NCAA Football 10 Review (PS3)
If I told you Michael Myers and Halloween have a lot in common with EA Sports NCAA Football, you’d probably tell me I was crazy.
However, at a closer glance, they are more alike than you may realize. Both series have resorted to the same philosophy of not straying too far off of the formula which worked to originally elevate each franchise. Unfortunately, that philosophy of sticking close to an established formula tends to have a limited lifespan before a series becomes stale, and NCAA Football is dangerously close to that point.
The approach to the NCAA Football series has been relatively the same since NCAA Football 99, with only incremental improvements each year building on top of the previous package. However, just as with Halloween, the core tenets of the series have remained the same to solid financial success. But just as with Halloween, the same act seems to be getting tired.
NCAA Football 10 isn’t a bad game by any means, but the game represents only a marginal upgrade over last year's title overall, which leaves you wondering if we'll ever see a truly great NCAA Football anytime soon.
Did NCAA Football 10 top last years title? Keep reading!
The Meat and Potatoes - Gameplay
Forest Gump would not describe the gameplay in NCAA as he would a box of chocolates. Not only do you know what you are getting, you can probably guess what you are basically getting each year without looking at any blogs or fact sheets.
Last year’s gameplay saw the advent of 'wide open gameplay' which resulted in a mixed reaction at best in the community. This year, the NCAA team sought to refine last year’s title and balance the game out quite a bit more.
The gameplay overall is better, but only in a more refined sense. It doesn’t feel groundbreaking and it definitely doesn’t dare to innovate. This approach results in gameplay which could be the best the series has seen yet on the current crop of consoles, minus a few nagging issues which must be cleared up.
The first thing gamers will recognize right out of the box is a new camera angle, which is lower to the field and moves with you to provide you a better line of sight for you as you move about.
The camera certainly has it’s positives and negatives, but I personally didn’t mind it outside of a few plays where it failed to zoom in from an ultra wide angle. Some people will find it particularly troublesome and some won’t. However, the camera does do what the developers intended for it to do, it’s just a shame many will swear off NCAA simply because the option wasn’t given to switch between the new and old camera.
As far as the actual football action, it can best be described as NCAA Football 09 plus defense. The game is much more balanced overall, and plays better than it’s predecessor in every category.
The line play is much better with the toning down of suction blocking, but you will still feel sucked into a block from time to time. The line interactions with each other definitely borders on the much more plausible as well.
Initially, I did not like the fact that the pass rush seemed rather weak, and it was especially so if you were outmanned in the lines. However, after some experimenting with the different line assignments by aligning players and utilizing crashes, I was able to mount a bit more pressure on the QB. There were times when the QB had way too much time to throw still, but it helps to use a bit of actual football IQ in order to play defense. A patch will help things immensely.
The gameplay is better than it has ever been on next-gen.
Another addition to defense (and offense for that matter) is the new player lock camera. The feature is a new camera angle which allows you to play from the perspective of a single player. I have always harped on just how stale and boring defense was to play in NCAA and Madden, and the new camera angle definitely gives you a new option so you can mix it up a bit. I like the feature, especially considering it’s totally optional but easily accessed by the press of a single button.
There are more tipped passes this year than in previous years as well, and they are actually tipped. And just as in real games of NCAA Football, tipped passes float about and sometimes end up in someone's arms for an exciting play.
The tackling engine has seen an improvement this year as well. You can now break out of tackles after they are initiated, but you can also get clocked if you fight too long. The new tackling system adds a lot to the game, but the abundance of over the top animations is still there. The flips, clotheslines, and more still make WWE fans feel at home at times.
The variety of tackles is improved though, and I would venture to guess that the tackles will only rearely approach repetitive territory. It seems like only yesterday we were wondering where gang tackling was, and now we can only complain about some over the top animations. That's some pretty decent progress over a couple of years.
Another feature when it comes to the passing game are the break away animations for the quarterback. These animations allow the QB to still throw the ball as he’s getting hit. Usually, this results in the ball flying wildly away into the heart of the defense. This adds a risk/reward factor for trying to force a pass versus holding it in and not risking it. NCAA Football 10 definitely rewards the smart gamer.
The WRs and DBs also jostle a bit more this year, and it adds a bit to the passing game overall. This isn’t quite up to a level where it’s jaw dropping, but this year is a little step in the right direction. New animations for receivers who are hit at various times of their reception also add to the realism of the game. Animations for jump balls and more were also added, which makes the game seem much more visually realistic.
