Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: July 18, 2006
A new year, another chance at greatness and a whole bunch of freshmen to haze! That's right; EA Tiburon is back with its latest installment of NCAA Football 07, and now for the first time ever, it's gone next-gen. Thankfully, EA Tiburon made sure that NCAA 07 didn't follow in the footsteps of the first next-gen entry for the Madden series. It's actually quite good, if you don't mind a slew of missing features, that is.
What really makes NCAA 07 special for the Xbox 360? Sure, the graphics are a little bit tighter, and the stadiums look nice, but from what I could tell, that's about it. These aspects aren't drastically improved since the previous iteration, either. Now don't get worried because this does not ruin the gameplay in any way. Once again, EA Tiburon has produced one of the most solid football games available. The gameplay is tight, the play-calling is accurate, quick and easy, and the numerous options and ease of calling pre-snap audibles puts you in total control when on either side of the ball. I especially like the addition of trying to time the snap count on defense and getting a great jump on the offensive line. However, with the power of the new hardware and the introduction of the ESPN license, I not only expected to be blown away with the presentation of the game, but to get all of the bells and whistles that you'll find in the current-gen versions. This, unfortunately, was not the case.
What happened to the Campus Legend Mode, the shaking of the camera when the stadium is rockin', and the cinematic camera angles? Do these extras make or break the game? Definitely not, but they'd sure make it a whole lot more fun. One of the best parts of EA Sports games doesn't actually have anything to do with playing the next game in your season's schedule. I can't tell you how many times I've told the wife that there's only two minutes left in the fourth quarter and I'd be up to bed shortly, only to find myself still glued to the TV for another 20 minutes messing around with the in-season recruiting so that my squad is beefed up for next year. If the Campus Legend Mode were intact in the 360 version, there's no doubt that my wife's disappointment would have turned into sheer anger for the extra time spent playing.
Other than the missing game modes, I expected more out of the presentation of the stadiums and the overall feel of what's it like to actually be there. I personally attended one of the craziest football universities around in West Virginia University (Sugar Bowl Champs of 2005). We burn down a street when we win big games and get penalized 15 yards for throwing whiskey bottles on the field when the ref makes bad calls (these are both 100% accurate statements). NCAA 07 does nothing to differentiate the personality of the different stadiums and crowds, nor does it give off the excitement, or lack thereof, from the fans inside. It would have been nice to get some close-ups of the fans in the stadiums after a big play or a disastrous one, to see stands empty out if their team is losing by 50 points, or to even see what you expect in every single sports game … cheerleaders! At least give me some decent replays.
One of the greatest presentation features that I've seen in a football title was in the last installment of ESPN NFL 2K5, where at both half time and at the end of a game, they show highlight footage and game-changing moments. With the inclusion of the new momentum meter, you'd think this would be an obvious addition that could play off of the new feature and show you exactly where you took control of the game or buried yourself.
Now I said that the feel of each stadium and their fans was generic, but one new thing that definitely is not is the playbooks. This is really where each team's own personality can shine through. I was amazed to see WVU's signature spread offense included as accurately as it was. Not only do you have to try and think like the coach of the real-life team when calling plays, but you have to take their style into account when recruiting. For example, in my third season of Dynasty Mode, when it was time for me to recruit a new quarterback, the highest-ranked player coming out of high school at that position was actually not the right choice for my team. He was a pocket passer, and I needed a kid who could scramble and make things happen with his feet. I ended up getting a lower-ranked player, but three years later, he won the Heisman.
The use and beauty of the differentiated playbooks extends much further than just Dynasty Mode, though. When playing online, it makes it much more of a challenge to read your opponent's offense, which can even the playing field a bit against a tougher opponent. Any way you look at it, online play is tremendous fun in NCAA 07. The playbooks, the momentum meter and the love that people have for their alma maters make each game intense and meaningful. If you think NFL fans are crazy, go try and talk trash to a University of Pittsburgh Panthers fan; we WVU Mountaineers do it every year, and it never gets boring.
For NCAA 07 Football's first entry onto the Xbox 360, EA gave it the good old college try … of the lazy guy who doesn't go to class but still manages to get decent grades and have a lot of fun. Was it everything I'd hoped it would be? Nope. Was it everything I know it can be? Nope. Have I been able to put it down since I got it? Not a chance. Perhaps next year, EA Tiburon will be more comfortable with the new hardware and dedicate the time necessary to truly take this franchise into next-gen territory. If they can do that and keep the acclaimed gameplay at the same level, football fans will rejoice, and keg stands will be enjoyed by all.
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