Once upon a time, the king of the virtual gridiron was NCAA, not Madden. Somewhere along the way, the two franchises swapped spots, with Madden taking the lead on graphics and gameplay. Whatever the cause of the flip-flop, NCAA Football has had an uphill climb, particularly in the wake of Madden 09's quality.
- Risk/reward game plan settings add a new dimension to the game
- Season Showdown is very unique
- New animations are slick
- Offensive line has no brains
- New additions are mostly cosmetic
- Core gameplay is almost identical to NCAA 09
Once upon a time, the king of the virtual gridiron was NCAA, not Madden. Somewhere along the way, the two franchises swapped spots, with Madden taking the lead on graphics and gameplay. Whatever the cause of the flip-flop, NCAA Football has had an uphill climb, particularly in the wake of Madden 09’s quality. Logic dictates that NCAA Football 10 would build upon what Madden excelled at last year, right? As Lee Corso would say --and has said with great regularity over the past five incarnations of NCAA Football-- “Not so fast, my friend.” While NCAA Football 10 is a solid game of pigskin, it feels more than a little familiar and although the new additions are unique and interesting, they’re ultimately not substantive enough when all is said and done.
More Helpful Than Donating to the Alumni Fund!
The biggest new mode is Season Showdown, which is a clever little feature that falls somewhere between MMO and stat tracker. Essentially, you link your profile to a particular college team. Once linked, Season Showdown tracks almost every action and decision you make across all modes in the game and awards your chosen school points for those decisions. Whether it’s punting on fourth down, not running up the score while ahead at the end of the game, or successfully keying in on the running and passing game, good sportsmanship earns credits for your team. In all, there are a multitude of categories that award points, including whether or not you play a game against a CPU or human player online, play against your school rival, and a host of others. What it all amounts to is a living leaderboard of all 120 NCAA football teams around the nation, with every player contributing into a massive pool of competition. At the end of the real-life NCAA season, the top 32 teams on the Season Showdown leaderboard will square off in a tournament to decide the Season Showdown champion. The persistent stat-tracking across modes is a neat idea, and it’s the very definition of unobtrusive if this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. Unfortunately, it’s only a passive addition to the game, which leaves the entirety of the game to actually be played in only three types (exhibition, dynasty, Road to Glory).
A Road Paved with Good Intentions
Online dynasty mode is back, and that is always great fun when it comes to trying to lure that all-star recruit away from your friend. The Campus Legend mode has been renamed Road to Glory and now features live-action cutscenes with reporter Erin Andrews --a superficial addition at best. While all of the new presentation elements such as a living highlight reel of your player’s career and a virtual dorm room to walk around in are really nice surface additions, the fundamental problem from Campus Legend still exists: namely, the tedious grind to get your player from the practice squad to the starting lineup. Even then, only certain positions prove themselves viable; if your dream is to play virtual left tackle, forget about it. One other note here is the loading. After a few brief menu selections that determine what your player will be doing with his nightlife, it’s off to the practice field again (five times a week, if you follow the calendar). The only problem? The interminable loading between practice and the rest of Road to Glory. It’s borderline unacceptable to spend upwards of 45 seconds getting to a practice session that lasts all of five minutes, only to go into another loading session, then make a few menu selections, then jump right back into a loading screen.
Creating a team this year has actually been lifted off of the disc and moved to EA’s Team Builder website. The site allows you to edit uniforms and players in a much more intuitive fashion, and you can upload custom logos, so the possibilities are finally endless. Everything from the jersey stripe style to the facemask color is completely customizable through Team Builder. User-created teams can then be uploaded to the EA servers and downloaded by anyone online with NCAA 10, which is a great way to propagate user-created content throughout the game. The only drawback comes from a few missing features, like more number fonts for jerseys, custom text on the uniforms (a school name, for example), and the big one: custom stadiums. It’s great if my created team can be made to my liking, but if they have to play in the Horseshoe at Ohio State because I can’t replicate my own alma mater’s field, the process kind of loses its luster. Consider this: creating your own stadium was a feature in Madden five years ago.
There are no new Division 1-AA teams, and it’s about time EA Tiburon makes up their mind with what to do about that; either next year’s game needs a big compliment of added 1-AA teams or the 1-AA teams that do exist need to be removed. The 1-AA selection has been the same for several years in a row, and it’s beyond time for a commitment to the division to be made either way; it simply feels like a tease with the current paltry roster.
On the field, the game is a solid football title. Kudos to the dev team for adding some new animations that not only enhance the realism of gameplay, but look cool as well. Receivers and DBs jostle as they run routes, pass protection actually forms a pocket that QBs can step into, and it’s also possible to throw out of sacks -- though players are advised to it at their own discretion; it’s embarrassing to get picked off twice in one game by a sure-handed defensive end. On the play-calling screen, the game now informs you how susceptible the defense will be to play-action passes or deep balls based on how well you establish the running game. Also new is the ability to set game plan strategies in a risk/reward scenario. Need a turnover late in the game for a comeback? Turn up the strip ball chance on defense to try and pop it free for a fumble. Be careful, though, as doing so dramatically increases your facemask penalties. Each sector of the game has its own conservative and aggressive strategies, from coverage to interceptions to blocking and beyond. Not only do these strategy changes actually work, but you’ll be able to see the defense try and pry the ball loose or receivers run deep after finishing their routes.
Offensive In More Than One Way
On the downside, strange animation problems crop up during the post-play cutscenes. There’s some spotty AI logic working the clock at the end of halves (including a weird bug involving timeouts and last-second field goals), and commentary lines that don’t match the on-field action. Then there are the offensive line woes. In response to last year’s complaints about pass protection being too good, EA Tiburon adjusted the line to allow for a better pass rush. Unfortunately, their solution was to make the O-line dumb as bricks; they will consistently miss obvious blocks on the run, and they seem to have no clue what to do on screen passes. It renders the screen pass a play that is completely obsolete, unless you just love getting sacked.
It’s a shame that all these new tweaks are just that: tweaks. The gameplay jump from NCAA Football 09 to this year is quite minimal, and the fact that NCAA 10 will be a full price game should make gamers think long and hard about whether or not they can just make do with 09 for another year. NCAA Football 11 will need some additions, most notably some better on-field presentation (no rivalry game trophy celebrations? C’mon, EA) and the development team needs more creativity when they decide to add new modes. NCAA Football 10 is not a bad game; when bugs aren’t popping up, you won’t find better college football gameplay anywhere. A severe case of déjà vu is really the main reason NCAA 10 punts instead of scores.