Charting the Depths of Depth Charts
NCAA 08 to Coach:
Hey Coach, it’s me, NCAA 08, I’d like to get a little playing time. I’ve done a lot of work in the off-season, I put on some pounds, I’ve gotten a lot faster, and I’m a lot smarter. Throw me in the game, coach, you won’t be disappointed.
[image1]Nope, not disappointed like last year. I will be the first to admit I was an underwhelming rookie to the 360. My gameplay was tainted with exploitable plays, I was missing some of the biggest stadiums in the country (Memorial Stadium, anyone?), and worst of all, I didn’t even have all the modes that my last-gen brother had. I was feeble and pathetic, and I cost us the big one.
But not this year. I’ve bulked up quite a bit. In addition to the regular dynasty and online modes, I’ve got the popular mini-games of last year AND the quirky RPG-like "campus legend" mode. And I didn’t just add these modes, I overhauled them. There is a completely new and obscenely massive recruiting mechanic in the dynasty mode, and the “super sim” feature may just be the coolest thing introduced to videogame football in the last five years.
Now check out my wheels. I run the 40 at 60 frames per second (though not on the increasingly dust-gathering PS3), which is nearly twice as fast as last year. All of the animation is now as smooth as single malt. Tackling animations look much better now too, as players can finally gang tackle instead of just loitering around the ball carrier awkwardly.
[image2]And there are more opportunities to show off my new look. A “highlight reel” mechanic allows players to save video of any play in a game, send it to friends via Xbox live, or just watch it on the big screen TV in my revamped crib/trophy room/menu screen. Sure, I may not be as hot as Boise State’s cheerleaders, but I think that I can give USC’s girls a run for their money. And I hear they’ve got more money than sense.
Speaking of legal tender, the gameplay, thanks to a few off-season tweaks, is finally legit cashola. Some of the more exploitable offensive and defensive tactics have been rendered impossible by smarter pass defense, on one hand, and smarter offensive tackles, on the other. Even better, the ball carrier is much more agile, able to make quick turns up the sideline on swing passes and slide between gaps on rushes.
I’ve also got some less exciting “momentum” features, in which star players can gain attribute boosts when they make big plays. I know, coach, it’s a lot like the momentum meter from last year, but at least now there isn’t a meter cluttering the screen. I just like the word “momentum.” Momentum, momentum . . . just rolls off the tongue.
My game, you have to admit, has improved. I’m not sure you will say the same about the new career and recruiting modes, but at least they’re there, right coach? Whaddaya say?
Coach to NCAA 08:
[image3]You got a point kid, and I reckon I’ll put you in for the next game. But don’t get too big fer ya britches yet. That recruiting thingamajigee and the campus legend modes are veering towards statistical nerddom. You’re just overthinking it. Must be all those classes you’re taking, screwing with your football sense.
Look, the recruiting tool is just too bulky to use. After each game you’ve got to go through a list of 35 recruits (which you have to agonizingly hand select) and call them, choosing between a long list of topics in order to sway them towards our school. It’s pretty cool that every school has strengths and weaknesses–Cal can push their academics or USC their prestige–but it is still just a ton of talking. I don’t want you to talk son, I want you to play.
And don’t get me started on the off-season, where not only are you still making phone calls, but also doing house visits and making promises to the recruit, such as “you will be a first-year starter.” Getting through a single day of recruiting can take a half hour of selecting topics and managing lists, and that’s a half hour you’re not throwing the pigskin.
The campus legend mode looks like a lot of fun—you create a high school player and get recruited by schools depending on your performance in the state playoffs—but in practice it gets bogged down with the same ill-advised RPG elements. In this mode, you play each game from a perspective directly over your player’s head. This is suited to some positions (QB and RB) more than others, but is almost unplayable on defense. And forget being a punter or kicking superstar, special teams players are just left off the menu altogether.
[image4]When your prodigy gets to college, life begins to suck. He has to go to practice to move up the depth chart, but each day’s practice takes two load screens to get into and out of. And then there are the “evening events” in which you have to make 7th grade Social Studies kinds of choices similar to this: “Do you want to study virtuously or go vandalize the dorm bathrooms with your buddies?” Those choices are supposed to effect your attributes, but it is less of a minigame than it is a choose-your-own inconsequential boredom. And, unless I missed it, none of the questions are of the more realistic type: “Do you want to blow the whistle on your teammates’ gang rape or do you want to join in?” Now there’s a real-world choice with some ethical implications.
But still kid, you’re showing a lot of potential, a lot what we call “upside,” on the field. The “super sim” thing isn’t getting much hype now, but it is absolutely essential to making the giant dynasty and campus legend modes playable. At any point in the game you can open up the super sim menu and sim the next play or the next sequence of plays. This means you can jump out of a game you’re dominating, sim through a couple possessions, and take over again if it looks like the other team is making a comeback. Good work, now get back to practice.
Because, 08, you’ve still got some work to do. The stadiums, for example, are all here, but the background graphics look suspiciously like the same backgrounds in 05. You’re also buggier than Missouri in July, and I don’t want to see you go bat crazy again like you did when I tried to change the save settings or save highlight film at the end of the game. By and large, these bugs are probably just growing pains, but you better work those issues out with the team therapist before I catch you organizing dog fights.