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Archived: Game Review: NCAA 08 - BCS Worthy

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Game Review: NCAA 08 - BCS Worthy
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Let me get this little piece out of the way right away:

I love College Football.

I don't just love it. I LOVE it. I love watching it on television every Saturday, from listening to the Florida State Seminole chant to Ohio State's TBDBITL performing Script Ohio. So, needless to say, I always have high standards when it comes to the video game version of one of my favorite past-times. This year's version of NCAA Football, after a little bit of a sub-par performance last year on the 360, is back to being BCS bound with a spectacular upgrade.

Presentation

I'm going to change things up for this article and begin with the Presentation portion of the review. Upon turning on the game, you get a nice little opening video showing you some of the new trick plays and random features that you'll find in the game. Once you get to the Main Menu, you'll see that there is one giant screen and two smaller screens inside of what looks to be a trophy room. Inside this room, you will store all of your achievements and trophies that you accumulate while playing the game, whether it be the Heisman Trophy or picking up a rivalry trophy, such as the Jewelled Shillelagh for the winner of the Notre Dame/USC game, or the Illibuck, which goes to the winner of the Ohio State/Illinois game each year.

On the three giant screens will be videos and pictures that you can save onto your hard drive all throughout your gaming. At the end of each game you complete, you will have the option of going through every play that you personally played or watched and select screenshots and videos to display in your trophy room. The nice thing about this is that you will be able to save as many as you want onto the hard drive, although you are limited to ten photos and five videos from each game. I've found that I generally pick up to five total for each game, as some of the more memorable plays are the ones that stick out.

The menu system is very similar to last year's version of Madden, with the tabbed browser system providing a very clean interface to use. You can always jump into a quick game from the first menu, or you can go in and select the different game modes, which include Mini-games, the incredibly deep Dynasty Mode, or the brand new Legend mode, which is designed to link up directly with this year's version of Madden.

Of course, you will have access to the Team Management portion of the menu from these tabbed menus. However, just like past versions, the rosters will only show position abbreviations and numbers, due to NCAA regulations. You can edit these in yourself, if you choose, and the game is designed to announce the names of players if they are done by Brad Nessler, who provides the play-by-play, as usual.

Gameplay

Now onto the guts of the game, the actual gameplay. I started off by playing the typical Ohio State/Michigan game in The Horseshoe. I was greeted at the start of the game with a beautiful fly-in shot of Ohio Stadium, and let me tell you that the details on each stadium are absolutely beautiful and near perfect, including buildings that are around the stadium. While you can't see much on some of the bigger stadiums, you'll be able to see the surroundings on smaller or wide open stadiums. The best example of this is Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd stadium, which has a great view of the surrounding city of Atlanta. If you want to understand just how perfect the surrounding views are, play a game at Georgia Tech, then look up a picture of it online. You'll be impressed with how true EA was to the stadiums this year.

The interface for play selection is the same as last year, with the simple single selection window and four given plays at once. Play selection is broken down by formation, player, and type of play, and the play selection is incredibly deep. You'll see a lot of specialty formations this year, such as the "Wildcat" formation in Arkansas' playbook, or the vaunted "Gator Heavy" in Florida's playbook.

Bluff mode is the same this year as it was last year, meaning that, if you're playing a friend in the same room, you can select the play you want by holding down the button, then you can scroll through with the button still held and release it on another play. This will prevent your friend from seeing what play you are doing.

The actual game runs a lot smoother than last year's version, which felt like you were controlling robots on the field instead of actual players. The frame rate has been kicked up to improve motion, and it has done its job nicely. The game runs very smooth and players make more realistic moves on the field. Plenty of new tackle animations have been added to give you a more realistic feel for the game. Be sure to try out the improved hit stick to flatten your opponent on defense to get some fantastic tackle animations. I have a great picture of an Ohio State linebacker absolutely flattening a receiver who dared to run a crossing pattern. It didn't end well for the receiver.

A welcomed addition to this year's version is the "Super Sim" mode. If you're one of those guys that is offensive minded only and absolutely hates playing defense, then you will enjoy this mode. Super Sim allows you to skip through plays without having to actually play them. Simply go into the pause menu and select "Super Sim" from the menu. An interface will appear on the screen that allows you to watch the current drive and tell you the plays that happen. You have the option to either watch a play, simulate a play, simulate until the next possession, or simulate to the end of the game. A normal game for me generally runs about 40 minutes, and using the Super Sim mode to skip through defense cuts the game down to half of that time.

