Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: July 17, 2007
Ahh, the good old days of going to college, hanging out with friends, and delivering pizza in my late-'80s Toyota — they all came together to form some of my happiest memories. Of course, nothing can compare to the joy of Saturday, when we'd all head down to War Memorial Stadium to watch the Wyoming Cowboys play. Yes, I spent my college years at a school that has not had the best record in NCAA Football lately. Fortunately, I have video games like NCAA Football '08 to let me experience what it'd be like to take my Cowboys to the championship.
NCAA Football '08 is pretty similar to last year's iteration, and while the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions boast some additional features in a few of the gameplay modes, there are a few welcome changes in the PS2 version, too.
The biggest change that you'll notice are the additional commands you can give the players within the play. As the quarterback, you can flick the right thumbstick to sidestep an oncoming sack, possibly buying you enough time to throw that all-too-crucial pass to score a touchdown. You can also use the right thumbstick to direct certain receivers to a new zone, which adds a bit of strategy to the game, as you can switch up where your receivers are in relation to where you see the defense heading. The last new direction you can give is on the defense. You can direct members of your defensive line to cover specific zones before the snap, which allows you to switch up the defense a bit. For instance, if you call a play thinking they're going to run the ball, the opposing team may send out a high number of receivers instead.
My favorite addition to this year's offering is the Motivation Meter, which is the best thing EA has ever done to capture the excitement of a college football game. As you make huge plays, certain members of your team will get huge boosts to their stats. Pass for a 45-yard touchdown, and it pumps up your receivers. NCAA fans know that a team's performance is affected by everything that happens in the game, so the Motivation Meter does wonders to incorporate this aspect. This feature doesn't compromise the balanced gameplay, though. The stat boosts are few and far between, and there's really no way to predict when it's going to happen. It's a useful little feature that makes the game feel like it's actually college football.
The Dynasty mode got a few small changes as well, primarily to the recruiting system. After selecting which recruits you want to target, the game becomes a kind of Japanese dating sim, in which you must woo the player to your school. You select how much time you want to spend with each potential recruit and can even make promises, such as a certain jersey number or a guaranteed championship. Be forewarned, however, that if you don't make good on your promises, he may transfer, which will hurt your credibility as a coach.
The Campus Legend mode remains largely unchanged. You still create a player, run through drills and select a school. After that, it's time to work your way through four years, striving to become the legend of your school, with high grades and excellent performance on the field. I found this mode to be largely boring. Part of the selling point in this mod is the idea that you, as the player, have to maintain the balance between football, grades and your social life, but when you have to work through each day running drills and selecting what you want to do in the evening, I lost interest. You can simulate all of the days and just focus on the games, but then you're letting the computer deal with all of the decisions that are supposed to make the Campus Legend mode fun. I can certainly see why some people would enjoy this mode, but it just wasn't for me.
Points Pursuit is a new mode that has been added to NCAA Football '08, and it's tagged as "fast-paced arcade-style football," but I'm not sure what that means. It plays exactly the same as regular football, but you get points for everything from sacking the QB to performing a Hail Mary pass on the third down. While playing alone, it seems a bit superfluous, but in multiplayer mode, it's a different story. It's probably the only time you can claim to have beaten your buddy in football by 500 points.
The devs have also added "My Shrine," which is a place where you can display all of the pennants you've unlocked, the trophies you've won and any pictures you may have taken while in replay mode. It's a nice little feature that allows you to see all of the progress you've made on the game since you started.
The main game of NCAA Football '08 plays exactly the same as last year. Aside from the few moves mentioned above, you aren't going to find any major shifts io the way you run or the way you pass. There are a few new trick plays this year that are certainly fun, and although it's tough to get them by the AI, they are a blast to use during multiplayer.
The passing game does seem a little off, but only because of the real issue I have with the game: the incredibly high amount of turnovers. As an example, I play with five-minute quarters because I like a faster game. During one game that had a total of 20 minutes of play, I saw pass plays turn into five fumbles and four interceptions. Passing becomes a complete and utter gamble; you should spend most of your time praying that your receiver catches the pigskin, not the other team.
Eventually, you just start to run the ball up the field, which is okay, because the running game is as strong as ever. There's really is nothing quite like seeing a hole in the defense and making a mad dash, spinning out of the way of a would-be tackler and diving to get the last few inches you need for the first down. I can imagine that the only thing that would feel better would be to actually go to a real football field and do that.
The kicking remains confusing to me. Normal kicking is done by flicking back the right thumbstick, waiting for the power meter to rise and pushing it forward. However, it seems to be arbitrary as to how hard you've kicked it. Sometimes it flies 20 yards and sometimes they catch it in the end zone. Usually, it falls somewhere between that, so it's not a huge deal.
The onside kicking, on the other hand, is terrible. You position a little cursor to pick where on the football you want to kick, and then flick the right thumbstick for the power meter. The problem is that while this is happening, the camera is set at an angle where you can't see the field. You can't aim for direction, so you have no idea where this thing is going to fly. Like the passing game, if you do this, it's a real gamble that you just have to hope pays off.
The AI seems to have gotten a bit of a facelift, too. Just within one game, you'll notice the opponent start to counter plays that you run a lot, and if you head into Dynasty or Campus Legend mode and play a whole season, the opponent seems to come to the game prepared for your favorite plays. It keeps the game fresh, as you're forced to try new plays and hope you know what you're doing.
As far as graphics and sound go, there's nothing major to report. NCAA Football '08 sounds just like it always has, with the hard hit of the tackles and the individual fight songs. The announcers seem to have a few more lines this year because I didn't notice nearly as much repeated commentary as I have in the past. The announcers themselves are as fun as ever, providing awesome praise if you do well and scathing criticism if you do poorly.
The graphics look really good for the PS2, but you can definitely tell that the engine is pushing the limits of the system. Character models disappear when they're not quite off camera and flicker during replays. It's a minor annoyance, but it doesn't really affect you when you're playing the game.
Overall, NCAA Football '08 isn't much of a departure from last year's offering, but it's still fun. There are some new features to play around with, but don't go into it expecting a new game. EA has been doing this long enough to know how to make a good football game, and this is no exception. If you're new to the series or if you haven't played in a few years, go ahead and pick it up to give it a play-through — it's well worth it. If you have last year's, though, I wouldn't bother because there's really not enough new material here to justify another purchase.
More articles about NCAA Football 08