NCAA Football 08 REVIEW

NCAA Football 08 Review (Xbox 360)

We're doing something a bit different this time. Two reviewers will offer up opinions on NCAA 08, with Clay's review in the normal text and Terry's "double take" in bold.

Like athletes themselves, many sports gamers have a lot of traditions, superstitions and obsessive compulsive traits that may boggle the mind of the layman. Whether it's on-the-field rituals, playoff beards or simply eating the same meal at the same time before each game, professional athletes, for the most part, are creatures of habit and, once they find something that works, they stick with it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the same way when I play certain games. And with no title is it more apparent than the yearly release of EA’s college football juggernaut – NCAA Football. While some may consider it the kid brother or even the appetizer for the Madden’s release, many consider its annual installment the pinnacle of the sports gaming year. For me personally, there is no franchise that is more anticipated each season.

Terry Crouch: For me, NCAA is typically a stop-gap for the NFL games. I'm just more of a professional football fan than I am the college game, although I do get into the wide open college games quite a bit every year. I like the number of teams and not knowing the entire roster of every squad like I do with NFL teams, so each experience feels fresh to me on the field. However, by the time Madden or the 2K football games would release each year, I'd be ready for some professional football.

My traditions, while tame compared to many, are the same every July release. My first step in preparing for NCAA Football 08 was to do what is almost unheard of in today’s sports gaming market – stop playing last year’s version. When you’re a 30-something husband and father with a real job outside of gaming, finding time to play isn’t always as easy as it was when I was tearing up NHL ’92 in the freshman dorms. Gaming time is precious and, because of that, it’s very rare that a game can capture my attention longer than a few weeks, maybe months. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s the quality of the games. Heck, maybe it’s a little of both. That’s what makes that fact that I played my last game of NCAA Football 07 just three days prior to my first game of NCAA Football 08 so impressive.

When I cracked the shrink-wrap on the latest release the first thing I noticed, besides a striking resemblance between Boise State Bronco turned Houston Texan cover boy Jared Zabransky and “retired” country singer Garth Brooks, was the brochure like instruction manual. NCAA Football 08 adds to the new tradition of games that are ditching the 30 page manual for in-game tutorials that are often released to the media well in advance of the game hitting the shelves, giving gamers the chance to get a look at the controls before they ever have one in their hands.

With the game spinning loudly in the tray of my 360, the first thing that pops up is the now traditional opportunity to choose your favorite team. In a nice touch of class from the team at Tiburon, you’ll find that the game defaults to Virginia Tech – a small reminder of just how unimportant games, and sports in general, are in the big picture of life. If you’re a first timer to the series, the favorite team is used to set the look of your shrine area at the default menu screen and also will automatically pop up as your choice when you enter a Play Now match-up. It also will determine how your new shrine will be decked out. The shrine is sort of your home for NCAA 08. It’s a large round room that features four trophy cases to hold all of your precious hardware as well as the banners from all of the teams in your conference and three large screens. On the two outside screens, in-game pics from games you have played in your NCAA career will show in a slideshow style, while a video runs on the center screen from action that you have saved. We’ll touch on this new feature and integration later, for now, we have a game to play.

It’s from that Play Now screen that I run my traditional first match-up. As has been the case in every season that I can remember, I christen my copy of NCAA with a battle for the Paul Bunyan Governor of Michigan trophy which is fought annually between the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans. With the camera flying in through the skies of Ann Arbor, I’m greeted by the familiar voice of Brad Nessler, who welcomes me to A-squared and introduces his co-hosts: the Coach, Lee Corso, and the Quarterback, Kirk Herbstreit, all back for another season of NCAA 3-man booth action. The first somewhat significant change to the intro screen is a well placed logo for The Weather Channel when the conditions at game time are mentioned. While on the surface it may seem like mere product placement, but they’ve actually partnered with TWC to add a pretty slick new feature to the game. Your copy of NCAA Football 08, when signed in to Xbox Live, can actually ping The Weather Channel and find out the current weather conditions in the town where your game is taking place. A small little addition for now; however, in the future, this is code that could lend itself to more robust gaming features. Imagine a future release that instead of checking in with The Weather Channel, hits ESPN for current stats, injuries and hot streaks of players during the season offering you the ability to play with the most realistic rosters at any moment.

