Learning To Play Football All Over Again
I’m not what you would call the classic football fan. I mean, I played football in high school, and I enjoy watching a game every once in a while, but that’s about the extent of my fandom. I have played college football games in the past, but I never play them consistently, because they don’t seem to change too much from year to year. However, since I haven’t played a college football title in years, NCAA Football 14 was pretty much entirely new to me.
The first thing I noticed about the title was the presentation. EA has been perfecting the delivery of these games for years, and it shows. After I created my profile, I dove into a quick game just to get a feel for the gameplay. It was ugly. I came to the stark realization that I was hopelessly untalented at even the simplest of plays, not because I didn’t know anything about football, but because I had no real concept of the controls past snapping the ball, throwing it, or handing it off. I needed some help, and thankfully, I found it–Nike Training Camp.
In the Training Camp mode, you run through drills and train a specific skill. Who knew? I started with my weakest point–offensive controls. The system employed by the training camp is simple–you are given a specific play type (e.g., hand-off to the running back for a 10-yard run) and must run several iterations of it successfully. Typically, you are given ten tries, and must complete five of those successfully to progress in training. During those ten attempts, the objectives of the specific play change slightly, so you have to pay attention to the instructions on the screen. After completing the requirements, you are given the chance to test your newly learned skills over the course of ten plays. The trick here is that you have to complete the plays with the skills you just learned, or they are not counted as successes. For all your hard work, you are rewarded with either a bronze, silver, or gold medal, as long as you meet the minimum requirements of success.
I not only found the Nike Training Camp immensely helpful in learning a foreign control scheme (I think the last football game I played was Madden 07 ), but it was actually fun. It could have been intensely boring, but the reward system for success and the fast pace of the plays made it relatively fun to learn what would have been an otherwise daunting controller setup. So if you have never played a football game before, or if you have been away for a few years, do yourself a favor and take a trip to training camp before you start trying to steamroll your way through a season.
With my newly honed skills, I returned to normal gameplay and enjoyed a much higher margin of success. Now, instead of feeling clunky and annoying, the control scheme felt dynamic and intuitive. Where I had previously ran the ball blindly and only thrown to intended receivers on plays, I now found myself picking option plays, looking for the pass rush and blitzes, and throwing specialized passes based on open receivers and holes in down field coverage. In short, I had learned to play the game as it had been intended to be played instead of oafishly fumbling through the motions of an interactive football experience.
But NCAA Football 14 isn’t just about playing single games. This game has modes of play for players of every level. Season, Franchise, and Road To Glory modes all make an appearance, and fans of this style of gameplay will not be disappointed. There is plenty of content to experience here.
In addition, you will find that last year’s Heisman mode has returned. I found this to be what I played the most in NCAA 14 . After choosing one of my favorite players of all time, Barry Sanders, I was given the task of completing the feats of his Heisman-winning 1988 season. What I like most about Heisman Mode is that you only control that player. Even on plays that you don’t get to run the ball, you still run routes, block for your quarterback, or execute a fake run to draw the defense off of a quarterback scramble. When you aren’t involved in a play, you can either choose to watch the play or skip plays until your Heisman candidate is on the field. My only gripe with this mode is that for some odd reason you don’t follow the same game schedule as the Heisman hopeful did, and there are no classic uniforms. But despite this, I had more fun here than anywhere else in the game.
The new addition to gameplay this year is Ultimate Team. This popular mode from the Madden franchise lets you create an Ultimate Team using cards you collect from packs that you earn from completing in-game challenges. Basically, you pick your favorite college team and you are given their playbook and jerseys, along with a starter pack to populate your roster. These players typically have a player rating in the 60s, so they aren’t quite “ultimate” right out of the gate. Using your random and newly minted team, you complete games and challenges in different conferences to earn more packs and coins to buy more packs. This mode took advantage of my childhood obsession with card collecting–or more accurately, my obsession with opening packs. Damn you EA.
Visually, you can expect the level of polish and detail that have become the staples of current-generation sports gaming. Character models, animations, and hit physics are more realistic than ever and make for a graphically impressive on-field package. Off-field, however, is a different story. The sidelines and the stands of this game suffer from the blocky fans and choppy sideline visuals that have been indicative of this generation. Also, during on-field, post-play cutscenes, there are occasionally some visible hiccups.
The graphics of NCAA Football 14 do their job and their presentation is spot-on. But if I have a real issue with this game, it is definitely with the audio.
Don’t get me wrong, the audio isn’t low quality. Quite the opposite. It’s just that college fight songs annoy me to no foreseeable end, but that’s not a fault in the game, it’s just a personal issue of mine. But why, oh why, do we have to suffer the endless, repetitive comments of announcers? It is possible to turn them off, and they are better than they have been in the past, but it still aggravates me to no end. Can we get a little more variety? Please? Is that too much to ask?
In short, I didn’t expect to enjoy NCAA Football 14 nearly as much as I did. Sure, it has flaws, but it is easily one of the most enjoyable sports games on the market. You may not see too much of a change from last year’s title if you’re a faithful, yearly customer, but if you have been away from the football scene for a while and are thinking of jumping back into it, this may be the perfect time to do it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
Inherent flaws in current generation football games notwithstanding, NCAA 14’s visuals are solid. 4.5 Control
Controls are near perfect. They should be after being perfected over the course of nearly 20 years. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Pretty much the same as always – repetitive announcers and annoying college fight songs. 4.0 Play Value
There’s no denying the sheer playability of this series. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best