Just say no to pro.
Summer isn’t just slow for gamers - it’s also slow for sports fans. And if you’re a video gaming sports fan, it’s almost boring enough to drive you to literature. But don’t open that novel just yet, because the video game college football season starts right now, with EA’s NCAA Football 2007. With streamlined modes, a ton of content and some great new moves, this is one of EA’s best college tries.
And it’s definitely the biggest. NCAA Football 2007 is crammed to the gillswith volumes of play modes, mini games, drills, mascot matches, scrimmages and online options, keeping you as good as illiterate until the real thing kicks off in early September.
While most of this content returns from last year, including the great online content, impact players, morale system and stadium noise, EA definitely refined their game during the offseason. The most improved player is Campus Legend mode, which used to be called Race for the Heisman. Last year, this was a brainless waste of time, but it’s now found its stride. You’ll have to maintain your academic performance and social standing while completing drills and practice sessions in an attempt to make yourself the most loved player in school history. It’s still underdeveloped, but at least now you have things to manage.
The mode ostensibly takes place in your dorm room, but it really plays out on your calendar, where you’ll practice, play or simulate games, and divide the rest of your time between extra drills, homework, and “social events.” During practice, you have ten tries to make good plays. If you do well enough, you gain an attribute point to spend on yourself. From there, you can study, meet with a tutor, position drill, or be social.
Unfortunately, popularity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “Social Event” is just an option you select that, in turn, immediately boosts your popularity meter. As far as we can tell, this meter has no effect on anything other than your imagination. Ah, the life of a varsity stud. I guess I’m glad I was a dork in college after all.
In a horrible twist of irony, studying is actually more interesting than socializing. Around the time you create your player, you’re asked to choose a major. These range from fake (Sports Stadiums) to real (Chemistry) to useless (English). As you progress through a school year, the imaginary forces of your social life will gradually eat away at your GPA. To counter this, you have to pass quizzes pertaining to your specific major. These are generally easy to figure out, even if you don’t know anything about the subject.
Quizzes and meters are not the stuff of good gameplay, but the result is greater than the sum of its parts because you’re at least playing a role. It’s not the most riveting material, but give EA credit for actually making it playable. After years and years of impersonal dynasties, dominating the league as a hugely popular, immensely stupid running back named Dooda Dooie is a welcome change of pace. If only we could get the announcers to scream his name.
I don’t mean to take anything away from NCAA Football 2007’s Dynasty mode, by the way. Even if it doesn’t have much character, it has just about everything else, including the brand new Spring Scrimmage. This is a mini-game where each side has five minutes to make big plays for big points. After the game is over, you can evaluate player performances and adjust your depth chart accordingly. Yes, it’s as boring as it sounds. No, you still can’t slap players or threaten to kill their parents. Guess there’s always next year.
Instead of abuse, NCAA Football 2007 focuses on momentum. As you make big plays on offense and defense, you gain momentum and steal it from your opponent. If you fill your momentum meter, all of your players will become stronger, faster and harder to stop. Sometimes this simply leads to blowouts, as one team gains momentum and never lets it go, but it can also lead to incredible comebacks and tense finishes. Yet again, EA has figured out a way to realistically add an intangible but important factor to their college football game, even if they made it a silly meter.
They even managed to make defense more interesting with the new “Get The Jump” feature. At the touch of a button, defensive linemen can get a jump on the snap, making either power moves or spins more likely to succeed and giving you a path to the quarterback. If one of your linemen is an impact player, as is the case with the Cal Bears, you can wreak havoc on an offense without constantly trying to outside blitz one of your outside linebackers. This is a small feature with a huge impact on the gameplay.
The other small features are just that. A new R-stick kicking scheme works fine but adds little. As a special team’s defender, you can switch to a first-person perspective, which, as far as I can tell, is difficult at best. And when returning a kick, the ball carrier is followed by an extremely close, third-person camera with no peripheral vision. Not only is getting blindsided on every kick return a little nightmarish, it’s also silly that they inflict it on you during returns, but not during regular running plays. If it’s too awful to be used everywhere, why include it at all?
At least the game itself runs smoothly. Whether you’re pretending to go out for the night, working on your pocket presence or butchering Stanford, the load times are reasonable and the framerate never drops. The announcing team of Lee Corso, Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit returns and is no better or worse than it has been for the last eon. Neither are the fight songs that provide NCAA Football 2007’s soundtrack, but that’s a good thing; those have always been well-suited to college football games and always will be.
And apparently, the same goes for EA. Over the past six years they’ve released six great college football games for current-gen systems, and that tradition doesn’t end here. With the enhanced Campus Legend content, realistic momentum system, excellent “Get the Jump” mechanic and the tried-and-true core gameplay, this is another championship season from the official alma mater of college football games. Go team.