TC: I'm pretty sure they promised this with the early versions of sports games on the last generation of XBox, didn't they? I agree it could definitely add to the experience, but I'll believe it when I see it. It would be great for a company to have up-to-the-minute rosters and injury reports ready to be accessed each time you boot up the game, but I don't think that's something that they can market as a "new feature" to anybody but the hardcore, so it's quite a ways off, in my opinion. The weather synchronization is cool, don't get me wrong...I just don't think that the average player will even realize what it's doing for quite some time.

The only other change to the intro to each contest is the addition, or should I say return, of a quick intro of one player in the game. This was in the NCAA franchise way back in the day and returns this year in a quick on-screen graphic and a few words from Kirk or Lee. They’ll focus on one of the team’s three impact players with a canned blurb about the player. The graphic will be generic in a Play Now game, but will include season stats or numbers from the last game when you are playing in Dynasty Mode. While this is certainly a nice return, this whole intro sequence is still so very cold and underdone in NCAA Football 08. If you’ve ever been to a college football game, you know that the moment the teams take the field is, in most cases, the goosebump moment of the day. That’s where so much of the emotion and pageantry of college football lives. From Virginia Tech to Notre Dame, South Carolina to Miami, there is so much passion, personality and tradition spewing out on these Fall Saturdays that I would love to see captured in future releases.

TC: I agree. Remember when they first put the teams running out onto the field on last gen? Miami would come storming through the mist machines, and even if each team only showed a handful of players, it got you pumped up for it. You definitely got just a bit more amped to see your superstar throwing a couple of practice passes while they discussed his playmaking abilities. You'd see the runningback firing off a couple of jukes. It really doesn't have the same impact as seeing an (admittedly gorgeous) reproduction of a stadium and then a stats screen while using some canned commentary. It does it's job...to get you into the game. But where's the extra "oomph"? I'd love to see that kind of presentation back in the game.

Once you take the field, the first thing that will jump out at 360 players compared to last year’s version is the framerate. While some people will argue that you can’t really tell a difference between a game running at 30 frames-per-second and a title running at 60, like NCAA Football 08, well, those people may have been taking a few too many hits without a helmet because this year’s version moves like a completely different game. The best way I can think to describe the difference is by saying the last year’s version felt like you were simply tasked with moving your player from one animation to the next. At the time, it didn’t necessarily feel that way, but when you have a frame of reference (no pun intended) by which to compare, it makes it really stand out. In NCAA Football 08, you really feel like you are controlling your players and, more importantly, that they are doing what you are asking them to do. Animations don’t feel like they have pre-defined beginning and ending leaving you as merely a passenger once they begin. The game, for the most part, moves smoothly from animation to animations without ever really giving that canned feeling.

TC: It doesn't sound like much, but that's huge. You're never stuck watching some tired animation for several seconds while a ballcarrier drags your helpless defender for 3 or 4 yards on a 3rd and 2. You won't see many instances of catching a swing pass with your runningback in the flat a full 3 yards from the sideline, yet continuing the animation out of bounds. It didn't bother me too much last year, but I still have NCAA 07 and I went back and played a few test games for sake of comparison. There's no contest...the 30 frames per second versus 60 is night and day. Animations disconnect you from the action in 07, whereas in 08 it's tough to find fault with the tight controls.

As fluid as the game moves, that does come with a small concession. I don’t think the game looks as good, from a pure graphics stand point as it did last year. Simply put, it’s just not as a clean. It’s not loaded with jaggies or really anything funky from a visual standpoint, but there is a small drop off in the overall quality. Now, that being said, if it’s this baby step backwards that is allowing the jump to 60fps, I’m making that trade 100 times out of 100. If even slightly less beautiful graphics, it’s a much more beautiful game to look at.