Now, just like every game, I have to go through the negatives of the gameplay as well as the positives. I made sure to mention the Super Sim mode before I went into the woes that you'll experience while playing defense. It is still extremely difficult to play defense well on this game. Most of your AI controlled teammates aren't too bright when it comes to adjusting to a play. What I mean by this is that you shouldn't expect too much help from them overall. You'll find that they get beat rather easily on certain pass plays, yet the CPU defenders are almost superhuman. You will get sick of defenders who have their backs to you while they're covering a receiver, yet they know exactly where your pass goes the moment you throw it, thus making it even harder to get the ball downfield.

One issue that has also stuck out to me is what I'm calling the "Delayed Hike Glitch." Occasionally, when you call for the ball to be snapped to your quarterback, you'll hear him yell out "Hike!" but the play will freeze up. Your controller will vibrate like mad, and then, after anywhere from five to ten seconds, the play will finally continue, but it will completely throw off your timing. It's a mild annoyance, as I have it happen about twice a game.

While Super Sim is a very welcome mode that has been added, you'll find that it is also somewhat glitchy, usually when the ball is turned over by anything other than a punt or kickoff. While this is a bit nit-picky, it can make a significant impact on games that have a lot of weather involved. For example, if you are going to the south end of a field, and your team either gets a fumble or interception, you may find yourself suddenly going to the north end of the field. The first time I noticed it, I thought a quarter had ended and I had switched ends of the field. Then I realized it was still the same quarter, yet somehow I had switched it up and I was going into a 25 mile an hour wind. Like I said, if there's no real wind, it's not a true concern, but it can really effect your game if there's a stiff breeze that can affect your passes and kicks.

Dynasty Mode

The biggest draw for NCAA Football addicts has always been the Dynasty mode, which allows you to assume the role of a head coach and take your school to the top of the College Football world. This year, the mode is deeper than ever, building upon the innovation of last year's in-season recruiting and only making it stronger.

You'll first have to choose which schools will be controlled by users, which seems to be limitless in how many teams you can choose to user control. After selecting your school, you will then have the option of creating potential prospects to recruit. Of course, the game will provide you with plenty of talent to recruit, from five star talent all the way down to one star talent. Now, you can choose to create the prospect as great as you want. If you want to create the freak of nature and max out all of the stats, you are more than welcome to do so. However, be aware that there are multiple factors this year that will determine whether or not a recruit will want to come and play at your school. You take a big risk by creating an incredible talent if you are at a mid-tier or lower school.

Your recruiting factors this year have been expanded upon, and instead of just selecting one of them to try and sell your recruits on, you are now required to call them each week and pick from a variety of these "sells," which include fan base, athletic facilities, academics, and location. Your school will be rated on each of these 14 factors, from Very Poor to Elite status. Keep in mind that a couple of these ratings will change from recruit to recruit, especially the Early Playing Time selection. This will be based upon your current depth at the specific position that your recruit plays as well as the ratings of your players. You are also limited to ten hours of phone calls each week, which isn't in real time, of course. Basically, each phone call will be different, depending on how you decide to handle it. A smiley face that is in the shape of a football will tell you how the phone call is going. Once you have determined what the best points are to sell your recruit on, you can hard sell those points to improve your standing and, eventually, you will be able to invite that recruit for a visit to your campus. Be sure you play well that week, for it will weigh heavily on a recruit's decision to come to your campus.

ESPN.com provides the weekly updates for this year's version, giving you little tidbits of storylines as the season continues. Selecting one of these will lead you to a related statistical screen, such as a player having a great game can show you where he stands in the Heisman voting for that year. Of course, you will be able to view conference standings, BCS rankings, as well as the AP and Coaches' polls respectively.

When a season is finished, your recruiting becomes your primary focus. Any recruits that you have signed during the season will no longer have to be given any attention, as they are locked into your school. When you get to the off-season, however, you will have to step it up and perhaps make promises to certain recruits that will make or break their decision. Keep in mind what their key points are for coming to your school are when you make a promise to them. Telling a player who wants to win a championship that you'll guarantee a conference title the first year he plays will almost guarantee you that player. Fail to make good on a promise will almost certainly lead that recruit to transfer from your school and will reflect badly on your school and coach reputation.

The New Campus Legend Mode

This was the mode I was dying to sink my teeth into this year. We should all feel lucky to have this deep of a mode on our game, considering that the PS2 players of the world got a simple version of this mode.