A huge complaint from last year was also addressed in the pursuit angles. This results in many passing routes not being as effective as last year. Breaking big plays in the passing game usually results in you following your blockers on short flares or catching the ball behind the defense or breaking a one on one tackle in the open field, just as it should be.
Offensively, running the football is a test of patience and skill. You cannot simply get the ball, hold down turbo and expect good results. You will have to use moves, and protect the ball from suddenly much more ball-hungry defenders. Use of the speed burst button is only recommended by this writer if you see some open field.
Another thing I really love is the option play this year. If you have a quarterback who is not suited to run the option, the days of pitching the ball late for big gains are over (and even still, it's not common anymore). Carelessly pitching the ball is a foolish move this year. I have had to break that habit as defenders have intercepted a couple of my pitches and ran them back for touchdowns. It was the ultimate fail for a team running the option.
Passing the ball is improved, but still seems too easy for both you and the AI. Completion percentages for my games were averaging roughly 65% for each team. Several quarterbacks play with the precision and poise that Sam Bradford or Colt McCoy would. The accuracy needs to be toned down as well as the throwing power, especially on the lower end of the scale. While they are more difficult than last year, crossing routes and posts still can be especially easy to complete.
The AI does seem to understand the idea of playcalling much better than ever as well. No longer with a lead will the AI attempt to bomb it downfield. The AI will usually attempt to run the ball and at worst, attempt short pass plays when the situation dictates it.
The broken sliders and rosters do put a damper on the otherwise good gameplay.
The AI does still abandon the run a bit too soon if it falls behind, and overall it does call too many passing plays instead of running plays for some teams, including Georgia Tech. However, the playcalling is the best I’ve seen it yet in the series. Don't be fooled though, it still needs some serious work.
The coach options of playing aggressive, conservative, or balanced seem nice at first glance, and their execution is done with the right balance. It seems like the feature has an impact on how your team takes care of the ball and how often they are penalized. If nothing else, it is refreshing to see the feature not overdone, like many in the past have been.
Speaking of penalties, they are once again handled poorly in NCAA Football 10. That is the one really bad thing about the gameplay. Pass Interference calls are actually called more often, but penalties overall are not handled in a realistic way and they don’t occur in realistic numbers. Expect some false starts and offsides and the random holding call, but you will not have more than a couple of penalties a game. Right now, out of the box, penalties aren’t realistic.
Booth replays have seemed to disappear altogether this year, as I have only seen a few in my entire time playing the game so far. Most of the replays were in situations that a replay wasn't necessarily needed, such as a fumble recovered by the offense. The booth challenge feature simply needs a complete overhaul.
Usually, if you found an aspect of the game to not be working to your liking such as penalties or the gameplay, you could tune it with sliders. Unfortunately NCAA Football 10 does not ship with sliders which seem to work all that well -- or at all. A patch is promised, but the lack of sliders will mean the game as-is will frustrate some.
Coach mode folks will also be happy to know the auto pass option works well, and you can easily simply call plays and let your players play the game out. 'Coach moders' are a relatively niche group, but I think it's nice EA looked after them with that feature.
The year after NCAA touted wide-open gameplay is the year the NCAA Football team got it right. This year’s gameplay is everything last year’s should have been. It manages to be wide-open like the college game, but the defenses are no longer powerless to stop the offense.
The Crimson Tide are once again, a force to be reckoned with.
Presenting the...boring sport of college football?
If college football isn't the most tradition rich sport in America, it is at the very least in the discussion. There is no experience in America that compares to filing into one of college football's many Cathedrals across the country on a Saturday.
Once inside, you are treated with a mix of tradition, pageantry, excitement, and intrigue which is unmatched in American sport. Each Saturday is do or die, and if you happen to be playing a rival, the stakes are even higher.
It is for that reason why college football is one of the most watched and followed sports in America. Unfortunately, NCAA doesn't even begin to capture an ounce of the sport properly.
Despite the fact that NCAA Football 10’s gameplay is better than last year’s effort almost across the board, the game's poor representation of the sport somehow manages to make it feel like NCAA has taken a step backwards in many ways.
The crowd chants will leave you wondering just what the heck the developers were thinking. Whoever approved the crowd chants in the game and thought they sounded good or realistic needs to have their ears checked and disallowed from working on audio of any sort ever again. The crowd chants in NCAA Football 10 are now easily the worst in the history of modern sports games. I’m sure if you looked hard enough, there might be an obscure game from the early 90s that had worse crowd chants. Maybe.
