The band's playing, the crowd's screaming, and the players are fired up! Yes, it's football season! No better way to kick it off than with EA Sports seasonal offering of NCAA Football 14. Did we get the same as last year, or will this be EA's swan song before we head into next gen?
Every fall we are treated to EA Sports collegiate football offering in NCAA Football 14 by EA Tiburon. And it seems, that every year this generation, most people have been disappointed in the overall quality of the game. Sales have dropped year over year, and it seemed like EA just didn't financially support NCAA Football like they did Madden, but then again, how could you blame them? Madden 13 sold 5.47 million copies last year to NCAA Football 13's 1.68 million copies. EA seems to glitz up each years game, marketing it as a brand new experience and better than last year, when in reality, it's just a new paint job on that old Ford Escort you've been driving since high school. For this years version, EA has finally gotten rid of that poor Escort and traded it in for a gently used Honda Accord.
EA has been in the press for months touting the new addition of the Infinity 2.0 Engine that's powering this years NCAA game. With this new system, we will now see better animations, more fluid looking player models, and best of all, a more realistic style of play. I must admit, I'm very impressed. No play and tackle look the same due to the new physics in the game and the player models look and move A LOT better than last year. But the main aspect, and what made past iterations of the series stale, have been the lack of upgrades to the running game. This year, the running backs move more fluidly and lifelike compared to before. Times in the past, if your running back ran into a lineman, he pretty much ran in place looking like the Road Runner. This has been fixed with a new, more natural looking animation that allows them to sidestep teammates. In the trenches, your O-linemen will actually make a realistic looking pocket, look down the field to block linebackers and safeties, and will even double team D-linemen when necessary during pass plays. All of these changes not only look amazing, but feel like you are seeing natural motion instead of the canned animations we've been accustomed to in years past. Runners will plant their feet to change direction as well, no longer allowing you to "Tecmo" your way to a big gain against the CPU. You must read the play, see the hole, then explode through it to gain positive yards. Don't worry, if you are having trouble, EA has added a new Skills Training Mode to help you along the way. Another big aspect has been the revamped option running game. With the read option play taking college and NFL football by storm, it was a must that EA update these plays and make it actually worth using. In last years game, it was hit or miss whether an option play would work, making most players stay away from those plays completely. For those who use teams with athletic quarterbacks, this adds a whole new dimension to your offense that's actually fun and very effective to use. This will make fans of Georgia Tech and Navy very, very happy! With the passing game, it's pretty much the same song and dance, which is a little disappointing. In years past, you could slant and curl your opponent to death and unfortunately, it's not much better this year. One big thing, is you can no longer hail mary your way to victory. EA has finally fixed last years bug that let the CPU corners never cover the streak routes on the outside. As a whole, the gameplay definitely is a major upgrade from last year, even with the passing game being the same.
Over the last few years, this has been the sore spot for NCAA Football series. We've been listening to Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit for years, saying the same canned voice-overs year after year after year. Well, don't get your hopes up. It's pretty much the same from these two guys over and over again. The only slight change are the Dynasty look-ins from Rece Davis and David Pollack. Yes this is a very nice addition to know what's going on, especially the relevant info like Conference opponents or teams in the BCS Title game hunt. But it still doesn't make up for the fact that the overall commentary is not only stale, but flat out boring. EA Tiburon really needs to look at their big brothers at Madden, as well as other franchises like MLB:The Show and the NBA2K series to learn what a game really needs to sound like. On a positive note, it's a cool addition to hear real life stadium music while the game is going on, like 7 Nation Army by The White Stripes. This adds immersion and a fun factor to it, as well as the ability to do custom stadium sounds. Unfortunately as a whole, the audio is a big let down. College football is known for it's crazy, loud, and down right intimidating atmosphere. EA Tiburon doesn't capture any of this and hasn't in a long time. Let's hope next season with the Ignite Engine, EA can fix these issues.
Another nice addition to this years series, has been the complete overhaul of the visuals. It almost seems like the entire game has gotten a very nice facelift. Colors seem to pop more, crowds look and feel like they are more layered than years past, and EA has added more player models to give you more variety in who you are seeing on the field. Like I mentioned above, with the Infinity 2.0 Engine, the players run even better than before. They don't look robotic and actually have form as they cross and plant on the field, using real physics in the game to determine how fast that actually happens. Stadiums also have more texture and depth to them, making it look almost photo realistic compared to last years offering. On the flip side of that, you can still see some terrible crowd renders as well as the sideline players looking atrocious! I noticed in a few games, my teammates on the sideline would have different color shoes and/or socks than what we were actually wearing on the field. You'll also notice the addition of a few different camera angles for in-game play, with my favorites being the Zoom option and Coordinator Cam. These give you different vantage points and will take a slight adjustment to get use to. With all of these upgrades, the on field gameplay looks and feels amazing and is by far the best NCAA Football we've experienced on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Back again are your standard online versus play, as well as Online Dynasty. With Online Dynasty, you have the same game mode, just with a slightly different package and wrapping so to say. This isn't necessarily a bad thing either. A huge addition this year to Online Dynasty, is the new Coaches Skill feature. This adds some "RPG" elements to your Head Coach. You now can truly tailor your coaches strengths and weaknesses to your liking and style. If you want to be an air raid type of coach that is great at recruiting, it can happen. If you'd rather be a ground and pound coach who's team is great in the clutch, it's there. The game planning aspect has been taken to a new level compared to past years, which is a welcomed addition to Dynasty, Online and Off. There are a good amount of combinations you can go after to try and build the ultimate coach to be the king of your Online Dynasty. They've also revamped recruiting, so now it doesn't take 20 minutes to recruit each week, it's more streamlined and efficient allowing you to get back into your games quickly.
The game mode that's brand new to the series, but not EA Sports games, is Ultimate Team. If you've played this in Madden or FIFA, it's the same concept. This time, you take college stars of the past and build the "ultimate" team and play either head to head online, or through a series of challenges against the CPU that have different scenarios like playing a school from each conference or playing a powerhouse in a bowl game. You start off with Freshman class versions of solid collegiate players and work your way through their 4 years of school. As you score wins and challenges by playing, you get coins and Ultimate Team packs to open and upgrade each player and position. You'll have different tiers of cards to collect from Beginner all the way up to Legendary and Elite. There's also an auction online for those who either can't wait to build their team, or just want to collect their favorite players cards. Overall it's a fun concept, but the ultimate viability for this mode to last is if the gaming community embraces it and continues to play online. I happen to like it and look forward to collecting the classic players I grew up watching.
Overall, I think EA Tiburon has put out a solid looking and playing game of football. They have upgraded the graphics and visual look of the game tremendously from past versions. The online play is still about the same, but small additions to Online Dynasty is always welcomed since it is by far the most popular game mode NCAA Football has. Ultimate Team, I think, will be a great addition to the series and should have some longevity as well. The elephant in the room is the audio, though. EA Tiburon has some major work to do here that department. As we go into the Next Gen consoles, there's no chance they'll be able to get away with overlooking this aspect of the NCAA series. There are too many other sports games out there showing what it truly means to immerse gamers into the world of sports, and NCAA Football 14 feels like Pop Warner compared to the rest, at least audio wise. I like NCAA Football 14, I really do. But I'm stunned it sounds no different than NCAA Football 09. Other than that, I think EA Tiburon has put out a quality football game that plays well, looks great, and has a lot of lasting appeal to it. It's a shame it took them this long to get here. If they can fix the audio problems the game has, we'd be looking at one of the best football games released this generation.
Solid offering from EA, but feels like there should/could be more to it. Graphics look good, but audio is lacking while the gameplay has finally hit a good tone.