Campus Legend mode allows you to create a player and take him through his collegiate career. You can choose any position except for kicker and punter, simply because those positions would be incredibly boring to play. Not only will you be choosing your position, but you have to choose what TYPE of player you are at that position. For instance, if you choose to be a quarterback, which is probably the most fun you can have in this mode, you have to select whether you are an option, balanced, or pocket passer type quarterback. Selecting an option quarterback will give your player plenty of speed and agility, but will have an adverse affect on how well you can throw the ball. A balanced quarterback will mean that your player is good at everything, but not necessarily great at anything. A pocket passer can toss the ball around with great accuracy and power, but is slow and has very little escape ability.

Once you've picked your player's looks, equipment, and type of player that he is, you now have to go through your state's high school playoffs. It is a sixteen team bracket and three of the games will be played at a generic high school stadium. If you reach the state championship, your game will be played at that particular state's premier college stadium. For example, I tried this out in three different states: Wisconsin, Ohio, and Idaho. Camp Randall Stadium played host to Wisconsin's state title game, Ohio Stadium was for Ohio (duh...), and the vaunted blue turf of Boise State hosted the Idaho state title game.

Once you've finished up your state's playoffs, it's time to pick the school that you'll be attending. Depending on how well you play, you will be offered a certain spot on the depth chart of each school. Some schools, you will be a starter right away. Others, you'll have to work your way up the depth chart, which isn't too difficult. I chose Ohio State for my first player and managed to work my way up from third string to first string right before the second game of the season, which is done in practice mode on your calendar. Each practice consists of ten repetitions and you accumulate points depending on your performance. You must attain a certain amount of points, depicted by the game itself, in order to take over the next spot on the depth chart. Once you are the starter, you will use practice mode to simply hone your skills.

Campus Legend mode is all about doing just what the mode says: Becoming a true legend of your school. Attaining legend points depends on many factors, including winning rivalry games, picking up conference championships, winning the National Championship, and, of course, winning the Heisman Trophy. Fill up your Legend Meter to unlock one of the bigger point achievements for your gamerscore.

Gameplay itself in this mode is done much like last year's Superstar mode in Madden. You will have a specific camera angle that is for your player's position, although this time around, it is much better. Many of the camera angles in last year's Madden were troublesome and provided you with more headaches than you really cared for. This year, the camera angles are much improved and will make this mode far more enjoyable.

Online

If there is one major drawback to this game, its the lack of options for online play. Yes, you can fulfill your online bloodlust to make your way up the leaderboards, but that's really about it. This game is absolutely begging for some online leagues and online dynasty modes.

What is available online is fairly simple, with chat room lobbies that allow you to look at other users' records and ping rate, which will provide you with enough information to decide whether or not you'll have a good connection with a possible opponent.

From what I've experienced online, the gameplay still runs fairly smooth. I had the unfortunate luck to run into two players who quit on me in the middle of our match-up after I got up big early on them. No matter what you do, there will still always be people who absolutely cannot handle losing under any circumstance. Oh, and these people are generally the ones who will leave you negative feedback after they've pulled the plug on your game, claiming that, no matter how straight you played a game, that you exploited glitches or cheesed in order to win.

Final Thoughts

EA Sports stepped up their game this year when it came to College Football. The game provides you with hours upon hours of fun, no matter if you choose to play online or offline. Dynasty mode will keep you locked into the game for plenty of hours of fun, and you will feel compelled to fly through Campus Legend mode in order to bring your player over to Madden to see how he fares against the big boys of the NFL.

All in all, this installment of College Football has far more positives than negatives, and is more than worth the $60 price tag that it comes with.



Ratings

Presentation -


Easy to navigate menus, a trophy room to store all of the awards and achievements you've accumulated, and a video/photo screen to show off the best plays you've pulled off are just the starters. The graphics are slick and very clean.

Score: 9.1/10

Gameplay -


New tackling animations, an improved hit stick, and very smooth movements will provide you with all the entertainment you need. Small glitches will annoy you in the middle of a game, as well as the somewhat shabby defense. One of these years, EA will address the defense problem.

Score: 8.6/10

Features and Modes -

An incredibly deep Dynasty mode and the brand new Campus Legend mode bring you extra hours of fun that will lock you into the game for far more than you really think.

Score: 9/10
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Re: Game Review: NCAA 08 - BCS Worthy
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Im liking that campus legend mode XD
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