The in-game presentation is absolutely terrible as well. It almost seems as if EA Sports purposely attempted to make college football feel totally and completely generic. If you watch a college broadcast and then watch a game of NCAA Football 10, you will instantly realize how artificial and unrealistic the game looks in between plays -- and even after the ball is snapped.
One example of some of the crazy events you will see happened while playing Ohio State in 20 degree weather. A cutscene came on with the cheerleaders dressed as if the weather was 80 and sunny. Sure it's not a huge thing, but it is the type of thing that makes the gamer jump back out of the experience and question what they just saw.
Unfortunately, NCAA Football 10 doesn't present college football all that well.
Cut scenes are just bad as well. Players suddenly lose all sense of the laws of physics and tend to walk through things or each other at times. Not to mention if there are sideline objects or people, players suddenly poltergeist out and zoom through fellow teammates in a way that would make Casper proud.
The bench areas have managed to once again be about as bad as you could possibly make them on a next-gen console. The player models all look terrible and people along the sideline areas are kind of brutal looking as well. Of course, referees and the chain gang are still MIA as well.
Crowd audio outside of the chants is one bright point, but I'm left wondering if it's really a bright point or if it's simply the best part of a rather bad package overall. The crowd does react decently to things going on. But just when you think the crowd audio is working, the audio will suddenly jolt out of it's sequence and will quiet down during an important part of the game.
The commentary trio of Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso return for another year of calling your virtual games. What was once one of the best video game commentary teams has now quickly managed to become rather stale, repeating many of the same phrases they have said for years now. If you are new to the NCAA series you won’t recognize this as much as veterans, but even then you will hear many repetitive lines.
A few other issues plague the overall experience as well. If you can't get rosters online via EA's locker account, you will be stuck with rosters which are quite bad. The updated rosters do seem to be much improved, but I'm not sure we can give EA a full pass for shipping the game with rosters which many will be stuck with.
Also, it seems like marching bands were largely taken out of the in-game experience other than fight songs after a score, despite the fact each game opens up with bands on the field. The opening sequence also ignores the fact that some college teams don't have bands. Many awesome bands with great pre-game shows are not directly represented in the game. While I know it's not a huge deal, it's that half hearted implementation of things which drives this reviewer batty. Ohio State fans will be pleased with the dotting of the "i" though.
Erin Andrews' inclusion in the game is a waste in my opinion as well, as she only sporadically appears when it comes to sideline reporting. Why we couldn't get some random sideline reports I'll never know, but it's a shame we don't get anything other than injury updates.
The TV presentation leaves quite a bit to be desired overall, as the cut-scenes are overly repetitive and the stat overlays are few and far between. Of course, it goes without saying the lack of pre-game, post-game or halftime segments is still something the series doesn't have.
And finally, the other major gripe with the presentation resides in the simple fact that big televised games feel the exact same as minor televised games. It's a shame really, but when you are in the National Championship, other than a few mentions of it by the commentary team, it really doesn't feel big. The lack of post game celebrations for big wins (or wins period) also takes something away from the game as well.
Maybe someday we will get a presentation that lives up to what we experience each Saturday by EA Sports. But as of right now, NCAA Football 10 does perhaps the worst job out of any sports video game to present it's sport in a realistic fashion. In the end, it's almost enough to ruin an excellent experience on the field.
Taking teams like Utah to the top used to be a grand experience, now it's just blah.
Time to Rethink Dynasty Mode
When Dynasty Mode was introduced in NCAA Football 98 as a four year mode with recruiting and such, it revolutionized the sports gaming industry. As time has gone on, the mode has added a variety of features, but it has seemed to take away your identity as the player little by little each year. It has taken 13 years, but Dynasty mode has managed to take the personality out of it and simply throw a group of random options with which to manage a college football team.
You are no longer the coach. You never were the AD. You can go elsewhere -- Road to Glory -- to be the player.
Dynasty mode is suffering from an identity crisis.
As it stands, recruiting has taken another small step forward with a few enhancements to it. You can now recruit against teams, which I utilized a few times to pull ahead of teams in the race for prospects. There is a sink or swim aspect to it, as you could easily find yourself talking down an aspect of another program which is better than yours. The interface for recruiting is adequate, which is the best I can say for it.
You also still can’t land five star athletes playing as small schools and you can’t horde them as large schools, which means the recruiting still has a nice taste of realism. Just as with last year, the functionality of recruiting is not in question as it works just fine.
