I’ve finally managed to drag myself away from the XBox 360 to give you my impressions on NCAA Football 08, or should I say the greatest game ever made. If I really wanted to be vague, I could just say that this game is a million times better than last year’s and is the best EA Sports has ever put together. But what fun would that be?
Here’s a little back story on my experience with the NCAA Football series of video games. The first version of the game I ever bought was NCAA 1998, which had Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel on the cover. I think I actually still have the game somewhere, so if I ever wanted to see how far games have come, that would be proof enough. Anyways, I usually buy the newest version of the game each year, so I’ve been through each great upgrade and each incredible flop.
Once the series moved its way to the PS2, things really got better. The graphics and gameplay looked unbelievable compared to the regular PlayStation, and this game became both addicting and more and more like a real football Saturday. Moving on, the XBox 360 and later PS3 came out in recent years, and with so much opportunity to make the game better on the “Next-Gen” consoles, games on the PS2 took a backseat starting really with NCAA 07. Now, the year before, NCAA 06 was in my opinion, the greatest version EA had made yet. I played it and played it and played it past signing day of the next year, which was a pretty long time. Going back to 07, though, I just absolutely hated that game. I knew it wouldn’t be as good as previous versions, especially with the 360 getting more attention, but I held out some hope. That would prove to be a waste as I really didn’t play the game very much and because of that, upgraded to a 360. It wasn’t specifically for NCAA, but that played a big part in my decision.
Here we are now, in late July, waiting for football season to start in about a month and a half. That means that it’s time for NCAA Football 08. I love this time of year for a few reasons, most having to do with college football being on the way, but the NCAA series from EA Sports definitely is one of them. I picked up the latest version of the game yesterday and went through almost all of the different features to get a sense of how good this game is.
Since this was my first year on the 360, I really didn’t know what to expect gameplay-wise. I saw videos of the game and played the demo, but still was wondering how the game would feel while on the field. After playing a good number of games, I must say, this feels the most like an actual game of football. So much of the gameplay before was unrealistic, but EA Sports definitely successfully tried to change that in 08. The physics of it are superb. If you go up for a catch in the back of the endzone, your receiver’s momentum will carry him out of bounds if you’re in the wrong position, but at the same time, he’ll make a great catch if he is in a spot to do so.
One of the biggest things added to gameplay this year is gang-tackling, meaning more than one person can drag an opponent down. I’ve seen it quite a bit already and find it just helps add to that realism. If a defender is dragging your running back down, no longer does the linebacker bounce off of the tackle being made. Instead, he will help make the tackle. It isn’t limited to just two players ganging up on you either, sometimes three or even four could be involved in the hit.
Overall, the gameplay gets an A from me this year. Passing is harder than before, which helps greatly with the realism. No longer can you just lob a pass into coverage and hope your receiver catches it. If you try that now, chances are the pass will be picked off. It just seems like everything gameplay-wise is in the direction of getting more and more real, which is undoubtedly a good thing.
My favorite feature on NCAA is always dynasty mode. Nothing is better than taking Michigan to a national championship, even if it is only a video game. I haven’t really gotten into the dynasty mode on 08 too much because I’ve really only focused on recruiting in it. This year’s game said that it upgraded recruiting, well, it did more than that. Recruiting is completely overhauled and I must say, it’s a lot more entertaining. The casual fan probably won’t spend too much time with it, but for people like me who actually follow recruiting very closely, I’ll end up recruiting every player rather than letting the computer do it for me.
What’s nice to start with is that the recruiting board has been expanded to 35 players, giving you a cushion between who you offer and who is next in line for a scholarship. You can search for prospects in a number of ways, but a new search feature makes it easier to find what you’re looking for. Let’s say you want a speedy 5-star running back from the state of Texas that is over 6 feet tall, although I’m not exactly sure why you would want those exact attributes, NCAA makes it possible as you can enter in all of those things and it will tell you how many players match that. Some will be 100% what you’re looking for and others maybe only 75%. Either way, it’s a lot easier to find the players you want this way.
The actual recruiting of players is also very interesting. You have 10 hours each week to interact with your recruits, mainly by calling them. Time runs out pretty quickly depending on what exactly you talk about. You have the ability to make a pitch to the prospect via a number of different categories, all of which your school has a rating for, and by doing that, the players will either like or dislike the school. You can schedule visits on campus and everything like that to lock up a commit in the regular season and then make an in-home visit in the offseason, where you can make promises. I really haven’t looked at that part very much, but you can guarantee a number of things, such as, playing time, getting TV exposure, not redshirting, making sure you don’t recruit any other players at his position, etc. If you do make a promise, then you have a better chance of landing the recruit, but if you fail to live up to those promises in the next season, get ready for that player to transfer.
For dynasty mode, it continues to get more in-depth, so I’d give it an A- as well. Is there room for improvement? Yes. But for right now, it is going to be a lot of fun.
EA revamped campus legend mode in 08 as well. This year, you only control your own player. Things start off when you make yourself and find a high school to go to. Once you’re created, the high school playoffs begin, where you have to win 4 games to win the state title. Your performance in each game determines how many stars you get and which schools will offer you a scholarship. Just to test it out, I made a running back and ended up losing in the state championship game. I played well in each game, though, and was offered by almost every top 25 school, so I decided to commit to Michigan. Big surprise, right?
Once you enroll at your new school, you have a calender telling you what to do each day. Normally, you’ll have class in the morning, practice in the afternoon, and then can pick an event at night. You just simulate through class, but practice is where you can move up on the depth chart. Each practice you have 10 reps to show off your skills and get points for making a good play. It’ll show you right on the screen how many points to go before moving up the depth chart, allowing you to see how close or how far away you are.
During the games, if you aren’t playing, then things are just simulated. That means if you’re a backup, an entire game could be simulated. I actually made it onto the field in the season opener even though I was third-string since Michigan was blowing out its opponent (a crappy generic team since I-AA teams aren’t in the game). The camera angle follows you around, no matter if I was running it or just blocking. Some may not like this since the plays are called for you, but I think it’s pretty fun.
For CL mode, I’ll give it a B+. I haven’t really gotten into it too much just yet, but it looks like it’ll be very fun. However, it doesn’t top dynasty mode at all.
–EA SPORTS HIGHLIGHTS–
This next feature that is new to 08 might just be my favorite. While in a game, every single play is saved so you can go back and look at it any time while playing in that game. You choose from a number of different camera angles, and if you like the replay enough, can save it to your 360. You can also take a screenshot during a regular replay that can be saved as well. After finishing the game, you go back to the main menu and go to the category for highlights. In your shrine in the main menu, there are video screens where your replays and screenshots will actually show up, which I thought was pretty cool. Anyways, once you get to the highlight thing, you can have the videos and pictures uploaded to EASportsWorld.com if you are connected to online. In a matter of seconds, whatever you uploaded will be visible on that website, along with all of the other videos and pictures others uploaded.
For example, here are pictures I uploaded while playing Michigan State yesterday at the Big House. (Click to Enlarge)
All in all, I know that this is the best version of NCAA Football ever made. There is still a ton of room for improvement and a lot of gripes I have with it, but it is a very fun thing to play. On a scale of 1-10, I’d give it a 9. With just a few changes that I won’t even bother getting into, it could be up to something like a 9.5, but for now, this game will provide a lot of realistic fun until we get the actual thing come September.