Also On: PS3
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
For me the NCAA Football franchise has always been my warm up games for EA’s real football title, Madden. I think I find it hard to get excited about fake players (due to the NCAA players being excluded) as well as the college I went to (Wright State) not having a football team, but nevertheless I still enjoy playing the series even if my heart isn’t totally into it. Tackle this with the fact that the series always seems to play second fiddle to its big brother Madden and introduces “new technical achievement s” that have already been introduced in the previous year of the Madden franchise. That being said, NCAA Football year in and year out keeps me busy for the 2 months I need to wait for Madden, but I’m sure rabid fans of the NCAA Football love it even more.
Where the series is hurting the most is that it is starting to show its age even with the inclusion of the Infinity 2 engine. I don’t know if it’s the lack of variety in player faces, the flat low resolution crowds, or the fact that there just doesn’t seem to be the polish as seen in the Madden titles, but the game doesn’t fool anyone into thinking it’s a TV broadcast and not a game like the Madden series sometimes can do. Even with all the cut scenes, sideline shenanigans, and hints of that school pride from stadium to stadium, the game just feels a bit off and dated more times than not. At least this year the team has done a fantastic job doing the best they can, as they have really utilized the ESPN license to its fullest. Not only do you have quality overlays, tons of product placements, but in between plays the game will take you to scores around the league, even if they sometimes don’t have any real implications on the game that is going on. Touches like this help to keep things riveting from kickoff to the final whistle.
Visuals aside there is one thing that this series does quite well and that is play a solid game of football. This year is no different and with the inclusion of the Infinity engine, the physics and weight of the players really come into play. Both the passing and running game feel this new physics engine effect as the ball carrier will punch their way into holes, cause missed and broken tackles, and even carry a defender for a couple yards trying to reach that first down maker. The impressiveness holds true with the passing game as well as you will find that players really need to be eyeing the ball in order to make that pivotal catch and if they try to run before actually catching the ball it will result in an incomplete pass more often than not. Sometimes this will even cause the ball to take a weird bounce or hit off the player that can lead to a pick off and increases the unpredictability from play to play, so you have to be on your best game each and every down. This really becomes noticeable when you realize that the game’s AI is as impressive as it has ever been and holds it’s own against you, while still remaining fair.
If there is one thing that the developers do year in and year out is find ways to keep the hardcore coming back by introducing new features. Even if you have played every version of the franchise, there will be plenty of reasons for you to come back again this season and plunk down your hard earned dollars. This year is no different, especially for fans of the Dynasty mode. Sure the Ultimate team, Road to Glory, and Online Play all make their returns with additions here and there over what last year’s version offered, but it is the game’s Dynasty mode where the team has really placed their time and effort and where you will be spending most of your time and energy.
Dynasty Mode introduces new features that will really look at your teams and your competition in a whole new light by focusing hard core on Coaching Skills, Power Recruiting, and a new RPG like progressive system that will give you a real sense of growth and development of your team as the season and even years roll on. Now you will have more to focus on rather than just winning games, it will be all about meeting goals so you earn the points to better recruit players, sign prospects, and improve your current roster to get the most out of them as well. Coaching skills is made up of 18 upgradable multilevel abilities spread across two skill trees that effect not only your recruitment but game management as well. Skills provide boosts to things like calming down your players on big road games, reducing the number of penalties committed by your team, or even boosting your performance in high pressure situations. Power recruiting replaces the old phone calls with a point based recruiting system that helps to streamline and speed up the process. Even the commentary this year helps to highlight things that matter most for your team and chimes in with Studio Updates that feature key games and upsets, and informs you of what changes you need to make at the half. To say this mode is deep in an understatement as I could go on for pages with the amount of depth tied into it.
For those who just don’t have the time for the off field goings on, there is a nice new addition of a Season mode that removes all those extra off field activities and just allows you to play out your season and try for that Bowl bid. This is definitely the mode you want to play if you just want to dive right in and play, while still having implications beyond a typical exhibition game.
Lastly, if you are new to the NCAA Football franchise, the developers have incorporated a Nike Skills Trainer that will not only introduce you to all the features in the game, but will teach you how to read and react to plays and pitches that will help you to improve your Option game.
Overall, NCAA Football 14 has enough “newness” to it that will make you forget about 2013, but is there enough here to draw you in if you aren’t the biggest fan of college ball? For me, this is my warm up game for Madden and for you it could be the same. It could be the game that keeps your school spirit alive, or maybe it could be the game that makes you forget about Madden altogether. What it does is present a complete package that lacks very little for football fans and NCAA Football fans alike, and for many that may just be enough to satisfy the hungry crowd.