In for Six!
If there’s one thing EA SPORTS knows how to do, it’s producing consistently good products to market year after year. The only downside is that their franchises are remarkably similar as well. As such, players are best served buying their titles every third year. This is especially the case with NCAA Football, because there are no licensing/player likeness/roster issues that ever crop up. That being said, NCAA Football 10 has a few distinct features this year that definitely make it one of the best football offerings on this generation of consoles.
Gameplay in NCAA Football 10 is nearly identical to what was found in 09. For the most part, only subtle changes most players will never notice have been implemented; upgrades like tighter routes and a better pocket make the game feel marginally more polished. There are a few outliers, however, that are worth mentioning. For starters, during play selection and at timeouts, players can now devise a global strategy for how their team will act. Known as the Game Plan option, players can choose from one of three strategies including aggressive, balanced, and conservative play. Aggressive team play will have your players attacking the ball in risky fashion and going for big gains, while conservative play will have your team limiting unnecessary penalties and containing the opposition.
The next important update is that of set-up plays. While quality football gamers have been using a combination of the run and pass for years in order to confuse the opposition, NCAA 10 goes ahead and codifies the tactic for players this year. For example, specific plays are now linked to each other. Players that run the first play in a pairing successfully a number of times will later be able to use the second play, which has the exact same formation at the line, in order to gain an advantage. In essence, players will be able to show run and go play action, or show pass and pull of a draw play. The likelihood that you will actually fool the defense continues to grow every time you successfully run the set-up play, and this chance will actually be given a percentage rating so you know how keyed in the defense is. As powerful as this can be, defensive players aren’t necessarily automatically hosed. Human competitors can actually thwart the set-up by issuing “Defensive Keys” to their linemen, linebackers, and DBs.
The last big change to gameplay this year is the ability to enact a defensive assist button. If you feel you’re completely out of position on defense and don’t how you should audible the play at the line, you can simply hold down the A button (Xbox 360) or X button (PS3) and the A.I. will adjust your selected player to get into an ideal position. This also works after the ball is snapped. If you find your player to be woefully out of position, holding the defensive assist button will have the player readjust dynamically, reacting to the play and taking a perfect line to the ball as if he were all-pro. While I like the way this makes the game more accessible to casual players, it is very unbalancing – it seems to be a little too powerful.
Game modes are also essentially the same as what were offered last year, save for a few solid exceptions. Players still have access to all the standard modes both online and offline including setting up one-off exhibitions and creating a dynasty, but three new modes keep things fresh. Family play is another feature Tiburon has thrown into the game in order to make the game accessible to a greater variety of people. In a strikingly Wii-like setting, players can play through games without any of the complexity found in the standard game. That’s because rather than fussing with the myriad options and multiple buttons required to rule the gridiron normally, family can play through games without any of the complexity found in the standard game. That’s because rather than fussing with the myriad options and multiple buttons required to rule the gridiron normally, family play relegates all controls to just one button for snapping, passing, punting, kicking, etc. Moreover, play calling is limited to the “Ask Corso” feature. Again, this is nice for truly novice players, but it is so handicapped that newcomers are likely never going to learn how to play the game with this mode enabled. Some kind of middle ground function or gradual introduction to new concepts would have been nice.
Perhaps my favorite new option is that of the Season Showdown. Much like what was on offer in EA’s UEFA Euro 2008, EA SPORTS is letting players select their favorite team and then are locked into supporting that team throughout the season. Season Showdown parallels the actual season and schedule of your team. Players will then be able to accrue points in one of five categories against CPU or human opponents and will have those points transferred to their team’s pool. In this fashion, players will be able to help their favorite school rise up the Season Showdown rankings, with the top 32 teams eventually making it to the final showdown. Though the college season hasn’t yet started, the potential this mode has of keeping players engaged all season long is readily apparent. Moreover, I really enjoyed the radio/commentary feed that accompanies the Season Showdown lobby, keeping players informed as to which teams are hot and which are not.
While Road to Glory is supposedly a new mode of play, it really is just a re-skinned Campus Legend mode. However, the addition of ESPN’s Erin Andrews providing updates on your progress is a re-skinning we can get used to. The only other truly new mode is one you won’t be able to access via your console. You’ll actually have to hit up your computer in order to make use of the functionality. This is what’s known as Team Builder, and it was revealed at the EA press conference at E3 2009. If you couldn’t glean it from the name, what this allows you to do is create and completely customize your team, including tweaking logos, players, and uniforms. This team can then be imported into your game to play with via Play Now, Dynasty, and even Online Dynasty.
One of the few areas this game falters is in its visuals. Crowds in particular are horrendous – they are so pixelated and fuzzy it’s hard to believe it was allowed to slip by; it truly looks like placeholder graphics. Also, players are very much cookie-cutter. Within the same team, it is not odd to find twins. Thankfully, player animations and stadia are nicely rendered. Also, non-game related events are well done. For instance, marching band formations, mascot reactions, and cheerleader response help keep the atmosphere decidedly collegiate. As always, the aural presentation is outstanding. Corso and Herbstreit really work well together, and all the commentary is both funny and appropriate.
NCAA Football 10 is another successful outing for the franchise. Gameplay is still as high quality as ever, and a few new modes actually feel substantial. If you were excited for the game before reading this review, you’ll definitely be happy.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Stadiums, menus, and animations look great, but a few quirks do bring the overall appeal down. 4.8 Control
This game plays exactly how you want it to. The new Defensive Assist feature is both good and bad. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
From marching band themes to Corso and Herbstreit, this game offers a blend of music and commentary that fits the game perfectly. 4.6 Play Value
If you love college football, you’ll find hundreds of hours of quality content. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.