NCAA Football gets its masters.
It used to be that when NCAA Football came out every July, it was a teaser. An unpolished, glitch-filled wannabe, cowering in the shadow of its powerhouse of an older brother, Madden. Sure, you would pick up a copy. You would run an option and watch the QB dash through holes the size of the Grand Canyon for 75 yards… every time. The same hitch-‘n’-go route could easily erase a 24-point deficit in one quarter. Notre Dame’s fight song blasts through the speakers while the digitized leprechaun mascot does backflips. Yay. Two weeks of that, and then it is time for a real football game. NCAA would go on the shelf while you are left wondering, “When will they put some effort into this game?”
[image1]Well, EA has heard the cries. To be fair, there have been improvements over the last few installments. Home field advantage and athlete composure are a couple of tweaks that come to mind. No one feature, however, had brought about a turnaround in the franchise. (Or should I say dynasty?) For the last few years there have been serious efforts to shore up the gameplay and streamline every option that enhances the collegiate experience. NCAA Football has, dare I say it, gone to school. It has studied and prepared. Now this year, it has graduated and stands before you as NCAA Football 2011.
First and foremost, EA worked on the fundamentals, graphics, and gameplay. The stadiums all look pristine and accurate, from Boise State’s blue field to Kansas State’s open-ended horseshoe that overlooks the Manhattan, KS campus. The player animations are really impressive, right down to the facial expressions There is nothing stiff, robotic, or zombie-eyed about these student athletes. The grimace on the quarterback’s face as he is tossed to the turf by a 325-lb. mountain of flesh is so detailed you can almost feel his brain slamming against the inside of his skull.
Hand towels now flow freely, whipping around loosely as players sprint down the sidelines. Ball carriers twist and struggle through piles of bodies in an effort to gain every inch. Making a return are the referees, back on the field to call a fair game, so make sure to remember that when you think a safety is jumping, you're in route.
The noticeable difference in this year’s NCAA Football from prior installments is in the feel and execution of the action. Staying in the pocket is more important than ever as speedy ends cut off escape routes. That means no more running for a first down with your option quarterback every time you call a pass. Throwing on the run is difficult, as in real life, so when a quarterback is running for his life and attempts a pass off of his back foot, it is not going to be a 75-yard strike. Instead, the ball wobbles in the air for a few yards, sometimes into the hands of a defender (darn it…).
[image2]Not everything works against you, though. Receivers will now tiptoe along the sideline and the back of the end zone in an effort to make a catch. Also, players block. Now, this may seem obvious to anyone who knows how to play American football, but if you have played NCAA Football before, you know the frustration of watching a fullback or pulling guard run off into oblivion while linebackers tee off on your running back. This year, your blockers understand their assignments, and they will find someone to hit, allowing the running back to pick his hole and dance around occupied defenders. Spinning, juking, and overall ball carrying movement feels smooth and natural. Defending has improved too, with gang tackles stuffing a run and lineman jumping timed snaps.
Dynasty mode is back, as always. It has not changed, and that is a good thing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Take your team, win bowl games, recruit superstars. Recruiting becomes its own game at times, with you recruiting players almost every week of the season and off-season. You have ten hours a week to spend on calling high school jocks in an attempt to get their commitment to join your school and team. A lot of time is spent learning the kids’ likes and dislikes, and it gets pretty monotonous going down the list every week. It can be truly rewarding, though, when all your wooing pays off and you steal a blue chip wide out from under the nose of Ohio State, and just as heartbreaking when your sure-thing quarterback ditches you the last week to go to USC. Too bad there isn’t an option to remind him that he would have to be a Trojan for four years.
A whole new option this year is Online Dynasty, which works the same as normal Dynasty mode, except more than one person can play in a league where everyone has their own team. One person directs the pace of the season as the commissioner. The most exciting option, however, is the ability of the commissioner to control the Sports Illustrated storylines. That’s right, each week the SI cover can be created by one player. This can bring smack talking to epic heights. (“Joe Cries Like Little Girl as His Skirt Wearing Florida State Seminoles Lose Again!”)
[image3]Road to Glory is also back. That is about it – nothing new that is unique to this mode. Erin Andrews is back too, and as easy on the eyes as she is, there are only two or three different cut-scenes which are played over and over (and over and over).
NCAA Football can still be glitchy, like the occasional pass that will magically pass through the body of a defender, but everything that made playing this series frustrating before has been fixed or tweaked. This is truly what makes NCAA Football 2011 a stand-alone football title. It is as streamlined and pretty as its older brother, plays just as well, and still gives you that unique college ball experience. NCAA Football 11 will not be riding the bench this year.