TC: I completely agree. The first time I booted up the demo, I really thought it looked a little more "muddy" than 07. Like the lighting wasn't quite the same or the textures were a bit more washed out when playing from the standard gameplay camera. When viewing a replay, the player textures are incredibly sharp; but when actually moving to the line to run a play, it just looks a bit washed out to me. I'll gladly take that very small compromise for a framerate that's doubled and such tight control, though. When you go back and play NCAA 07 again, it's such a huge difference that it's impossible to ignore.

The new look and feel to the movement of the game really shines offensively, especially in the running game. Ball carriers feel sharp and responsive. The offensive line actually develops holes for the runners to hit and actually show a willingness and ability to get to the second level and make those blocks a little bit further down field. In the past, I always felt like I was using the guy with the ball to help guide my blockers into the defense. In NCAA 08, players seem to have a better grasp on their assignments and do what they’re supposed to do and what’s logical. The other skilled positions even seem to be more willing to get their hands dirty and make that final key block to spring that long gain.

TC: I, too, really enjoyed the running game in this version. I can't possibly comment on NCAA without a comparison to All-Pro Football 2K8 from time to time, so bear with me. In APF, the blocking really opens up some beautiful holes from time to time, allowing you to burst through and make a huge run. For me personally, it's just not consistent enough. In a strange twist, NCAA and APF have kind of traded places this year with regards to the inside running game. I can rattle off much more consistent yardage up the gut in NCAA, and I know it's tough to compare a pro legends game with a college title, but people will invariably ask for that comparison. I actually enjoy the running game in NCAA a little bit more than APF, and in past seasons it had been the exact reverse. I haven't seen a single instance of "Mario Running" yet, and it appears that EA has managed to get a decade-old monkey off of it's back with that.

The highlight stick/juke stick or whatever they are calling it this year is back as is the hurdle, which was removed from last year’s version. For the most part, all of the weapons in your runner’s arsenal are very responsive and work well in creating a realistic feel to the running game. I did find myself automatically going into some moves, jukes and spins in places where previous versions of the franchise would have been stuck in a little “Mario Running” action. I guess that’s better than the alternative, but it does make me feel, at times, like I’m not the one in control.

TC: Well, I guess we agree that the Mario Running isn't there. I noticed the hurdles and auto-jukes, as well, but I'll take that over getting stuck on a fallen blocker and losing 3 yards instead of a natural action that any decent player would take; hop over the guy and continue on.

If you’re not into the whole “Woody vs. Bo” three yards and a cloud of dust style of college football and would prefer to throw the pill around 40 times per game, you’ll find some huge changes to the passing game as well. Gone are the canned jump ball animations where, once you got your receiver up into the air, you knew you were coming down with a reception. NCAA 08 has implemented mid-air collisions which, really, have become a defensive necessity in stopping the pass. Time it right and a big shot to a stretched out Wide Receiver can be the difference between a huge first down and just another incomplete pass. Some of them can be downright brutal and will likely soon fill your shrine.

While I love the additions that they made to playing offense, this is the place where I have to bring up the most glaring issues with NCAA Football 08. Most people who played last year’s game, like me, found that there were a few bothersome parts of the game. Simply put, there were far too many unstoppable styles, patterns and gameplans that could be used to feast on the AI opponent. Crossing patterns, especially when used in conjunction with a QB that was rolling out were almost a 100% success rate. The deep ball was very easy to throw even against impact corners. And DBs simply bit hard on play action far too often.

Last year, instead of making these things simply more difficult to do, they seemed to be combated with more dropped passes. Wide open players would simply drop the ball for no reason other than an attempt to keep a competitive balance. In NCAA 08, I feel the Developers decided to “fix” it by simply juicing up the defense. Interceptions and sacks, on All-American setting with default sliders, are through the roof. Cornerbacks, Safeties and Linebackers all have an innate ability to see, get to, and grab a high volume of passes regardless of how open a receiver is or how much a Quarterback does the right thing. In the past, players were rewarded for letting their QB take the standard drop back and the throw the ball in rhythm and time to the receivers. Not this season. Even if you’re not buried by a Defensive End or blitzing LB after completing your drop and making the read, even a perfect pass has a better than average chance of being picked off. Sometimes it feels like they tried to “engineer” a square peg into a round hole with a sledgehammer. Apparently, the answer to making an offense less effective is by making the defense superhuman.

