Scheduled release date:
December 18, 2007

The college basketball season is right around the corner, so it makes sense we'll be seeing EA's latest March Madness offering before Christmas. Last year's installment was okay, but we're expecting a lot more from NCAA March Madness 08 , simply due to a variety of new features to accompany a graphical upgrade. It's essential that EA capture the appropriate intensity level of the world of college b-ball, because the beating heart of every successful season relies on the fans. All we want is a fully atmospheric experience with some solid and entertaining gameplay; we're not expecting unbridled excellence, but we are expecting something that's fun . Why? Because that's exactly what college sports are supposed to be all about! Fun! Let's take a closer look at this one and see if EA realizes that fact, and what they plan to do in order to deliver a title that can compete with the big boys this holiday season.

As we just mentioned, we should be seeing a significant graphical overhaul that will reflect true-to-life environmental and character realism. In addition to greater detail provided for the players and arenas, EA has worked to provide more options and customizable features than ever before. For example, we'll be able to actually change what the players wear beneath their uniforms – muscle tees, various t-shirts, etc. – and even change up the length of their shorts. Because the developers are including historically accurate teams from the good ol' days (the ‘60s and ‘70s), you'll want the players to appear like players from that era, correct? Therefore, you can slap those shorty-shorts on them and give them some real authenticity! Oh, and you won't be confusing the players with NBA professionals, either, because the faces have been redesigned to show off a youthful countenance. In other words, they look like 20-year-olds and not 30-year-olds, which seems perfectly logical to us.

Now, moving on to the gameplay: heading up the action on the court will be the return of the Floor General play-calling, and this year's feature will also include the option to place play-markers on the court when organizing a new play. This will help the novices who aren't quite familiar with the concept, and in addition, it should assist you in performing effectively during actual games. And if you can pull off the plays, your players will get better Intensity Control, which of course factors into the rest of the gameplay. However, how your players respond to a successful or failed play has changed significantly since last year's entry in the series: if you played March Madness 07 , you'll remember the pluses and minuses popping up over a player's head to indicate stat increases and decreases. This time around, that same structure is in place, but the cosmetic side is different. Instead of symbols, it's all about the animations this time around, as the players will shake their head in disappointment or pump their fists in jubilation. Much better, isn't it?

Another major change focuses on the gameplay down in the trenches. Those of you who are avid fans of the sport are well aware of the importance of post-play, and the variety of styles players use when under the basket. In NCAA March Madness 08 , both the offense and defense will have a brand new set of capabilities. When on offense, you can back down your opponent, spin to the right or left, drop back, sidestep, and do any number of things with the right analog stick. When on defense, you'll be able to use the right analog stick in an attempt to counter all of these maneuvers, but you'll have to be quick; if you can stop that power slash to the hoop fast enough, you can get in position to take a charge, but if you're not fast enough, you'll commit the foul. If you find yourself overmatched – say you're playing against Tim Duncan, who essentially overmatches everyone – you can assign double-teams to help you contain the dude who's smokin' you on every trip down the floor. Just remember, you have equal opportunity on both offense and defense to do something spectacular, so learn the moves!

The entire package will boast everything one might expect from an in-depth EA simulation. In addition to like a gazillion teams (okay, not a gazillion, but there are a lot ), there will be 25 new arenas added to this year's installment. That's double last year's total, and with the dozens of player customization options, the Floor General and Intensity Control features, and the standard assortment of menu selections, NCAA March Madness 08 is fully loaded. As we saw in the likes of NASCAR 08 , EA is also including some ESPN functionality: it's called ESPN GameCast, which lets you simulate games and statistics as they're displayed on the ESPN website. And if you don't like the way things are going, you can halt the simulation and jump in yourself. You may not have the time to play each and every game during the regular season, although we'd imagine you'd want to handle things throughout the NCAA tournament. March Madness, baby! Yes, Dick Vitale will be there, of course.

NCAA March Madness 08 will ship just in time for the Christmas rush; it's scheduled to release on December 18 in the U.S. College basketball fans, this should find a spot on your wish list.

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