From July 15 to the present, I have had a rather difficult time prying myself away from my Xbox 360 in the few hours of free time I have during the work week. Between NCAA’s breakaway gameplay to Cris Collinsworth’s analysis of my dubious passing blunders, I have become a full fledged junkie for EA Sports' formidable tag-team of football sims.
As I alternate between my Illinois Dynasty and Bears Franchise, I have begun to ask myself, which game is better? True, it’s not a direct competition, as both games are based on different leagues and are made by the same company. Still, I thought it might be fun to throw both of these games in the octagon, and let them go one on one in a fight to the death. Here are the not-so-violent results.
Round 1: Gameplay
First things first, thankfully both games nipped the turnover malady in the bud. Turnovers are exciting and game-changing events are not common occurrences during every other possession. Thanks for figuring that out EA developers, we appreciate it.
Madden does feel different this year, but at times it is hard to pinpoint how it is different. It could be the new running system, made fluid and dynamic through branching animations. Then again, it could be the adaptive AI, which generally does a solid job of keeping games realistic, although does tend to overreact to a single game’s performance. Whatever the exact reason, Madden’s gameplay feels more refined, and a whole lot tighter than year's past. Offense and defense are well-balanced (as they generally are in the real NFL), giving the gameplay a satisfyingly authentic flavor.
The ability to explode in the slightest crease of open space has made NCAA 09’s in-game experience ripe with nail-biting unpredictability.NCAA feels exceptionally different than last year, namely because of the new “Break-Away” animation system. As was widely expected, NCAA 09 is weighted toward the offensive side of the ball. The ability to explode in the slightest crease of open space has made NCAA 09’s in-game experience ripe with nail-biting unpredictability. There are some drawbacks here and there, such as the widely discussed inflated passing statistics. But there is nothing that overly detracts from the roller coaster thrill ride that is NCAA 09. Just like real college football, you never know what will happen next, which is why NCAA 09 takes the taco in the gameplay department, but only by a smidgen.
Round Winner 1: NCAA Football 09
Round 2: In-Game Presentation
EA Sports touted that “the atmosphere is back” in NCAA 09. If they were speaking by comparison to last year’s putrid simulation of the electric energy of college football, then they were correct. Speaking in the general sense, however, the flair of the stadiums in NCAA still falls short of my expectations.
It is a combination of things that prevents NCAA 09 from really excelling in the presentation department. For one, there is still no re-inclusion of the pre-game show and player entrances. Crowd noise and stadium sounds still seem a bit canned, and not quite on the mark. And please, PLEASE, let’s get some new and original commentary. I love the trio of Nessler, Corso and Herbie as much as the next guy, but it’s played out. We have been hearing the same clichéd, generic commentary for years now. It’s time for a change, and I’m still casting my ballot for a Musberger/Herbie duo.
Madden, on the other hand, exceeds expectations in the presentation department. Even though there is no pre-game show, and player entrances/introductions are removed, everything else about the presentation drips with the NFL’s larger-than-life aura. The stadiums are living, breathing entities that exude teams’ attitudes. The commentary (namely by Collinsworth) is spot-on as well. All in all, a smashing success.
Round 2 Winner: Madden 09
Madden scores a few points for it's much improved presentation this year.
Round 3: Problems/Glitches
It is shameful that we must include the presence of technical shortcomings as a category for evaluation, but it is the age we live in. Patches can correct the problems for those of us fortunate to have online access, but can do little to correct first impressions. Thus, glitches are a factor in the overall comparison.
It isn’t even really close here. The roster glitches of NCAA 09 caused a pandemic of panic throughout the NCAA community. Just when our hopes were skyrocketing with the prospect of online roster sharing, they hit the proverbial crapper when teams began to disappear while in roster edit mode. Thankfully, the storm has subsided, and all is well, but it was a scary few days.
Madden, on the other hand, has shown nothing of this magnitude. There are little bugs and annoyances here and there, but nothing that strikes fear into the hearts of its loyal followers in quite the same way.
Round 3 Winner: Madden 09
Any kind of Dynasty/Franchise mode is the backbone of any sports game. In order to achieve at least 12 month longevity, an entertaining multiple-season game mode is crucial.
Neither NCAA 09 nor Madden 09 really blew me away in this department. NCAA took a bold leap forward in last year’s game with a new and improved (although some would say monotonous) recruiting system, but added very little to the system this year. To be brutally honest, we have been playing the same Dynasty and Franchise modes for years now. Are we suckers? Probably. That or addicts. The latter is more likely.
My opinion of the NCAA Dynasty vs. Madden Franchise has remained static yet again this season: NCAA is a cut above Madden. The presentation of the mode is more interactive and quite frankly, there is just a lot more to do. From perusing rankings, the Heisman race, and various campus and national headlines, NCAA 09 provides a heaping helping of peripheral college football goodness, while Madden’s Franchise mode leaves you scraping for crumbs. Until we see a revamped interface and some new features like a weekly highlight/recap show, Madden will continue to play second fiddle to the NCAA Dynasty.
Round 4 Winner: NCAA 09
Playing games like this online in dynasty mode with everything on the line? KO.
The Knockout Punch: Online Dynasty
To break this 2-2 tie, NCAA lands a devastating right hook with Online Dynasty mode. When matched with Madden’s measly Online Leagues, it is not even a fair fight.
Online Dynasty/Franchise modes definitely play into the future of sports gaming, and moving forward, will be a necessity for all sports games. Such modes not only bring NCAA Football into this century, but also provides old-timers like myself the ability to rekindle old rivalries thought long-dead, leaving only memories of epic battles waged in basements and college dorm rooms.
It is disappointing that Madden did not make the leap to Online Franchise this year. Next year, there will be no excuse.
And the Winner Is…
Down goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier!
Call me biased, but NCAA is still where it’s at for football gaming, although the gap is quickly closing. We can still long for the days of non-exclusive licensing and NCAA/NFL 2K, but for my $120, this has been collectively one of the best years for football gaming in a great long while for me, and NCAA is still king.