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NCAA Football 11 Review (Xbox 360)

Game Review: NCAA Football 2011
Release: July 13, 2010
Genre: Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
Website: http://ncaafootball.easports.com/home.action

NCAA Football 11 (NCF11) is EA Sports’ latest college gridiron offering.  Featuring all 120 DIV IA football teams, this year’s version has even more custom stadiums, mascots, fight songs, and overall collegiate awesomeness than previous versions.  There are a ton of game modes to choose from, including dynasty (both online and offlline), Road to Glory (featuring Erin Andrews, or as NCF11’s load screens will display it “OMG OMG ERIN ANDREWS!!1!<3” – I wish I was kidding), Mascot battle, one-button  game play, and more.  This year’s version is a series of attempted improvements on a game that is the only gig in town.

If you’ve played NCF in any variety before, you know what you’re getting here: football at the collegiate level with player numbers instead of names.  Historically, NCF has felt like the little brother of the Madden franchise, never quite having the polish or presentation standards that have been the staple of the professional series.  With 120+ teams, stadiums, rosters and more to balance versus 32, I could understand why cuts were made, so it’s very nice to see that this year’s iteration focused so much on the presentation aspect of the game.  EA is using what they call a  TruSchool system that highlights the uniqueness of the 120 different Division I-A schools through unique offensive styles, coaching tendencies, stadiums, traditions and more.  Combine that with the ESPN style presentation, and Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and OMG OMG ERIN ANDREWS!!1!<3, and you have a solid and authentic football presentation each time you load up the game.  So NCF11 bridges a gap in how it looks and plays both to the real thing, and to its bigger Madden brother.

As mentioned, you can play a variety of game modes in NCF11.  These modes include:

  • Dynasty – Offered both Online and Offline, this mode lets you take control of any team (or bring in one you’ve created), and handle recruiting, scheduling, and playing each game of the season if you so wish.  There are also a slew of online options that allow you to go to EA’s website to handle issues like recruiting, get game recaps, schedules, stats and more.  You can even create news items that you can share on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Road To Glory – This is essentially the Campus Legend of years past, and allows you to take a player from the High School playoffs, and guide them through their college years playing football.  You work your way up the depth charts until you become the starter, and then take your team to the promised land (or mediocrity, your choice, I suppose).
  • Play Now – Allows you to quickly play an exhibition game online or offline
  • Team Builder – This feature is primarily done through EA’s website, allowing you to create a team from the ground up, controlling every aspect from stadium layout to school stats to player uniforms and skills.
  • Mascot Battle – Play as mascots in an exhibition game
  • One Button Mode – A great mode that allows you to play the game, with one button controlling everything.  Great for kids, newbies, or just to eliminate the thinking from the whole process.  This is a separate mode entirely, not something you can turn on and off.

I got him.. I got him.. I... don't got him..

There’s also a variety of customizations you can do to the existing layouts including editing rosters, playbooks, play styles, audibles, and more.  Nothing you don’t already expect out of a game like this, but its nice to see nothing cut out.

I had skipped last year’s version of the game, so I’m coming from 2009, but the improvements made from then to now are fantastic.  The Locomotion system works great, giving a real feel to running the ball, and making running plays in general much more effective.  This, of course, works on both ends, meaning you have to defend against more explosive running backs with what might be a flat-footed lineman.  Good luck with that.   I’ve mentioned the presentation, and I’ll say now that it looks great.  While the hype about custom stadium entrances was blown a little out of proportion, the tunnel run-outs are nice, and if your school is one of the 30 that have a custom run-out, it comes out nice.  Just don’t expect any of the music you may have come to expect with that run-out (like, say, Enter Sandman for Virginia Tech).  Sadly, you can’t add the song, as tunnel run-out is not one of the options for adding your own music to the game (though almost everything else is).  The graphics and sound are top notch, with bone crunching hits being both visually and audibly satisfying.

