EA’s NCAA Football series has always been victim of little brother syndrome. Madden gets all the focus and advancements, and NCAA usually seems like last year’s Madden adapted to college.
This year is a bit different.
EA has made big pushes into the online sharing space with the newest installment. Players can now share media and custom teams online, and team creation has moved to an all browser-based format that allows for logo upload and advanced player customization. We tried out the feature, and were impressed. (Check out a few photos above that we took using the game’s photo sharing service.) The importing onto the 360 has caused some issues with Xbox Live’s word censoring process and EA’s name generators. Even names that are just randomly created sometimes get replaced by XXXXXXXX. They can be rewritten once downloaded, but it’s a frustrating distraction.
The rest of the game is very familiar. There are offline and online dynasty modes, and a “Road to Glory” mode hosted by ESPN’s Erin Andrews that lets you take a player from high school star to the end of their college career. (The latter is basically last year’s Campus Legend mode with enhanced presentation.)
A new feature, Season Showdown, is a competitive mode that awards players points for playing the game well and with sportsmanship, and the points help with a system to give your favorite team bragging rights. You get a few points for a user tackle, sure, but you also get points for punting on fourth down, and you lose points for running up the score. This seems to be part of EA’s effort to instill the tradition of fair play into a fan base notorious for brutal rudeness.
The gameplay is as deep as ever. Tiburon continues to tweak the minutia of the movement, and everything feels slightly smoother. It’s tough to articulate, since EA is king of incremental improvements, but there’s progress being made in the AI for blocking, running and special teams. The actual player stats are increasingly larger factors, so players can’t simply take any player and, say, run a kickoff back for a touchdown. Power runners need to go through the middle, because they won’t make it around the outside, and bad blockers are very ineffective at keeping defenders at bay.
There are still some glitches. We found that running backs tend to glitch during screen plays and keep running into the backs of offensive linemen. Tackling still has some collision detection problems, and play previews occasionally become a shaky, glitchy mess.
NCAA is never going to replace Madden. It’s only for people who prefer college football over pro, but it’s getting increasingly better. Just don’t miss the TeamBuilder.
ESRB: E– No worse than watching a game on TV.
Pros: Interesting web integration with media and TeamBuilder.
Cons: Yearly installments are tired, and this game doesn’t even have roster update concerns.