A brand-new, rock solid running game and ESPN broadcast-style coverage make NCAA Football 11 the best college football game ... even if it's the only one on the block. The gameplay benefits far outweigh the minor glitches that continue to plague the game.
- New locomotion system makes the running game a lot more potent
- ESPN integration is a big boost of realism
- Online Dynasty lets you recruit away from your console
- Glaring glitching errors on the field are unavoidable
- Very long load times put you to sleep
Sports games have become so cyclical these days that roster changes just aren’t doing it. Small updates aren’t doing it either. You have to really put an effort into your game to get it noticed today, which is why I haven’t purchased an NCAA Football game since NCAA Football 07. Remember your dorm room from that game, and the photo of your girlfriend who was prettier depending on how well you played? Classic.
But the reason I didn’t get the subsequent game was because I didn’t feel like the game was that much different from the year before. Or the year before. Or the year before. Get the picture? I don’t know if I’m suggesting that you build in a four-year gap between the games you pick up (I’m sure Electronic Arts doesn’t want you to do that), but there’s a very noticeable difference between NCAA 07 and NCAA Football 11. In fact, going back to brush up on last year's game, there's a good improvement over NCAA 10, too.
Everybody’s Doing A Brand New Dance Now
That dance, in case you weren’t listening to music in 1962, was the Loco-Motion. Locomotion is single-handedly the biggest gameplay change to this year’s installment, and it dramatically changes the running game. While Madden NFL 11 is getting rid of the sprint button this year, NCAA keeps that intact. Combined with the “Truck” move via the right stick, it turns your running game into a formidable weapon.
Neither trucking nor sprinting are anything unseen before, but the locomotion system makes them feel brand-new. Your runners and receivers now turn and dig much more realistically and in a fluid fashion, making it easier to break away from tackles, turn the corner, and push yourself forward for an extra yard or two. You’ll also find your runners stumbling and even crashing to the ground if you truck too much.
The Madden Hand-Me Downs
For several years, it’s felt like Madden has been the proving ground for porting features over to NCAA; it’s as though EA Tiburon was saying “if it works in the big game, let’s put it into junior as well.” The advantage of this is that these features are usually more fine-tuned by the time they make an appearance here. Pro-Tak is the best addition to NCAA from Madden this year, allowing for realistic gang tackles and dogpiles.
In addition to locomotion, ESPN integration is a huge shot in the arm for NCAA Football 11, and it’s the most noticeable difference in the presentation of the game. It’s all done broadcast style, with swooping graphics and heroic fanfare that announce the start of every game. Kirk Herbstreit and Brad Nessler are back as announcers, as well as Erin Andrews and her sideline reporting (basically talking to you about injuries), and the entire package feels slick. You can fool yourself into thinking you’re watching a Saturday game with amazing insight from Herbstreit like “I feel it’s very crucial that they get the ball in the endzone on this possession.” You mean they need to score? Amazing.
Online Means More Than Multiplayer
It’s a given that a sports game will feature online multiplayer these days, but NCAA 11 incorporates more of your bandwidth this year by offering Online Dynasty, where you can build, recruit, and manage your teams remotely. You can also post stories around your Dynasty or specific games that are complete with text, photos, and videos, and you can reach out and talk smack to other players as well.
Teambuilder makes a return as well, which includes a fairly robust editor for team uniforms and stadiums. Like last year, you can post your teams online to share with the world, so if you’ve been dying to play as the G4 Nerd Army, this is your chance. Don’t expect us to win any BCS games, but feel free to make us your opponent and try to bury us deep in the backfield.
Glitchy, Glitchy, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
Glitches have plagued football games since they moved from the realm of a few pixels on a screen to the more realistic gameplay models, and unfortunately, NCAA Football 11 is no different in some spots. During the course of one session where I played about seven different matches, I witnessed more glitches than I’d ever want to see in a retail release. Granted, I’m not sure how many people are going to play seven games in a row, but even so, a glitch is a glitch.
Most common was the “magnet catch,” in which a receiver magically zooms at comic book-like speeds around the defender to meet up with the ball perfectly. It’s fairly comical to watch in slow-motion, but why is it happening in the first place? My favorite glitch (for amusement’s sake) happened as I lined up for a field goal, and when I initiated the play, the camera zoomed back, back, back until I was next to a midfield referee who was standing next to … my mascot dancing up a storm. There was no way to get the camera back, so I missed the uprights and was ready to pummel a cheerleader.
I’m also hoping that one day video games will look upon clipping as something as a relic of game development days past. I don’t mean the penalty in football, I mean one character passing through another, or through part of the environment. Too often in NCAA 11, you’ll see character’s arms and legs passing through each other, or watching them run through ghostly referees. The game is now complex enough that players cast shadows on other players, but devs still can’t clip the clipping?
Chess masters always thought that a computer would never be built that could beat a human world championship level player, but that happened back in 1997 when Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov. I’d like to posit that no computer A.I. player will ever play as well as a human opponent in football, either college or pro. You probably think I’m crazy, especially because football is much less complex than chess. You don’t have to think 20 moves ahead, and your players aren’t governed by arcane movement rules. Seems easy, right?
Wrong. The A.I. in NCAA 11 definitely feels like an improvement over previous games in the series, but it still makes extremely simple mistakes. Case in point: calling a timeout on second down when there’s still a minute and forty seconds left in a quarter. Or never learning how to run the option properly. Clock management and the option shouldn’t be a stumbling block for your computerized opponent, but they are. You can definitely take advantage of the A.I. when you’re in the final seconds of a close game. In fact, if you’re on offense you can simply take as long as possible to launch a play. They won’t call a timeout on you. The load times are a bit steep as well, based on my play time. You should consider installing it to your hard drive if that's an option for you.
A Solid Run Into the Inzone
NCAA Football 11 definitely benefits from being the only kid on the block when it comes to college football games, but that doesn’t mean that the game only has a few cosmetic changes so that EA can make a quick buck. The development team obviously has a deep love for college football, which is evident in the new team runouts (Notre Dame taps the sign on the way down the tunnel, etc.) and the accurately modeled stadiums. With the addition of the locomotion system and the ESPN presentation, the game finally feels like it’s settled in on the current generation of consoles, and marks a step up from the prior efforts. We might have to wait years for the processing power to eliminate clipping and give us less creepy looking fans in the stands, but right now this is a top-notch gameplay experience that brings the college football experience into your living room.