TC: Here is where NCAA loses some serious ground for me. After getting so used to APF's passing game, NCAA's just feels brutal for all the wrong reasons. You can't even think of throwing some routes. Linebackers that are obviously out of position will perform a superhuman lateral slide and snag a ball that they have no business even getting a hand on. The mid-air collisions are great, but most of the time it's because you can throw a very limited selection of passes...medium and fast, most of the time. It is so incredibly difficult to get a nice, rainbow low that drops in to the bread basket of a receiver that it's absurd. I'll plant my feet, tap the button as lightly and quickly as possible, and still throw a laser that a defensive back or linebacker that's beaten by a solid four yards and just hop up and swat down. The passing game overall frustrates me personally like no other area of the game. It ends up limiting my offense to a short-passing attack more than anything, since I have to find a receiver open by a mile to really hit a home run. Don't get me wrong, I've hit a few streaks and had some deep downfield catches, but more often than not, the defender in the area on anything other than short routes over the middle or slants seems to have the miraculous ability to sniff out a pass instantly, while turned the other way and running away from the quarterback.

As long as I have my negative font flowing, I also have to turn a questionable look to utter lack of penalties at default settings. Now, I’ve heard in the past that this is an intentional decision on EA’s part as the average gamer doesn’t really want them. However, if I do, and I attempt to tweak the sliders north in order to have more penalties, I expect that to be the results. After moving all of the penalties up from 50 to 75, I still was only receiving an occasional false start/encroachment, a defensive pass interference call when the DB simply got there too early, or a clipping call – usually on a kickoff. I’ve seen no facemasks, holding calls that I can count on one hand, and not a peep of anything else.

Now, before you take the last couple of paragraphs and draw the conclusion that because I found some pretty negative parts to the game that I don’t (a) enjoy the gameplay and (b) recommend the game to others. I actually do both – and quite strongly. Even with its faults, it plays one of the best games of football that we’ve seen on any console, easily the best we’ve had on the 360, and, most likely, the best that EA Sports has ever put out. I just think it’s important to point out that there is a learning curve to playing the game, especially offensively. And, it’s still a little more arcade than sim.

TC: Here's where the grenades start getting lobbed in by readers and forum posters. It's tough to say "Here. This is what's wrong. Yet it's fun" and not expect the fans of any particular game to come unglued. But we'll get our riot gear on and take it. I agree completely.

With my traditional Michigan/Michigan State tilt in the books, I was ready to move onto the mode that will keep me playing NCAA 08 until next July – Dynasty Mode. Dynasty Mode is completely unchanged from last year in every significant way but one – recruiting. Everything you do before during and after games in all other facets of a season and coaching career remain unchanged. That is unless you count the new ESPN.com interface, which is really the same thing we saw with the old Sports Illustrated covers, but not executed nearly as well.

Recruiting has been revamped to create a more in-depth method to bring players into your family. During the season and off-season recruiting, you will now keep a prospect board of the players that you are looking at bringing to your school. During the week, you can call those prospects and spend up to ten hours pitching your program to those recruits and gauging the importance of areas like academics, campus life, and early playing time to each individual recruit. You can hard-sell these pitches in hopes of raising the recruit’s interest meter and moving him one step closer to committing to spending the next four years with you.

During the season, once a recruit has narrowed his potential schools down to five, you’ll be able to invite him to visit campus during one of the weeks in which you have a home game. When that week comes up on the calendar, you’ll be tasked with choosing what three activities you want to schedule for that recruit that week. If the Blue Chipper lists “Pro Factory” as his most important factor in choosing a school, make sure you introduce him to some famous alumni during his trip. A great visit could get you that verbal commitment that you desperately need. In the off-season, the campus visit is replaced with the in-home visit. The concept is the same, but there are only five weeks available to squeeze them all in.

