NCAA Football 14 Review (Xbox 360)
The final version of NCAA Football before the next generation of consoles arrive has hit the (virtual) marketplace. EA has packed the latest iteration of its college football simulation about as full as you can, but does that mean it’s the best so far of this generation?
This year fans of the NCAA Football series finally get their first taste of EA's new football physics engine, Infinity Engine 2.
EA claims that now speed, momentum, mass, and more are all taken into account when determining the outcome of any collision. EA has also added in a brand new recruiting system, a revamped dynasty mode, and for the first time in the NCAA series, Ultimate Team is making its debut into the franchise.
All of the improvements and additions do translate into what is probably the most authentic college football experience ever on a console, but that doesn't mean NCAA Football 14 is perfect.
The running/option game has gotten a major rework this year, with great results.
With canned animations being a thing of the past, the physics engine allows every play to be unique just as you would see on Saturday. The user now has unprecedented control over the action on the field, and while one may still see an awkward tackle, stumble, or landing -- for the most part all the movements are fluid and natural looking.
The running game in NCAA 14 has taken a step forward because of the improvements to the physics and foot planting, and EA has given the user the ability to utilize the left stick, right stick and face buttons to accomplish what they want on the field.
The left stick allows the user to make hard cuts and the right stick can help regain the balance of a player by pulling back, or pushing for the extra yard by pushing forward. Both are done pretty well if properly executed, but both will take the user a bit of time for it to become natural. I do wish the stiff arm(A-Button/X-button)was a bit more responsive, but overall the running game is a lot of fun. Running the football will require the user who chooses to play on higher levels to understand blocking schemes and follow its flow to have consistent success.
EA has also focused on the option game this year, with the inclusion of 30 new option types and an entire playbook devoted to nothing but the option.
In the demo that was released earlier last month, it felt like the option was a little too powerful. The option does seem to have been toned down in the retail version. What I have noticed is that the really good teams who run an option offense can be difficult to stop, but an average to bad team will have limited success, as one would hope they would.
The passing game's improvements were minimal and largely subtle.
The passing game in NCAA Football 14 widely feels unchanged, and that is a bit disappointing. The problem with the passing game is that while you may see the AI have ten incompletions in a game, they will come from dropped balls, deflected passes, or plays where the quarterback simply throws the ball away.
While all of these reasons do figure into the equation on a Saturday afternoon, a quarterback's accuracy plays the biggest part, and it is still way too high on default in the NCAA Football series. This issue can be addressed with sliders, but this has been an problem in the series for quite some time, and it looks like we will have to wait until next-gen consoles for it to be corrected.
EA has once again revamped the blocking AI, and completely overhauled the offensive-defensive line interactions. While they have made these claims in the past, in NCAA Football 14, one can finally see and feel the improvements in all aspects of the game from the work on the line play. While it may not be perfect, you can see the intelligence of an offensive linemen on screen as they now will look to help in other areas if their assignment has been handled or negated.
The defensive secondary also seems to have been improved, which is nice to see after the issues that were prevalent in last year’s title. Too often would one see the safety either freeze, or simply just run the other way in NCAA 13, but that seems to be largely corrected in NCAA 14. Also zone coverage seems to have taken a step in the right direction, as the secondary now will make attempts to cover more than just their bubble of responsibility. I did notice that one can still utilize hot routes with the tight end and send them on a seam route, and while the secondary does a better job than last year, it still needs to be improved.
Last but certainly not least, the new camera angles including the highly regarded 'Coordinator Camera' have injected a much needed sense of 'newness' to the franchise. While the rest of the Presentation package still isn't quite up to other sports games out there -- the added camera angles do allow you to experience NCAA a bit differently this year, and it makes the game feel fresher even if the changes leading to that are purely cosmetic.
When playing Navy, expect lots and lots and lots of option plays.
The one thing that the NCAA series has struggled with this generation has been the translation of realistic game-play and results that one would see in real life to its digital counterpart.
Once again, while sim realism is not perfect in NCAA 14, it has improved. The AI now seems to call appropriate plays more times than not, and will adjust if they see a defensive scheme that can be taken advantage of. In my experience, the AI will do its best run an offense that closely replicates what one would see in real life in regards to their favorite team.
When playing Washington State, Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense was on full display, and while they had limited success because lack of talent and depth (take no offense WSU fans), the AI still tried to consistently attack me through the air while using the run incredibly sparingly. On the flip side, when I played the Naval Academy, I was optioned to death and the pass was only used when necessary.
There were some instances where the AI play-calling seemed a bit odd as they went for it on 4th down and 3 at my 13 yard-line, instead of opting for the field goal. Keep in mind though, this happened in the 1st quarter, in a scoreless game -- although there have been instances of this sort of crazy decision making in real life as well so it's hard to judge if this is a flaw or a planned bit of randomness inserted into the game.
The AI also seemed solid in late-game situations in regards to using their timeouts wisely, and calling the correct plays.
