Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: July 18, 2006
The NCAA Football series has been smothered in the overbearing shadow of its older brother, Madden. The only franchise dedicated to collegiate pigskin, it would be easy for NCAA to be running on fumes by now, but it just continues to one-up not only itself, but also its big brother. In past years, steps have been taken to further distance itself from Madden, and this year's offering, NCAA Football 07, is not only a great game on its own, but it is among the best American football games to ever be released.
NCAA Football 07 features plenty of new features, along with the refinement of past additions for a wholly satisfying experience. The momentum system established a few years ago has only grown more intense, with big stadiums screaming in anticipation of your next move after a successful string. With this swing, special impact players will be capable of doing extraordinary things, meaning a game's tide can turn in only a few big plays. This is what makes the college game so incredible: the inability to determine the outcome of some games until the clock has run out. This feeling is very faithfully represented in the title.
New features include the Campus Legend mode where, similar to last year's Race for the Heisman or Madden's Superstar Mode, you control a player through his collegiate career in the hopes that you can bring him to the next level. Your player's skills are gained by a series of drills, when you start your career. These combined drills are a lot of fun, as you try to get the best times and scores possible while running 40-yard dashes and pass plays. In addition, other spring drills were added, like Rush the Quarterback, giving a little bit more to an already overloaded game.
Campus Legend corrects the mistakes of Heisman and Superstar modes, creating a far more polished experience for an individual to keep playing. More career goals make this one of the best new additions in years, as you will still race for that coveted trophy. Now, you'll have to balance the life of a student as well. Each day, you practice and can then study, meet with your tutor, run field drills or go out on the town. The RPG stat-building aspect becomes all-consuming, since it takes skill and time to create a campus legend. From wide-eyed freshman to battle-hardened receiver, this is one of the most enjoyable single-player experiences featured in any sports game.
Dynasty mode has been refined further, including the Spring Game for the first time. This is a chance for underclassmen to get their reps going into the season for dramatic stat boosts. In addition, the ability to finally pick your impact players allows this mode to continue to outwork its Madden franchise counterpart. Recruiting players still remains one of the most rewarding features, as you form a perennial contender who places in the top five every season.
Gameplay has not changed dramatically, but you will notice more offensive and defensive mechanics have been gleaned from last year's Madden. You can now give individual defensive players new plays on the fly (send them on a blitz, put them in a zone or man them up) and slide your line offensively. The new options further extend the depth of already outstanding gameplay. As always, the joy of running an option correctly (a feature not in a Madden game since 2002) is worth the entry fee alone, but as the game progresses, the other gameplay mechanics also improve.
The biggest change is an interesting camera decision that is sometimes great and sometimes really too tight. When a player returns a kick, the camera goes down onto the field into third-person perspective, as you try to maneuver around. Sometimes it feels great, but other times, it's just far too difficult to view the field, making it a lot of work to find any holes. On the flipside, although you can only do this on special teams, it gives you the ability to blitz far easier on punt teams and the chance to legitimately block field goals and PATs for the first time.
NCAA plays even smoother in this year's iteration than in years past. Last year's model was prone to incessant slowdown at times, when you would exit an offensive huddle running towards the line. It seems the development team really focused on improving this, as the game is smooth from start to finish. In addition, the graphics, which were always great, continue to shine, and animations look as clean as ever.
The biggest disappointment in NCAA is the sound, not because it is poorly done, but because any long-time fan has heard most of this before. Fight songs are great, and there is a departure from last year's indie radio tunes, but the announcing hasn't changed dramatically in years. I have always enjoyed NCAA's commentary more then Madden's because frankly, hearing a fat man push hotdogs into his mouth while speaking about offensive production is not my cup of tea. NCAA's commentary is great, but again, it's just that a retread of previous year's statements only irk me after so many other great additions.
Online mode continues to be great, with the clean gameplay translating nicely with little lag. Xbox Live has always been great for sports games, and NCAA is one of the most enjoyable, as playing against another person is really where this game shines. Big play after big play as you rip your opponent to pieces, your home field crowd will scream until suddenly, one big pick gets turned around and everything changes. As mentioned before, games can turn quickly, just like in real life, making the core gameplay even more enjoyable for those who like this kind of back-and-forth dynamic.
This year's mode was less about new and more about refinement. Naturally, there were numerous new features, but they were new only in their labels. Campus Legend is just a refinement of Race for the Heisman. Dynasty mode is merely a better version of an already-great single-player mode. Most importantly, the new in-game features create a far better experience for the player. The most enticing thing is that any previous NCAA fan can jump right in and learn something new, just as any new player can quickly pick up a controller and option his way to victory. NCAA, even with its more complicated feature set defensively, is still a much more forgiving game than Madden, and having mascots dance on the sidelines only helps.
What makes NCAA Football 07 so incredible is a single world: immersion. From the in game cheering to your campus legend's dorm room, you will be drawn into an atmosphere that's been missing from previous years' NCAAs or any other game of this variety. NCAA 07 not only improves on its predecessors but its big brother and every game before it. Any football fan owes it to himself to give this game a spin, as should anyone who wants to become initiated in one of the greatest sports video game franchises. Generally, I play NCAA until I make a quick option to Madden for the rest of year. This year however, I think I may hang on to the ball for quite some time, making the long break down the field until next season.