Also available only in the off-season is the new Promise feature. Now, in an attempt to sway a recruit, you can make promises to him to get him to come to your team. You can promise not to redshirt him his Freshman year or maybe that you’ll have a winning record against your rivals in his first season. The more advanced and experienced you become as a coach, the more promises are unlocked and available for you to make. However, they are not without risk. Break those promises once a recruit commits and your integrity meter will drop making it more difficult for you to recruit in the future.

I think the new recruiting system is robust and a welcome addition to what is already the single best mode in sports gaming today. It is important to point out however, that this new recruiting engine does add significant time to the between game activities in Dynasty mode. If you’re not into it, it could easily become a tedious task that could get on your nerves quickly. It could also use a few tweaks going into next year. I would love to see the recruits on campus visit have a great impact based on both the week and how the game played out. If I’m Michigan, and I invite you to the Ohio State game, that should be a bigger deal than if I asked you to come watch us play with Northwestern. And if the recruit is a RB, and I take it to the Buckeyes for 225 rushing yards, that should mean something to that recruit. Little changes like that would further improve a recruiting system that is making huge leaps.

While I could gush all day on how much I enjoy this mode, I still think there are little things that could be tweaked to improve the overall experience. First of all, I would love to see coaching become more of a factor. The addition of assistant coaches and/coordinators would be a welcome one and I would love to see coaches moving around the NCAA and not simply staying at the same school until you take their job. If Steve Spurrier...I mean, if South Carolina Coach has a couple losing seasons, I’d love to see him lose his gig with the Gamecocks and take his visor and unique offense somewhere else. Or, speaking of taking it somewhere else, what if I could take my coach that I’ve been using in NCAA and export him over to Madden in franchise mode? How’s that for depth?

TC: You've hit almost every nail on the head, so not much I can add about the dynasty features. But that last idea about exporting your coach (complete with stats and National/Conference Titles, Bowl Games won, etc.) to Madden is brilliant.

Speaking of exporting things to Madden, Campus Legend mode makes its debut on the Next Gen release and I don’t know that I’ve ever had a greater love/hate relationship with a mode. I’ve been on the record countless times in the past about these types of modes. I love them. As a kid playing Baseball Stars and TV Sports Football, I dreamed of these modes. They are exactly what I wanted to see sports gaming evolve into. And though modes like this in previous football releases, most notably last year’s Superstar Mode in Madden, have left me slightly under whelmed, I’m drawn to them like Lindsey Lohan to an 8-ball and a set of car keys.

In NCAA Football 08’s Campus Legend mode, you start even further back than the lowly freshman scum trying to make the team; instead you get your first glimpse of your virtual alter ego as a High School senior entering the state playoff tournament. When you’re creating your future big man on campus, the first thing that might jump out to some, as it did me, is the inability to create and of the “blocking positions” on offense. The ability to play as an Offensive Linemen, Tight End or Fullback is not available in this mode, much to my chagrin. While some may argue that these positions are not where college legends are made, I would simply point folks at the NFL Draft where two of the first five picks played in the offensive trenches and more O-Linemen were taken in the first round than Quarterbacks and Running Backs combined. That’s all I’m saying.

TC: I can definitely see that as being a valid complaint, but the blocking positions aren't sexy. You don't show off a brand new feature by packaging it into something that won't make the kids smile. The positions that are there: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, and every defensive position, have a direct, tangible impact on the game. Any user with the ability to read can look at the stats sheet at the end of the game and go "look what I did!" Blocking is a thankless job, and even though the blocking controls made it fun in Madden, I'm sure they involved a lot of work to make it possible. I'm just glad to have the feature in NCAA this year, so I can overlook not being able to play a left tackle and seeing if I can flop like Robert Gallery once I import into Madden.

