College Football Fantasy
EA has released its latest version of their famed NCAA series. NCAA 08 Football has released simultaneously for the 360, PS3, Xbox, and PS2, giving gamers across the nation the opportunity to lead their favorite college teams to glory. This series is always solid and ’08 is no exception. Controls are deep yet accessible. The game modes are varied and entertaining. The playbooks are wacky and broad. The gameplay is all that we have come to expect. The only downfalls are the setting, and the turnovers, which prove to be glaring faults.
The gameplay and the controls are great. They are everything that you want in a college football game. The playbooks are school specific, and full of trick plays and options. The game will seem familiar to any fan of the series, and you will quickly find yourself embroiled in ESPN Instant Classics. Calling plays in the huddle follows the classic EA form. I like being able to filter the in-huddle play calling by asking Corso, by formation, by play type, by player, and by recent plays. This really does cut down on huddle time and lets you get back to the action with the right play quickly. Pre-snap commands, both on offense and defense, allow you to control your squad better than Schembechler or Paterno. Calling audibles, hot routes, and changing line formations is intuitive. This has always been true for offensive control, but the defensive hot routes are new this year, and it really has been a valuable addition. After the ball is snapped, the smooth control and realism continues. Running, throwing, juking, jumping in, faking the pitch, making interceptions, and receiving all control exactly how they should and are easily executed. Kicking is a different story, however. You’ll have to use the right analog stick to control both power and foot position. Noobs will have a difficult time at first, but after a few rivalry games you’ll get the hang of it. The only gameplay fault that I found was the amount of turnovers present in the game. The sheer quantity of turnovers is staggering. Many times a wonderful drive has been foiled by unrealistic turnovers, especially fumbles and red zone interceptions. Granted, these are kids that are liable to make mistakes, but a dozen turnovers in a single outing is garbage. This is something that will need to change next year. I did find that the amount of turnovers seemed to decrease somewhat when playing at a higher skill level. That’s positive, but there are still far too many turnovers to keep the ebb and flow of the game.
There are a lot of new elements this year that have added to the quality of the game. As I already mentioned, defensive hot routes are new and important. I also enjoyed the new motivation mechanic. College players are known for their emotional swings, and this is captured by the motivation feature. Essentially, what the feature does is to allow the user to target specific players and to make key plays. If that player makes enough big plays over the course of a game they will get into the zone. This will not only increase his potential, but will influence the players around him on both sides of the ball. The best way to take advantage of this feature is to key in on your impact players. They’re the ones with the star shadows at their feet. I really liked this idea, but the implementation feels a bit rudimentary. If you let this happen to you while playing ranked matches online you will crumble. Another new feature is that of a high school playoff system within the Campus Legend mode. This is a great addition to the game. Creating a specific player and helping him rise to greatness at his chosen college is awesome. Taking that same player through the high school state championship tournament just adds to the glory. If you can take your player through the playoffs and rack up serious individual numbers, your caliber ranking going into your freshman year will be five stars. The opposite is also true, and so there is real impetus to perform well in front of the many scouts that will be present at your games. If you end up signing your player to a big school you will have to ride the pine a lot in your first year, gradually working your way up the depth chart. The Campus Legend mode is one of my favorites, and it has only been enhanced by the addition of the high school playoff system. Another enhancement this year is the inclusion of the speedy Super Sim. This allows you to quickly advance through the Campus Legend games by only taking the field when your created player is in action.