Dynasty has seen a dramatic improvement from 2009, with the entire process being much simpler to figure out.  Every action you take with a recruit has an effectiveness gauge right on the screen, so you know whether or not you should be pitching your Program Stability to someone who has no interest in it versus moving to another topic.  Gone are the ambiguous menu options and long phone calls with one player only to have them hang up when you were trying to find out what their interests were.  You now can pick up to 6 actions with each player (each action takes 10 minutes), and the actions will always generate a result (finding their interest, pitching to an interest, attempting to sway interest, etc).  You can also compare your school’s talents up against others to try and take their interest away in another school and add it to yours.  The best part about all of this is that the presentation for it all is very clean.  All the information you need is either on the screen, or one button click away.  You don’t have to hop back and forth between menus, or write anything down at all.  This takes almost all of the headache out of the recruiting process, and makes it so much more fun to play.  You may find yourself simulating games to get to more recruiting, instead of the other way around.

If you look carefully you can see ankles breaking

Playing the game itself is great, with player animations running very smooth, blockers actually blocking (a nice touch is seeing blocking lanes appear on your pre-snap view so you can tell what blocker is picking up what defender), and receivers running crisp routes.  Running with the ball is fluid and fun, with the right stick now more than just a juke stick but rather a balance stick.  Don’t get me wrong, you still juke with it, but how hard you push it in the direction dictates how tight a juke you do, which takes into account your player ability.  You have total control over your player’s motions now, and it makes an impression when you make a quick cut once, and then a faster, slight cut next time.  Collision detection works great as well.  Overall, the game play portion of the game is fantastic, and a noticeable improvement over previous years.

One other addition that is worth its own paragraph – I don’t know if it happened last year or this year, but you can finally play Co-Op.  I never understood why this was not in previous versions, but it is such a welcome addition.

Someone is losing this battle

Not every step is a forward one.  Road to Glory feels like it hasn’t changed a bit, even coming from 2009 where they’ve since added OMG OMG ERIN ANDREWS!1!!<3 to the game.  There is such a golden opportunity here to flesh out the experience and make this almost more RPGish.  Perhaps they want to avoid that, but practices are useless once you become a starter; you have no impact on your stats aside from minor week-to-week boosts based on whether you read books or hit the gym.  Everything is menu-driven until you get to the games, and once in the game, playing as a defensive player is very difficult with the Player Lock view they go with as opposed to the more traditional overhead view.  It’s not to say Road to Glory isn’t fun, it just hasn’t changed, and it shows.  Speaking of practicing, loading for a practice takes an unnecessarily long time, and, at least when I was practicing with LSU, the offense and defense was wearing the same color uniform, making it difficult to tell who was blocking for me, and who was coming to take out my legs.  There are a few other minor bugs in the game; I witnessed the quarterback snap the ball, and run backwards 60 yards for a safety with his arm outstretched as if to hand the ball off.  Fans close to the field in Tiger Stadium were facing backwards while cheering (though this may have been due to some off-screen co-ed action going on – I suppose that happens often enough in real life).  Team rankings were sometimes a little odd in their calculations week to week as well; I had a 17th rank team beat a 2nd rank team, and moved up one spot to 16 (That same week, a 12th ranked team beat the 1st ranked team and moved to 11).  Nothing major, but a few little things that took away from the immersiveness of the overall experience.

vttym’s take: OK, so not everything is perfect.  Is it still worth your money?  Absolutely.  This is probably the first iteration of the game that I’d actually recommend to people who don’t care about college football as well: it’s that good.  The presentation is improved, but the graphics, running game, atmosphere, and game play, as well as the much cleaner menu structure, co-op mode, and improved dynasty mode make this a must-have for any football fan.  If you’ve been skipping NCF for a few years waiting for enough to change to warrant picking up a copy, you can stop waiting.  Add in the fact that you can manage your dynasty, or create teams online, while you’re supposed to be working on TPS reports, and you have a game that you can play with anytime, anywhere.  EA Sports may be the only ones doing College Football, but they aren’t letting the franchise rest on that success.  Here’s hoping next year can take Road to Glory to the next level like they’ve done with the rest of the game.

Just tone down the loading screen crush on Erin Andrews next season.

Special thanks to GH5T imFrank for letting me lose to him to help review the online portion of the review.

Hope his rating is high enough for this catch!

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