Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: July 11, 2005
Ah, autumn. It’s the best season of the year for sports fans across the United States, the time of year that thoughts start turning to football, both college and professional. For many sports fans, the teams don’t matter; just the fact that a game is being played is enough to bring a smile to the face, a butt to the couch, and a beer to the hand. College football has always been an intense sport, full of rivalry and excitement, and Electronic Arts' NCAA Football 2006 really brings the entire college football experience to the console. The fans, coaches, mascots, cheerleaders, fight songs, and players all come together to form the most complete collegiate football experience ever.
The most exciting and fun aspect of NCAA Football 2006 is the new “Race for the Heisman” mode. The game starts you off in this mode, where you create your player, customize his looks, choose his position and then participate in some drills at a training camp of sorts. Your player’s performance in these drills determines his starting stats and also what schools will offer him a scholarship to play for them. I created a quarterback as my first player, and did well enough to earn an offer to play for the team ranked number three in the polls. I also got offers from two other schools. Of course, none of the three were among my favorite teams, so I took a chance and walked on to my team of choice.
Once you pick a team, the race begins in earnest. You’ll be hanging out in your dorm room, which also serves as the main menu for the Heisman mode. You can run drills, read your fan mail, check out your schedule, read what the college newspaper says about your team, view your awards and stats, and of course, check out a picture of your current lady friend. There is also a Heisman hype meter, which changes with your performance throughout the season, giving you an idea of how close you are coming to realizing your dream. You’ll have four years of school to achieve your goal of winning the Heisman trophy, and once your time at school is over, or you decide to enter the draft, you can continue your player’s illustrious career in Madden NFL 2006.
Gameplay features everything that you’ve come to expect from an EA football title: a large array of plays to choose from, tons of moves to execute, and lots of fast-paced action. There are also some great new features in this year’s title. For instance, each team has a couple of players marked as the stars on the team. These players can enter the zone, and when they’re in the zone, they become much more effective and able to make big plays. It’s a neat feature that really encourages you to take notice of what’s happening on the field with your star performers.
Another interesting feature is the ability to check out the status of both team’s players on the field. You can see who’s rated highly, who’s rattled, and who’s composed, which allows you to pick out the receiver with the best matchup, or find the weak spot in the line through which to run your halfback. Another added feature this year is the Hit Stick, which allows you to bring the pain in a whole new way by utilizing the right analog stick. It’s a bit slow and takes a lot of practice to get the hang of, but it’s certainly a cool addition.
There are other modes outside of the “Race for the Heisman,” and depending on your play style, you might have more fun recruiting players, managing your team, and taking all the steps to insure a win for your school. There is a full Dynasty mode for the management types to get all of their college football action without actually having to play any of the games, and it's a really deep experience that complements the other modes of the game really well.
Of course, there are also times when you’ll want to challenge a friend or even a complete stranger to a game, and there is a deep online experience to be had here, too. The online experience is a smooth one, and runs almost exactly like an offline game between two players on the same TV would, which considerably increases the fun factor. EA has never really been known for their intuitive online interfaces, but this one is at the very least tolerable and handles considerably better than what we’ve seen from them in the past (Burnout 3 anyone?).
NCAA features some of the best looking graphics in a football game to date. You’ll really appreciate just how good things look when watching some of the replays of your biggest plays; the way your quarterback rolls out of the pocket, then hauls the ball in and tries to run it for a first down is really a sight to behold. The animations are fantastic, and tackles look more painful than ever before. Everything runs at an extremely smooth framerate, textures are nicely done, and the whole menuing system looks quite slick. Having each team’s mascot accurately portrayed, as well as the coaches, is a nice touch.
Fans in the crowd hold up signs and cheer when a huge play is made, or shake their heads in disappointment when something goes wrong, and cheerleaders jump and dance on the sidelines. Never has a video game depicting college football brought the player so far towards experiencing what it’s like to be a part of a real team.
Naturally, being an Electronic Arts game, NCAA Football 2006 features all sorts of licensed music in the menus and just about everywhere else. Thankfully, if you don’t enjoy the drivel that EA is pumping out these days, you can choose to listen to the wonderful school bands performing the various fight songs instead. The announcers, Brad Nessler, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit, are effective but a bit annoying overall. Lee Corso attempts to be the John Madden of NCAA, which is highly disturbing: he whistles, works himself into a tizzy, and spouts off his own annoying pearls of wisdom. Thankfully, the announcers can be turned off if you feel they’re too repetitive or annoying for your taste, allowing you to fully experience the roar of the crowd and the crushing hits you’ll be laying down on your opposition – or hear your clock get cleaned when you get hit.
One thing that cannot be said about any EA Sports title is that it is a short experience. There is an incredible amount of depth, replay value, and fun to be found on this one disc. Everything from the “Race for the Heisman,” online and offline multiplayer, and Dynasty mode can each offer an extremely long and satisfying experience for any football fan out there.
Whether you like getting down and dirty and controlling the players yourself, or just prefer to stand on the sidelines and coach your players to victory, there’s something for you in this game. The feeling of winning college football’s most prestigious player award or taking your team to a National Championship just can’t be beat. There are a few annoying quirks here and there, but the bottom line on NCAA Football 2006 is that it’s a whole lot of fun.