Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: July 14, 2009
NCAA Football 10 actually made me care less about Erin Andrews and more about the game of college football. That's no knock on Andrews, the franchise's newest face; rather, it's a sign of a program that has an idea of what it wants to do.
Despite attempts to have you think otherwise, this game is more about how you express your devotion and creativity as opposed to what everyone's favorite sideline goddess thinks of you. It's a title that derives its true strength from the community, drawing on college football's identity as the quirky but passionate alternative to the corporate malaise of the National Football League. It's a sport that still manages to unearth genuine love and hate for school or state, emotional battle lines that have probably spanned generations.
To that end, NCAA Football 10 offers a buffet of features that attempts to turn the game into the ultimate fan battlefield.
At the top of the list is the time-consuming Teambuilder feature, which allows you, the player, to cobble together your very own team from the ground up. If you want to re-create your old state championship high school team, go for it. If you want to rebuild the 1992 Alabama Crimson Tide, be sure you're back by dinner. If you want to unleash the Springfield Isotopes or Tokyo Tech Flaming Chickens, nothing's stopping you.
It's an exercise for the truly obsessed, as you have to build your team from scratch via your computer and the Electronic Arts web client (the game tells you where to go). You pick everything from the team logo to what kind of field you want your team to play on. Then you upload your squad to the servers and can access it through your console. It's a relatively simple process as a whole, but one can imagine a devoted Buckeyes fan or glory days-loving thirtysomething burning half the day just getting the colors of his creation exactly to his or her specs. If someone's willing to create Ron Burgundy on Fight Night and share him with the world, someone will skip a meal or two doing this.
EA stokes the competitive juices a little more with the online dynasty feature, which lets players control their favorite school and compete against others online in practically every facet of running a team. The most compelling aspect of this to me was the recruiting battle, which is where the ugly side of college sports emerges. Calling prospects, making constant recruiting pitches either for you or against the competition, making promises — there's just enough in here to make the more moral players feel a little slimy. Of course, just like in real life, that goes out the window once you score a commitment from that blue-chip tailback from Pensacola. EA offers a host of "accelerators" one can purchase — as in spend Microsoft Points — to aid in your recruiting quest, such as the ability to make promises or having a recruiting adviser go out and find hidden gems who are interested in coming to your school. I'm a little irritated that I'm being asked to pay more money for in-game services that I should have anyway, but then again, college institutions have long been accused of buying advantages (and recruits) whenever they get the chance. Perhaps it's another example of college "tradition." Let's move on.
Of course, the real disputes are settled on the field, where anyone familiar with EA's past football titles will bask in the comfort of the same gameplay engine we've been seeing for years.
It's easy to see some of the things in the NCAA Football titles as hints as to what we're going to see in upcoming Madden titles, be it a new wrinkle in the gameplay or some kind of graphical tweak. That's not quite the case this year, as the proliferation of the spread offense and variations of it have helped make the college game a much more dynamically different on-field product than what you'd see in the pros.
The first thing I noticed was how the overall fluidity of the typical game has improved. This is mostly due to the sprinkling of animations on both sides of the ball. On offense, you'll see stronger running backs fall forward for yardage or receivers adjust their body a certain angle to catch a poorly thrown ball. Defensively, the tackling animations are textbook, with guys breaking down in space, wrapping up and driving a ballcarrier into the ground. You'll also have other defenders flying into the pile or hurtling over human traffic when a tackle is made.
The problem I ran into here was that the game felt too fast. I'm more of a football sim enthusiast, and the ball just seemed to travel too quickly to receivers on long throws. There's also the age-old problem of the running game, where run-blocking for inside trapping and pulling doesn't develop quickly enough to be consistently effective, rendering plays like the "power O" useless. At the higher difficulty levels, I only managed to gain consistent ground on misdirection plays out of the spread or tosses where the defense was completely unprepared, which was a rare occasion.
What can help you is the intriguing "setup" concept behind offense, where linked plays in the playbook can complement each other. For instance, if you run the dive play with success, that'll "set up" the play action pass play to which it's linked. The degree of a play's setup is done in percentage points, so if you keep slamming into the line for little or no gain on running plays, it'll take a while for its playbook neighbor to be effective. Where has this feature been? Not only does it add a cool dimension of strategy to calling plays, but it also introduces a vibe of offensive rhythm. If you call the game expertly, you could end up with a host of ready plays that can destroy the defense.
The announcing trio of Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso calls all of the action. Nessler and Herbstreit are tolerable with their occasionally repetitive audio, but Corso can make the ears bleed. I don't care about getting a big "yo!" from him, or even tales about the Sunshine Scooter. Is Keith Jackson still alive? Can't we have him? How about some Brent Musberger or even Dick Enberg, who can call any sport thrown in front of him? I've been hearing some of the same damn lines for years now. Change it up, or I'll be doing what a lot of football fans do — mute the TV and listen to something else.
Speaking of TV personalities, the game trumpets the addition of the aforementioned Erin Andrews as the sideline reporter and the point person for the Road to Glory feature. During regular games, Andrews' model-quality headshot image flashes on the screen whenever someone gets injured, which I imagine could soften the blow for some who find out their quarterback just blew out his ACL. In Road to Glory, the premise is that she's picked you as the subject of a series chronicling the career of a student-athlete. She starts from your senior year of high school to the end of your college career, chronicling your on-field achievements. Every time you do something memorable, you get a glitzy video snippet of Andrews talking about it and checking in with Herbstreit, who offers more analysis of your play. The feature is an elaborate repolishing of the earlier games' career modes, where success in the high school play-offs can determine what kind of schools come knocking at your door.
The problem here is that Andrews eventually runs out of stuff to say after roughly the first year, especially if you prove to be a mercurial talent. When you get to your junior year, there's a chance you — gasp — might get sick of her. If you do, you can always skip the weekly presentations with a button press.
There are, however, instances of unintentional comedy. One example: If you become a five-star prospect and then head to bottom-of-the-barrel football program, you're essentially going to hear Herbstreit question your sanity. I have to hand it to EA; they planned for a lot of contingencies.
NCAA Football 10 got me genuinely intrigued by the upcoming college football season. However, its most intriguing features should be left to people with a greater passion than mine. I stuck mostly with the on-field stuff, and it was solid enough for me to keep tinkering around with rivalries, tradition and the spread offense. But it won't make fans of the pros change their allegiance.Score: 7.0/10
More articles about NCAA Football 10