NCAA Football 14 Review
It’s easy to say that sports games have grown stale and tired. After all, this generation of consoles has dragged on longer than any previous generation, and we probably need more power for virtual sports to take another step. Furthermore, enhanced technological capability has resulted in the soaring popularity of other genres. I wouldn’t be surprised if big publishers like EA weren’t allocating quite as many resources to the development of new sports titles as they used to. Either way, though, NCAA Football 14 is another example of “more of the same.”
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as this series has enjoyed a high level of quality over the years. And if you were satisfied with last year’s iteration, you’ll probably be satisfied with this year’s. The graphics haven’t changed much, unfortunately, as I’m still a little disappointed in the character models and the sharpness of the background visuals. The animations are pretty slick, though, and one of the common flaws in virtual football graphics – clipping, when so many players collide – isn’t too terrible. I’m just not seeing much of a significant year-over-year improvement, you know? Kind of a letdown.
Same goes for the sound, which remains solid and even outstanding in some respects, but doesn’t quite excel. The commentary isn’t bad, the clash of very large individuals on the field is sharp and effective, and there’s a diverse, fitting soundtrack. There are times when the commentators get tripped up by the plays on the field, especially if you’re moving along too quickly. There’s a slight balancing issue as well, and I don’t recall this issue from last year’s effort. If one was to succinctly evaluate the audio in NCAA Football 14, it would be accurate to say: “Yeah, it sounds like football.” But it wouldn’t be said with much excitement.
It may be unfair of me to use the phrase “more of the same.” In truth, EA Tiburon did try to implement a few new features, and they also tweaked the physics a little. However, the latter can be said of any new sports installment from EA, and those new features aren’t exactly game-changers. They are appreciated on some level, though. Being a fan of meticulous micromanagement and role-playing games, I was surprised and encouraged to see the inclusion of RPG elements. Yes, it seems like even the sports world is starting to incorporate a level of depth and complexity formerly exclusive to the role-playing genre.
However, that depth isn’t pronounced. For instance, the coach now earns experience points based on your performance. So, scoring a TD or snagging an interception will allow his progress bar to rise; once you “level up,” you’ll be able to unlock new abilities on a very RPG-like skill tree. At first, I was ecstatic. The possibilities are limitless, especially if you apply that same principle to the individual players, and if you build on the concept. I anticipated seeing more experience in classic rival games, or the actual inherent ability of players increasing due to significant playing time. But EA Tiburon just doesn’t go far enough.
It’s still a cool idea, but you end up spending too much time off the field, fiddling around with menus. You know, that’s okay if you’re playing a ridiculously long and highly complex RPG, but in the world of virtual sports, you’re taking precious time away from the gameplay. And it’s all about the gameplay in sports. I’m more patient than most and I enjoyed seeing my coach’s abilities rise, thereby giving my team a better chance at success via the unlocked skills. It simply doesn’t have as much of an impact as I would’ve hoped. I am, however, perfectly willing to give the developers a green check for at least trying something new.
At the same time, they tried to balance the extra time you spend with the experience system. …they just didn’t do it correctly, in my opinion. Basically, they just removed all the intricate details of the recruitment process. The interviewing mini-game from last year is gone, you no longer determine how much time to spend with each candidate, and you don’t use assistant coaches to help with the process. Nope, there’s only a pool of points that you hand out to the recruits. It’s about as impersonal as humanly possible, which doesn’t make sense in the world of recruiting. I suppose some fans might call it streamlined, though.
The physics tweaks are appreciated, but I’m still sensing the same ol’ issues. I still can’t intercept a pass to save my life (cornerbacks must have feet for hands) and certain passing routes just never seem to work at all, while others always seem to work. This is the kind of thing I would’ve expected developers to have ironed out by now. But at least the option offense is still tons of fun to utilize, and remains the highlight of college football, as far as I’m concerned. Plus, you’ve got the Nike Skills Trainer, which allows you to become more educated in the inner workings of the game. In other words, there are a few decent improvements.
The multiplayer is entertaining, too. In fact, as is the case with most sports games, this title is much more appealing when playing with friends, whether locally or online. The cool part is that super close and dramatic contests will become known as ESPN Classics, so comebacks are valuable! There’s no doubt that playing with others supersedes playing all by your lonesome. But that’s partially because the solo experience is bogged down by a somewhat tedious and cumbersome off-the-field segment. The new stuff, like the experience points, might be a step in the right direction; however, it’s not a very big step. It's more of a toddler's step, albeit in the right direction.
NCAA Football 14 is a good game. That’s pretty obvious when you sit down to play it. The on-field action remains satisfying as the control is good, the depth of play-calling and execution is there, and bonuses like the Nike Training and unlockable skills add to the appeal. But there isn’t much else to talk about. Too many of the same issues are evident, the experience system seems to take the focus away from the gameplay, and the recruitment has been stripped. In short, if you’re a big college football fan and you know what to expect, go for it. Otherwise, wait until next generation.
The Good: Appreciated physics tweaks. Decent control. Experience for the coach is somewhat ambitious. Helpful tutorial via Nike Skills Trainer. Offers plenty of multiplayer fun.
The Bad: Graphics and detailing isn’t too impressive. Recruiting feels stripped and bare. Just feels…old overall.
The Ugly: “Yep, sports games need a shot in the arm.”
7/11/2013 Ben Dutka