When you do get onto the field, each position creates a different experience and really makes the game play completely differently. As a quarterback I felt the expected highs and lows as I went through the season for Notre Dame. I became an impact player as a wide receiver for Cal by midseason. I racked up yards and catches as a do-it-all tailback, and created turnovers with safeties in the secondary. When all is said and done, the Campus Legend mode does what it's supposed to do...make you feel like that individual player. And Michael Irvin is much more fun to be than Moose Johnston for most people, no matter how you slice it.

In the end, Campus Legend mode is a great step forward and a welcome addition to the game. That’s not to say that it’s perfect. In one of the most head scratching decisions in the game, your default rosters are not used in Campus Legend mode, so, if you’ve gone through the trouble of naming your players (or obtaining them in another fashion), they are of no use to you in this mode. Once you leave high school, you’ll be forced to either live in a world of QB #7’s or let the game auto-generate fake names for you. Just doesn’t seem logical to me.

TC: Not logical in the slightest. It's tough being a wide receiver for the Golden Bears and seeing 97 overall DeSean Jackson named "Mark Horton", or Nate Longshore named "John Church". You can't even edit the names from within the mode...if you could, at least you could name the top Heisman hype candidates and your own team to make each game make more sense to fans of a team. I've also come across the random problem of getting all four high school tournament games done, selecting "Yes" to auto-generate names, and no names being generated. The only solution I've found is to wipe out my profile and restart a Campus Legend, which is extreme.

Besides the remainder of the positions being added (including the kicking positions), what I’d like to see most next year is a more level playing field in how points are generated to facilitate your move up the depth chart. I know that it’s tough to hang success on things that are less tangible and black and white like first downs, tackles, touchdowns and catches, but I’d like to see Safeties or Linebackers rewarded for staying in their zone. Give points to the Running Back that picks up a blitz. Or how about the corner that never has a chance to improve because he’s covering his man so tight that the throws simply aren’t coming? Reward me for the playing the right way.

TC: Indeed. I'd like to see some "zones" on the field around my man if I'm locked in man to man coverage as a corner. If I stay in the zone, I earn points. If he gets away from me, I lose points. Make it possible to lose attribute points as well, not just gain them through practice and in-game performance.

Beyond that, I’d personally like to see it become a little more difficult to become a five star prospect in high school and I’d also love to have my high school teammates being recruited at the same time as me. If I’m playing a Wide Receiver and I’m picking between Texas, USC and Nebraska, a little note to say my HS QB committed to Nebraska may have me pointed towards the Huskers. It’s a great mode; there are just a lot of little things that kept me questioning the Developers. That being said, I’d love to see EA make a commitment to this mode and continue to grow it in the future. I look forward to moving some of my fellas into Madden and giving them a shot at Sunday afternoons.

TC: It would be great to transition from high school to college with "team mates", but taking that further, it would be nice to export your college class from Campus Legend mode into Madden as well. That would require the names to function, or you'd end up with odd names for the real recruits when they run the draft in Madden. There are a few little nagging issues with the mode, but it's by far where I've spent the most time with the game.

In terms of single player modes, the only other option involves, well, the option. Back for another go round are the very addictive mini-games that we were introduced to last year. Bowling, Tug of War and Option Attack are all back and just as fun as ever. These games are so simple in their concept, but such a huge addition to the overall game. I find myself lost in these games for hours on end, having a blast each time. There’s even some fun and challenging XBox Live Achievements tied to the games that will keep you achievement junkies tied up for a long time.

If you’re not satisfied taking it to the AI game after game, multiplayer action is, naturally, available once again and largely unchanged from last year. The only real noticeable difference, and it’s a big one for many, named rosters do show up in online games this year. With mostly solid online action, it’s hard to complain about this mode, but I really think it lacks the punch that it should have in this day and age. EA Sports continues to drag their collective feet in really turning out much depth in the online arena. EA is a great company and I trust that they’ve done enough market research to know what their average player wants. It simply continues to shock me that it does not involve a more robust online world for the NCAA franchise.