However, prepare to be bombarded with pop up ads for DLC cheats to gain an advantage over your opponents. If these popped up once, that would be understandable and a capitalist achievement. Unfortunately, these pop-up ‘ads’ seem to keep appearing, and it’s quite annoying.
When it comes to your coach options and viewing your contract status, they are buried several layers deep in the dynasty menu. The menu system in Dynasty mode is in serious need of an overhaul. It is clunky, and it takes at least two clicks to get to any meaningful screens. In web design that is called bad web design. In game design, it's called annoying the customer.
Dynasty mode simply needs an overhaul, period.
Michigan vs. Ohio State, and all that could be right with college football.
The Joys of Online
The online modes in NCAA Football 10 are plentiful and work well. Online dynasty in particular is still groundbreaking and may be the way to play the game in order to overlook the various flaws in presentation.
I managed to play a couple of games online with the few folks who were able to score the game early. The experiences were lag free and the setup of games was no problem. The season showdown mode will give gamers with strong loyalty ties to schools strong reason to play random exhibition games online, but I can’t help but feel the feature is largely a waste of time and resources which could have been spent elsewhere.
However, I’d give the online experience a solid thumbs up for offering plenty of options to gamers without much lag.
New-look Road to Glory mode is perhaps the best 'new' addition to the game.
The Road to Glory is Paved Through You
Surprisingly enough, Road to Glory is the freshest portion of the game this year. With Erin Andrews providing timely updates on your progress in the mode, you are treated with a new approach that is entertaining.
Andrews updates are cool, as are the ‘phoners’ from Kirk Herbstreit. Honestly, why EA couldn’t do something like this for the much more popular Dynasty Mode is beyond me.
The key tenets of Road to Glory remain the same, you start as a high schooler and work your way up to college superstar. With the new player lock camera, you actually feel a bit more in the action than in previous years. If you love these types of modes, Road to Glory is sure to satisfy this year.
Teambuilder is a mixture of brilliance and complete mess.
TeamBuilder - Not Quite what I thought
Many folks (over 100,000 worth) have created their teams to be included in NCAA Football 10. The online app works well enough, but the implementation into NCAA is clunky and makes it a hassle to easily get a team and get it in the game.
I may be in the minority, but I was hoping once I downloaded a team, they would be instantly available in the game. However, you have to be connected to the internet at all times to use the team in game. I also had my end zone letters looks very pixelated, which it didn't look like in the TeamBuilder app.
Creating teams is cool. Doing it how EA Sports did it this year with Team Builder is not. It’s a huge clunky app that has so many limitations, I couldn’t see how someone would want to use it for putting more than a handful of teams in the game.
Rating NCAA Football 10 was not easy. It is tough to argue against the improved gameplay, which is probably the best the series has seen since arriving on the current consoles. But the presentation and other aspects of the game outside of road to glory are so bad, that some people will probably feel the series is either stale or going the wrong direction.
In the end, NCAA Football 10 sports better gameplay than it's predecessors. That alone makes NCAA worth the price of entry if you are a college football fan. Just be forewarned the game doesn't really handle the intangibles of college football very well, and dynasty mode is largely the same mode as last year with even worse menu options.
Casual fans of college football, or people who are just looking for a football fix should probably just wait to see what Madden has to offer next month.
On the Field: This is the best playing NCAA on the current crop of consoles. The balance offered in the game makes this an improvement over last year's title in the gameplay department.
Graphics: A mixed bag. Too much clipping, poor models around the stadium, and several uniform erros are tough to forgive. Animations and stadiums look good. Player models are merely ok, as muscle tones are a bit much still.
Sound: It’s either completely stale in regards to the commentary or it is simply atrocious if you want to talk about crowd chants. Where are the marching bands and their regular music in-game?!
Entertainment Value: The game is fun to play when you are playing pigskin, if you can stomach the fact the game doesn't capture college football all that well. Dynasty mode could feel old and tired for many, and this will probably go on the shelf for many once Madden drops.
Learning Curve: The game simply will take a long time to figure out for football newcomers. You will have to learn about football to succeed on the upper difficulty levels. Veterans of the series, however, may find the game rather easy.
Online: My experience was little if any lag. Online dynasty will keep you playing for quite awhile if you have a good group and season showdown gives your random exhibition games purpose.
Helpful Hint: Download more accurate rosters off of EA's locker account (PS3 - eascncaa10, Xbox 360 - EASCncaa10).The rosters which shipped with the game are pretty inaccurate due to a developmental error.
Score: 8.0 (Very Good)