When I think college sports, I think of the wonderful times that I had living in Columbia, South Carolina. I happened to live fairly close to Williams-Bryce Stadium where the Gamecocks played, and every gameday Saturday was an absolute mess. It would take me over an hour to get to my apartment, find a spot, and navigate through the gluttonous pile that seemed to pour out of the stadium. Luckily, NCAA Football isn’t about what I experienced as a citizen, it’s about the game.
With NCAA Football 2009, I am able to take out that pent up aggression from those Saturdays and repeatedly sour the Gamecock season. While I love destroying the hopes and dreams of virtual college athletes, a key question remains. Is the newest incarnation of the NCAA Football series any good?
Click the “continue reading” thingy right below this and I’ll tell you how the game stacks up.
NCAA Football 2009 (PlayStation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, PlayStation 2)Each year, every EA Sports title seems to have a theme accompanying it. If I were to characterize NCAA Football 2009’s theme, I would say, “juking before you call a timeout while playing online and taking a quiz.” Unlike previous offerings, more emphasis has been added onto what the ball carrier can actually do when he has possession. Instead of canned animations when pulling on the right analog stick, players now have the opportunity to chain breakaway moves together like pulling off a combo in a fighting game. The system works great for the most part, and really adds to the impact that good players have on the open field. Behind or inside the line, the new maneuvers allow the ballcarrier to swiftly make adjustments and cuts to avoid line breaks and, for the first time ever in any football game, validates the cutback play by being able to actually shift momentum easily. The juking, spinning and bobbing don’t come without a few minor problems though. Despite the enhanced movement seems more fluid, the game can often reset back into its canned animations which does great stuff like forcing players to run backwards or straight into a hungry linebacker’s arms.
Developed by EA Tiburon
Published by EA Sports
Released on July 15, 2008
Breaking away from defenders is always a great time, but the real fun of most EA Sports games is the ability to manage a game effectively. This year, you can actually have a sizable effect on the atmosphere of the stadium, kicking game, and team psyche just by calling a timeout. When the crowd gets overbearing and it’s 4th and inches on the last play of the forth quarter, most sensible coaches with a timeout available will call one to settle down his own players, as well as the masses in the stadiums. You can finally do that in NCAA '09 via an option menu that has several different options for what to tell your players, including ignoring crowd noise, creating turnovers, or even encouraging players to get open. While the effect of some of the options is arguable, it’s a nice little touch on a strategically critical point in any football game. You can even freak out kickers now with the option, as is the rage of the NFL nowadays.
One of the weirdest options added to NCAA ’09 was the inclusion of the “Quarterback Quiz.” In the real world, when player starts screwing up, they become noticeably jarred on the field and sometimes perform even worse. The game tries to emulate that with the quarterback position. When the quarterback throws a pick, a screen pops up prompting the player to choose what defensive scheme was ran on the ill-fated play. If the player picks incorrectly, the quarterback gets shaken, and performs worse. It is a fairly quick procedure, and not too obtrusive, but silly regardless.
One of the biggest issues that I have always had with college sports games is finding a complete roster. I’m not privy to paying for them, nor do I enjoy having to go scour the Internet to make sure Curtis Painter is a Boilermaker. NCAA ’09 fixes that problem right off the bat with the new option to upload and download player-created rosters. The ability to do this is great (if you know someone with a roster), but it doesn’t come without a few hitches. Currently, the game has a big, fat, nasty glitch resulting from personally editing a created roster. If a player edits a downloaded roster the save file will corrupt, delete teams, and possibly even profiles. In its present form, this is completely unacceptable.
Speaking of online, the game allows players to take their Dynasty mode online While this isn’t necessarily a big hit around random Internet people, I can easily see a group of close friends eagerly maintaining a pseudo-league together. Dynasty is all about controlling a team from preseason recruiting all the way to a bowl game year after year. Recruiting has been enhanced from previous incarnations, allowing greater control and judgment parameters on all the fresh blood that could come into your favorite program if they so chose. I often felt awkward calling potential players as often I did, and I found that I was turned down a fair bit. Like any psychotic ex-girlfriend, though, I just kept calling and telling the recruits that I loved them and would die for them until they came to my school. Now imagine doing this with 12 people all trying to get the same players.
Other than the terrible roster glitch, the one thing that really stuck out is how poorly utilized Campus Legend is. The idea of the mode sounds great. You take a player from high school, all the way through a hopefully satisfying college career while micromanaging activities like academic progress, physical prowess and performance. The problem is that the mode falls on its face with the terrible pacing and abundance of failures that the game can lump on you for making a few “poor” choices. It’s obvious that this mode needs to be more realized to be successful.
Aside from the new modes and online component, the core gameplay is still way better than average. This is great considering that exclusivity agreements have every videogame player by the balls now. The improvements on the field outside of new mechanics are minimal at best. I would have really loved to see a greater emphasis on AI reactions to the plays, and better route running by the receivers. You will still notice your players getting jammed on other players, or even running out of bounds. It’s also very depressing to note that cornerbacks still have the crazy laser targeting for the ball if thrown astray. Walking out of games with a top 10 quarterback and five picks is very disconcerting. I would also love to see some larger impact defensive moves outside of turnovers. I think it’s about time that lineman are really focused upon outside of the goofy tacked on stuff. Finally, it would be great to see who the good players are versus the walk-ons. There’s a little star to indicate a Tim Tebow, but how do you sift between WR 87 and WR 62? You just can’t, and that really sucks.
The action on the field looks great for the most part. There are still instances of clipping and some of the tackling animations look particularly odd. The one thing that still bothers me about NCAA '09 is that with the focus on the presentation being so vast, a person would figure that someone at Tiburon would make the crowd and cheerleaders look better than the menu. I’ve become increasingly tired of witnessing alien-eyed cheerleaders hoisting each other in the air while a cardboard crowd squeals with delight. Other than that, I can’t complain about the look and feel of the field, weather effects, or the players. The frame rate is a noticeably smooth 60 FPS, and only occasionally chugs while playing online.
I’ve been waiting for a good all around NCAA Football title for a while now, and I think we’re only a few years away from having a completely stellar title. The core gameplay of NCAA ’09 still needs some work. The new breakaway system needs some tweaks to avoid crazy Reggie Bush backwards rushes, and the roster option absolutely needs to be fixed. Campus Legend and the really dumb Coke Zero Mascot game thing also discouraged me. As NCAA players, I think we’re past the point of these meaningless modes. If you were worried that EA and Tiburon took a step backwards with their newest title, don’t be. It's a fun game. Just don’t be surprised when a Quarterback Quiz pops up, or some asshole keeps hitting pause every five minutes while you’re playing online.
Score – 6.0 (For long time fans, this game has some awesome steps up that should encourage you to grab the next title. Casual or intermittent players should be weary of the same reasons why they may have never picked up this title before. It’s a menu-laden experience outside of quick games.)