As far as simming through your game this year, it also seems to be improved. In last year’s title, the defense was pretty much non-existent while simming, but that seems to have changed for the better. I simmed multiple games in play-now and dynasty mode and the results were acceptable, and the stats seemed in-line with what one would expect.
The new coach skills add some added depth to Dynasty mode.
The dynasty mode this year feels an awful lot like last year, just with a new coat of paint applied -- but a few noticeable exceptions are present. The game gives you the ability to take control of the team and the user still has the ability to customize conferences, bowl tie-ins, and of course rosters. While the menu’s have changed, you will find the same basic information such as top stories of the week, ESPN Top 25, current stats, and conference standings.
While a lot of the dynasty mode has remained the same, what has changed this year is pretty important. EA has completely revamped the recruiting and have also included the ability to improve the abilities of your head coach and offensive and defensive coordinator positions through experience points and attribute upgrades.
The new recruiting system has really done an excellent job of making the experience deeper, more realistic, and less time consuming. Gone are the days of making phone calls and allocating time to each recruit. The game supplies you with a pool of points to both scout and recruit, and it is up to the user how and where they want to apply these points
Each recruit has specific needs and if your school offers most of what they are looking for, the recruiting process will be much easier. If you try to recruit a kid who is looking for a different experience than what your school can offer, you are going to really struggle trying to get that recruit interested in your program and are potentially wasting points that could go elsewhere. The recruiting process is streamlined, realistic, and honestly – a lot of fun now.
As mentioned before, users now have the ability to upgrade their coaching staff’s abilities via skill points, and it’s a feature which is implemented very well. If you are using a team that has a less experienced staff, one now can use experience points to upgrade their ability by “purchasing” upgrades in the coaching tree option.
The game gives the user the option to unlock and apply attributes to their current coaches such as the ability to recruit better, scout better, or break back into a recruits top 5, even after they have been “locked-out” The experience points are earned by performing on the field, with such accomplishments as sacking the quarterback 3 times, or beating a top 10 team. I was able to take first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn from a level 10 coach to a level 13 by the end of year-one in my dynasty. On the flip side if one chooses an established head coach like a Steve Spurrier(level 31), the process is easier as he has multiple game management and recruiting attributes available to start with.
The Road to Glory mode has returned, and whether you despised or enjoyed this mode last year, chances are you will feel the same exact same way this year. The developers admitted that very little was touched in this mode, and they were being honest. Some new high school stadiums have been included, and new menu’s have been applied -- but Road to Glory mode has gone untouched. Road to Glory really has the ability to be an excellent addition to the yearly NCAA release, but it will require some much needed attention, if not a complete overhaul for this mode to be truly positive aspect of the series in the future.
For the first time ever in the NCAA series, Ultimate Team has made its way into the game, and it actually is well done. Just as in EA’s other titles that include this mode, the user will start off with a basic team and will have to earn new packs of cards to unlock new players, stadiums, play-books, and uniforms. I am actually not a huge fan of Ultimate Team, but there was some fun to be had while playing this mode.
I wasn’t able to try out online, but off-line, the user will start playing as their school of choice and have to play through smaller conferences and easier teams, before they can start to take on teams from the SEC, ACC, and Pac 12. The better the conference team you are playing, the better the players on said team were. If you enjoy this mode in other titles, then chances are this version will offer the same level of enjoyment, if not a bit more.
As I wrote this review there was not a single player online to play, so it was impossible to test this area out. In the past EA and their servers have been pretty solid and we would expect this year to be no different. We are planning to provide an online review early next week to supplement our full review here.
The best NCAA Football yet.
If you think that NCAA Football 14 is just a tweaked version last year’s title, you would be wrong.
While it may feel familiar, there have been a lot of improvements throughout the whole title that add up to much better experience both on the field and off. It’s true this is the college experience that most were expecting earlier on in this generation of consoles, but that doesn’t mean that one should disregard this year’s version just because of that.
The game is not perfect, and still has some issues, but NCAA Football 14 is the best in the series to date, and one that college fans have been waiting to experience. If you are a college pigskin fan, this is a must-buy.
Learning curve – The new physics engine, and option playbook implementation will take a bit to master, but thankfully EA has included a training tutorial to help those who need it. It will take time to adjust to the new recruiting process also, but if you have played this series in the past, most of it will have a familiar feel to it.
Control Scheme – Although it is similar to last year, one will need time and practice to take full advantage of what is offered this year, especially in the running game.
Visuals – The crowd and sideline characters look worse this year, but the colors pop off the screen. The addition of the new coordinator cam is a welcomed one, and the players models have been upgraded.
Audio – One of the biggest issues in the game. The commentary is beyond needing replaced, and the crowd volume is very hit or miss.
Value – This title offers a lot, even for the fans who purchase it on a yearly basis. NCAA 14 is the biggest yearly improvement of this generation in this series, and while there are still areas lacking, it by far is the most fun we have had with this title on the current consoles.
Score – 8.0 (Great)