which is pretty cool.
As far as gimmicks go, The “Weapons” element to Madden doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in the gameplay at all. (More on this later.) Same with APF2K8’s player attribute system. However, I do like the charge button option on 2K8, but it seems rather under-realized. I would expect that the next version of both games will want to tweak the gameplay mechanics in this regard so you can further implement them on the fly. I would love to see The Bigs-style slow motion mini-games at the point of contact between and ball carrier and tackler – that would feel like an innovation.
The instant replay system on APF2K8 is far superior to that of Madden. On APF2K8, you are shown what it is that you’ll be challenging. Sometimes on Madden, I would be challenging a turnover, but the computer assumes I’m challenging the spot of the ball. Curiously, there were some plays that I couldn’t challenge at all. These were mostly catches made out of bounds or in the back of the end zone. Nonetheless, it seems like Madden would do well to correct this glitch.
Offense – Does anyone find the passing game Madden-ingly frustrating on Madden this year? I’ve played several games in my franchise and my QB has only completed 47% of his passes. I’ve always found passing hard in Madden, but interceptions, defended passes, flat-out drops and incompletions in general are so frequent that my enjoyment of the game is diminished. The CPU’s defensive backs run better pass patterns than my receivers! However, some people can appreciate this difficulty. I am not one of them.
Both games should work on a receiver’s ability to catch a ball on the fly. There have been many instances in both games where my QB threw what appeared to be a pass perfectly leading the receiver, inspiring me to prematurely celebrate a completion, only to see the ball go sailing right by the intended target. Not only is that irritating, but if you don’t time the new ‘catch button system’ on Madden just right, the receiver stops, does a little shimmy, then inexplicably dives for a perfectly cacheable ball, instead of continuing on his path and raising his hands for a catch. Also, the precision passing element is quite simply ineffective. In fact, I’ve thrown more interceptions using ‘QB Focus’ than not.
In addition, both games have weird physics when it comes to passing lanes. There are several instances where passes are thrown 12-15 yards down the field and somehow a defender 6-8 yards down the field manages to jump up and knock the ball down. Screen/backfield passes on both games are still inconsistent, but I have noticed some marked improvement. Also, why do receivers still go out of bounds when running their routes? Both games have this problem and it’s just bizarre.
I have no problem with a little bit of difficulty now and then and I don’t mind frequent incompletions or the occasional interception. But let’s face it: the point of these games is to have fun and nobody likes to be frustrated by a lack of success due to weird A.I. quirks, especially when they seem totally perfunctory. I consider myself pretty competent in regards to both real football strategy and video game football strategy, and there are some serious passing game issues in Madden: there is simply no such thing as a high-percentage pass. One would think a so-called ‘possession receiver’ that runs quick routes would not only be in position, but would catch every sideline comeback route thrown his way, particularly in a ‘mismatch’. Not so, as usually there’s a defender somewhere in the passing lane or the ball is under thrown, or the receiver is out of position. Also, many of the pass plays on Madden consist of crossing patterns, which make passes very easy to defend in both man and zone coverage. I love exploiting weaknesses with audibles, hot routes, play-action or short, West Coast Offense-style passes, but it often seems as if the CPU is somehow able to make adjustments and, in the process, render these strategies useless much of the time, which, again, can either be a good thing or a bad thing.
But I digress.
On the other hand, the running game is fun, intuitive and unique in both games. Although it still irritates me how easy it is to knock down my running back with just a push or even a wayward defender on his back in my path, but this is only mildly annoying when it happens to me, but a relief when it happens to my opponent.
Defense – I love the defensive depth in Madden. But what’s the point of having ‘weapons’ where match-ups are of the utmost importance, when I’m not even able to adjust my defensive scheme at all before the opposing QB snaps the ball? I’m not talking about human player vs. human player, I’m talking about the computer A.I., which has a nasty habit of coming up to the line of scrimmage and snapping the ball almost immediately. Also, it’s way too easy to intercept the ball on Madden. It’s also too easy to turn these picks into touchdowns. I’m a big Champ Bailey fan, but when I’ve used him to pick-off three passes, two for TDs in one game with eight minute quarters, three times(!), it’s a little boring.
APF2K8’s defensive gameplay is very similar and more balanced, if a little less specific. But it’s easier to make adjustments on the fly as the CPU A.I. typically makes full use of the game clock before the ball is snapped. Both games have done well in their development of different ways to tackle and they seemed to have improved the stats to more accurately reflect performance. It’s much easier to sack the QB on APF2K8 just as it’s much easier to make plays with an individual defender. This difference is again pretty negligible and both games are equally satisfying in this regard.
Overall – Both games are fun in their own way. Madden is a way deeper experience, if you can get into the minutiae of franchise management. Also, the Superstar Mode is almost awesome, I just think they need to integrate it better into the game, make it exclusively a part of ‘Franchise Mode’ and make any player available to use. This all seems very obvious to me.
2K8 has made a game very similar to their last, but just as good. I hope they’re able to continue producing this game with expanding emphasis on a ‘franchise’ mode and continuing development of the on-field dynamic. Hopefully they can successfully recruit more retired players to join in and maybe even get some to do some voice acting. I’m sure this is an expensive and laborious (maybe impossible) task, but it would be awesome to have 25 or so All Pros on each team – one at each position, plus kicker, punter and PR/KR. I was hoping to blaze the field again with Bo Jackson or Terrell Davis. Or maybe reunite the Denver Broncos’ “Three Amigos” from their 80’s heyday. Nonetheless, I find the game a satisfying experience and just unique enough to warrant a purchase in addition to or even in lieu of Madden.
Conclusion – In my opinion, 2K makes a better football game, but Madden has the NFL-exclusive contract and so the end result is a tie, or more like a wash. Both games are well worth playing. The continued success of a football franchise other than Madden indicates that there is plenty of room for more than one football video game. Hopefully 2K can produce another version of APF or even one day another NFL title. This can only be beneficial to both franchises, as they will be forced to once again compete with each other and push the gameplay ingenuity envelope even further. In this scenario, the most important people –- the fans and the customers -– will benefit the most. Are you listening NFL?
All Pro Football 2K8 is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Language. This game can be found on: Xbox 360, PS3.
Madden NFL 08 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can be found on: GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii, Xbox, and Mobile Phone.