Dynasty mode has also been revamped and enhanced. Dynasty mode is always the meat and potatoes of this series, and therefore it has been treated by the developers as such. Anyone can play a quick game against the computer or a buddy and have some mindless fun, but only the truly lonely can manage the destiny of a college program to that of a dynasty powerhouse. To help you attain such glory, EA has provided gamers with some pretty realistic, yet mind numbing tools. The recruitment system has been greatly enhanced. The prospect search engine is great because it lets you look for prospects nationwide easily. You can find blue chips by filtering through the riff-raff state by state, or by size, speed, position, or even by how fast they run the 40. The recruiting board is another nice visual tool. It allows you to target up to 35 prospects, and tailor your recruiting strategy depending on how they fit into your program. Moving prospects up and down the board gives the gamer a great overview of the process and allows them to manage their prospect pipeline easily. You’ll also have to call up your prospects directly via the telephone mechanic. This tool allows you to set up visits, offer scholarships, and generally entice them to play at your school. The addition of the map tool also acts as a way to visually organize your recruitment scheme. It’s a great way to see the kind of penetration you have throughout North America. These are all great tools to have at your disposal, and they do help to create a sense of realism. I think the average player will be bored by their complexity and not use them to their full potential. I’m glad it’s all there, however.
Certainly there have been a lot of substantive changes and improvements to this year’s game. There have also been a number of minor changes that are a bit of a gimmick, but help to define the game as an elite title. For example, the Weather Channel live feed allows you to play in the present conditions at the stadium. The inclusion of the My Shrine lobby keeps all of your accomplishments and trophies on display for all to see. EA has also created a highlight editor for avid fans to put together their favorite plays into videos and stills that can be viewed through the Shrine’s television monitors. These are all neat features, but I don’t think they’ll get much use, especially the highlight editor. I have to believe that even gamers have better things to do with their time then edit, upload, and download highlight videos and still photos of games that have no real bearing upon anyone’s lives.
Throwin’ around the pigskin with NCAA Football ’08!
Now for the last 10 years or so, Madden has ruled the football sim scene. Few have come to challenge the football crown since its inception. But with EA taking the helm, perhaps this will be a game to finally provide a viable alternative to Madden’s stranglehold .
There are two main ways to play NCAA Football 08. There’s Dynasty mode and Campus Legend mode. Dynasty mode lets you pick your favorite college team and players, and play through a regular season to make your school’s team the best. This mode by and large works well. Game mechanics, controls, and audio generally work well, and it’s a satisfying experience. You can pick your plays, and utilize all your team members in a way that best suits you. To put it plainly, it’s very much like the Madden experience, but with college names. Which is not a bad thing at all.
Campus legend, however, is a completely different experience. You step into the shoes of a pre-existing or custom made up-and-comer fresh into his senior year of high school. Your goal: attract the hottest schools and score a scholarship. And then once you do that, it’s up to you to become the star player of your chosen school. There are several reasons why this mode doesn’t work. First of all, you can only play as your own position. Which makes for a very boring experience. One of the big exciting things about Football games is having the coordination and speed to switch between characters to make plays both successful and cohesive. And when you’re only playing as one character, you really loose that experience. When your only task is to decide who to pass to, or whom to tackle, it’s not really that difficult or exciting.
One nice little mode that was a welcome addition in my opinion was the mini-game mode. Now normally “mini-game” and “football” don’t belong in a sentence together, but in NCAA Football 08, the football centric mini-games are very diverting and nice if you just want to throw around a football for a few minutes instead of playing through an entire game. I also found that the mini-game mode serves as a practice ground where you can get comfortable with the general gameplay.
Controls for this game are very standard football game fare: very complicated. However, the good thing is that they’re very intuitive, and although your buttons will be used for many different actions on the field, depending on where you are, and whether you’re playing offense or defense, they are all somewhat related, so it’s fine by me. If you have any experience with football games, you’ll pick this one up right away. However, if this is your first outing with football on a console, then you may want to look elsewhere, because this game lacks any kind of tutorial.
Multiplayer modes work well, and I’m happy to report that this game is great to play with friends. Because my personal experience with football games is more of a social experience, I always give major points to football games that are fun to play with a crowd. Online modes are still a little shaky, but the experience isn’t too bad. Unfortunately, I didn’t get too much time in with the online modes because I ran into more than a couple glitches and kept got kicked off due to an “EA server error”. Don’t quite know what the bug was, but hopefully by the time you read this the problem will be rectified.