TC: I have one pretty minor quibble about online performance. I am on a 10meg down/1 meg up pipe for my XBox 360, and when I play NCAA 08 online I have a full half second delay when attempting to kick the football with the analog stick. During a game, it's not so noticeable...I can still make tackles and timing plays most of the time, but the kicking is beyond out to lunch. I'll have an occasional moment when I press a button, and I know I pressed the button, yet nothing happens. The first couple times I dismissed it as lazy fingers, but I've seen it too many times on too many plays to be pure laziness. There are some small network hiccups from time to time that really have an impact on individual plays, which in turn have an impact on games. I've heard the same thing from opponents I'm playing, so I don't think I'm the only one. Overall, the online experience is phenomenal, but a few small annoyances mar it somewhat.

4200 words into this “War and Peace”-like review (TC: even more than that now, thanks to me...) and I haven’t even had the chance to speak about some of the other new features in the game. SuperSim has been added and it allows a player to quickly sim through parts of a game with a single click. Maybe it’s just one play, maybe a quarter, or maybe the entire half. SuperSim allows you to move through the parts of the game that you don’t want or need to play. If you just want to play offense, you can choose to SuperSim all of your time on D. Want to get through that 4th quarter of this 63-3 blowout? SuperSim will get you to the end in seconds. Be warned however, through some innocent use and confirmed through later trial and error, SuperSim can be used as an exploit against the AI. If you are losing to the AI and they are running the clock out on you, SuperSim, in most cases, will get you the ball back. Seems that the AI that runs the clock out doesn’t play well with the SuperSim and they will not execute it properly. You’ve been warned – cheat if you must.

TC: That just screamed "game breaker" for for 5,000 forum posters. You heard it here first.

The other addition, which I touched on earlier, but would be remiss not to elaborate on, is the new shrine and its connection to EA Sports World. During a game, every play that is run is captured by the game and given a score. At any point during or after the game (until you exit the game), you can go into any play and capture it to your hard drive as a highlight from the game. You select one of the available camera angles to view and save up to five video highlights from each game. You are then given the opportunity to upload those plays from your system to EA Sports World (www.easportsworld.com) where you can share these highlights with your friends. It’s a shockingly addictive addition to the NCAA Football 08 experience and adds a new level of fun to the gameplay. I find myself playing the game now and thinking after certain plays, “oh that’s going up on the board.”

I could probably spend another 20 paragraphs on all of the little things that I like (like the return of records) and dislike (like that the fact that they don’t distinguish between game, season and career stats on the in-game overlay graphics) and still not cover everything about this game. I probably lost most of you 3000 words ago. For those of you who stuck around to hear me out, NCAA Football 08 is a great game. It’s the best football game available on the Xbox 360 and a solid improvement over last year’s maiden Next Gen voyage. I really feel like this game is made by football fans, for football fans and that hasn’t always been the case at EA. Where I think they need to really focus going into 2009 is remembering that this game is more than Madden’s kid brother. Don’t lose sight of the pageantry of college football. Don’t forget that a football fan and a college football fan are not exactly the same. In the meantime, I’ve got another kick-off to make. See you next July.

After playing both football games that released on the same day extensively, I have more fun with NCAA 08. While it has its share of warts, mostly in the passing game, there's something about the college atmosphere and the overall package that has me putting the disc in time and time again. When you have two competing products on the market that have solid football engines...and one of those products brings a feature set that puts the other to shame, you can't ignore that your $60 spends the same on whichever you choose. At the risk of upsetting the very vocal community, I can't get past the fact that it plays a pretty good version of football on the field. Much like APF's strength in the passing game and weakness in the running game for me, NCAA's strength is the running game and weakness is the passing game, which kind of cancel each other out. In the end, I can play NCAA longer, in more ways, with more teams. I can't ignore that.

Clay's Score: 8 of 10
Terry's Score: 8 of 10

NCAA Football 08 Score
out of 10