Replay Value: 8.9
When it comes to college football, fans typically only have one choice in the video game world: NCAA Football by EA Sports. The lack of choices may irk some but at the very least, EA rarely fails to produce a solid, if not fantastic, college pigskin simulator that continues to satisfy the needs of its loyal followers. But in comparison to this year’s Madden, which implements several new significant alterations and upgrades, NCAA Football 11 feels just a little too much like the 2010 iteration. One sometimes has to look real hard to spot the differences in some cases, but that can’t overshadow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. The gameplay is excellent and although I was a little annoyed to see a few lingering flaws, I still had fun and I appreciated the attention to detail that is often prevalent in any EA Sports production. The only question is whether you’re a big enough fan to purchase NCAA Football 11 when you still have last year’s effort in your collection…
Well, you likely won’t buy it for the visual upgrade, because it’s not 100% evident. However, the crispness of the player modeling, the authenticity of the stadiums, and the wonderfully fluid animations will remind you that NCAA remains a polished piece of software. The other good news is that everything appeared to be brighter…now, please bear in mind I have a new TV this time around and of course, I haven’t played NCAA Football 10 in about a year, so perhaps my memory is off. But this year’s game really does seem more colorful and in fact, more dynamic in terms of lighting and shading. I also really liked the inclusion of field entrances and introductory “amp-up” celebrations as the players stormed the field on super Saturday. The key to all simulators is to immerse the player fully; to make him believe in what he is seeing. With only a few technical hiccups (clipping in the pig pile is common), NCAA Football 11 looks pretty darn good.
All sorts of ESPN involvement brings the sound category to another level. They had included a lot of it in last year’s title but this time around, despite the absence of Lee Corso (hell yeah, I noticed!), there’s more informed and interesting commentary then ever before. Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit will typically hit up the play-by-play and analysis, and you’ll get sideline reports from Erin Andrews. Andrews will also be a big part of the Road to Glory mode, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The only problem with the commentary is that it sometimes fails the reliability test, as they’re often caught talking about something that happened one or even two plays in the past. This seems to be a common issue in sports games recently. As for the soundtrack, it’s almost entirely subjective but still well-implemented, and the sound effects are about the same as you remember: crisp, clear, and with only a few smatterings of balance screw-ups.
I’ve always been more about pro football, but as it’s basically my favorite sport (next to tennis), I can always have fun with a good piece of interactive software, regardless of whether we’re talkin’ NCAA or NFL. NCAA Football 11 does just about everything it’s supposed to do, but there’s always this little voice in the back of my head going, “okay, but what’s new, here?” It’s often unfair to ask a team to continually innovate and offer significant, never-before-seen upgrades on an annual basis…after all, football is football; how many different ways can we portray it and improve on it? That being said, going through Dynasty and Road to Glory, despite the slight graphical and sound enhancements, it really felt a lot like last year’s game. I did like the new and more intriguing recruiting mechanic, through, which lets you try to convince top high school players to come to your program. The cool part is that depending on your pitch, you can gain points for your school and actually take points away from competing schools.
You can really lose yourself in this sort of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, as most die-hard fans already know. This part was great but the rest really did feel like I had “been there, done that.” Once I got on the field, however, this drawback took a back seat as I dove into the refined gameplay with gusto. Much like what you’ll find in Madden NFL 11, the new analog stick function really is fantastic; it gives you more control over the ball-handler than ever before, and it’s crazy intuitive. How far you press the right analog in a certain direction dictates the severity of your chosen move, be it a juke or a power rush, and I love the fact that the collision detection isn’t so erratic. If you practice, you can really gain the edge on the defense and pull off crowd-pleasing moves with ease, which is a definite highlight of the game. I still don’t think we’re giving the stars enough credit, though, as players with superior stats still don’t seem to be extra special on the field. But maybe their superiority is a bit more subtle for a reason; I’m not sure.
On the downside, I do sense a slight bias towards the offensive side of the ball. I once caught a pass with a 180lb. receiver and quite literally bowled over a 240lb. linebacker with little trouble. It also seems as if a single open-field tackle is really difficult to come by; the ability a back has thanks to that right analog control is a little out of whack. Even sub-par running backs have an easy time breaking tackles and ripping off big gains; it sort of reduces the challenge a bit and makes it feel less realistic and more Tecmo Bowl-ish. Also, in comparison to Madden, the passing game feels a little less reliable and more erratic in NCAA. Too many times I found my receivers getting tied up in the secondary (either with a d-back/safety, or even with a teammate), and sometimes, receivers simply drop balls that should only be dropped once every twenty-five times. The QB also seems to get the nod in terms of ratcheted-up capability so many of my games have ended up being all-out score-fests.
But the good definitely outweighs the bad. Each play looks and feels just about right and while the scoring seems abnormally high, the challenge remains relatively stiff because the computer knows what it’s doing. The defense will adapt to your strengths, the animations are quite authentic, and one can never really complain about a lack of depth. Going online works well and engineering a drive with friends has never been more fulfilling. You have to be on your game if you wish to succeed, and that requires coming to terms with the accessible, solid controls, and it always helps if you have a working understanding of the sport. In other words, if you put the effort in, the game will reward you in all the right ways. One of these days, they’ll be able to put a complete brain in every player on the field so they can all react accurately to the ball, but maybe we can’t expect that until the next generation of consoles.
NCAA Football 11 is another great football game that doesn’t quite feel new but still manages to feel like a complete, satisfying production. It isn’t without a few flaws here and there, but almost none of them are new (i.e., we’ve seen them before) and the pros continually make one forget about the cons. That’s the mark of a game worth playing, right? If you’re a college football fan, don’t fret too much that you’re stuck with EA’s series…’cuz it pretty much always delivers. Just don’t expect a drastic upgrade over last year’s entry.