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NCAA Football 09

 

NCAA Football 09

ESRB: Everyone - E
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Sports
 
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Developer – EA Tiburon
Publisher – Electronic Arts

Features:

Players: 1-4
Co-op: 2-4
12 MB to Save Game
HDTV: 720p/1080i/1080p
Custom Soundtracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

A few of us Game-Boyz staffers had a chance to demo some of EA Sports’ upcoming games at E3 in Los Angeles. Much to our surprise NCAA Football 09 was not on display at their demo booth. This may very well be due to the timing of NCAA Football 09’s release, as the game hit shelves the same week as E3. But the conspiracy theorist in me thought that EA Sports was hiding something, or perhaps they were not so proud of this year’s instalment of the franchise. So when the game arrived at my home office only a few days after I arrived back from Los Angeles I was very curious to see if any significant leaps were made from last years game. Fortunately, EA Sports has much to be proud of as NCAA Football 09 for the Xbox 360 arguably stands to be the best game in the franchise thus far.

Graphics

Overall, the visuals in NCAA Football 09 for the Xbox 360 are stunning and are once again a strong point for the franchise. The developers did a wonderful job at re-creating that magical college football atmosphere that even fringe NCAA football fans, like me, can appreciate. Being Canadian, I don’t get to see too many college football games. In fact, the first game I ever attended was last years Washington Huskies vs. the Ohio State Buckeyes game at Husky Stadium. So when I started playing my season I found it a treat to play the game in some of the historical college stadiums featured in game which were well represented in all their glory. From the improved animations to the more realistic looking stadiums, you can’t help but become immersed in the game and truly be impressed the games graphics.

The most noticeable addition this year are the new player animations. Everything is so much more realistic. The way players get hit, run, tackle and catch the ball, you just never know what you are going to see from one play to the next. It makes the game less predictable and more enjoyable in the end. I really noticed the difference with the running backs that appear to move more fluidly this year. Their jukes, stiff-arms, spins, and so much more are rendered to perfection. You will notice a lot of detail in this year’s version of NCAA Football. I liked how the defensive and offensive lineman pointed at each other and would make a scene during an offside call. Even when the opposite team scores a touchdown, your players are quick to look down in disgust or look up in disbelief.

Overall the graphics are superb and I could go on and on about so many areas in the game where the visuals are stellar. I have yet to mention anything about the awesome lighting and weather effects, the mascots, fans, cheerleaders or even NCAA Football 09’s menus, background pictures and themes. You will just have to pick up the game and experience it for yourself.

Unfortunately along with the good does come some bad. I did notice a few instances of slow down now and then, but this seemed to be during the cinematics. This was most apparent when the game is set to begin and the panoramic camera pans down and descends upon the stadium. It is just a slight but yet noticeable hiccup. Fortunately, the gameplay itself is not hampered by any slow down and it runs quite smoothly. That being said, the game did suffer from some occasional clipping issues. Again, it never affected the gameplay but did occur during touchdown celebrations. Often my player would run up to the mascot and half of his body would disappear into him. Not a big deal but rather just a small annoyance.

Overall, the visuals are certainly an upgrade over last years NCAA Football as 09 is sharp looking, and would pretty much leave any college football fan awestruck.

Sound

As far as the sound is concerned, NCAA Football 09 delivers. The game's sound is an excellent complement to the fantastic graphics. Once again, the developers managed to duplicate that college football feeling to perfection.

The sounds of the game are quite amazing this year. Such things as the player’s cleats ripping up the turf to the hard hitting tackles, all pack a punch. I was even impressed with the rare hits which resulted in hearing bones crack as it actually made me cringe. Nevertheless, what makes NCAA Football 09 authentic are the big bands and of course the fans. The marching bands sound better and louder than ever. It almost gives me that tingly feeling when firing up the game as I prepare for my time listening to the marching bands thump away. This year, all the sounds seem richer and the home field fans play a much bigger role this time around. It becomes incredibly intense. For instance, there was one point in my Washington Huskies dynasty season when I was playing against USC, the fans were so loud in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum I actually had to turn the volume down in my media room. This is not bad thing. In fact, it was fantastic and bang on. I highly recommend turning up the volume when playing at home as there is nothing like having the home field fans behind you when you need your defence to come up with a big play. Overall, the 5.1 surround sound is great.

On the downside, I was not all that impressed with the announcers. In fact, they were often overshadowed by the fans and the marching bands. Don’t get me wrong, you could not ask for a better trio with the likes of Lee Corso, Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit doing the play-by play and commentary. However I found many of the comments repetitive and uninspiring. I am probably coming across as picky, however I expected a little more analysis and less repetitiveness this year.

Despite my minor concerns, the audio truly shines in the Xbox 360 version of NCAA Football 09. The college football game never sounded this good as it adds a level of intensity never felt in a college football game before. My only concern, how could they possibly improve in the audio department for next year?

Gameplay

For any of you that are unfamiliar with NCAA Football video games franchise, NCAA Football 09 is a college football video game that plays very much like EA Sports Madden Football. In fact many consider NCAA Football as an appetizer; something to wet one’s craving before the yearly release of Madden later in the summer. NCAA Football 09 is a simulation football game of sorts aimed at your more seasoned football gaming fan. That being said, I believe that NCAA Football 09 is far from an appetizer and more of a full meal deal, rich in content with more stats, plays and news that you can shake a stick at. Bottomline, you will feel like you get your money’s worth from the moment you start navigating the games menus.

The heart of any football game is the actual in-game play itself. NCAA Football 09 plays very much the same way as last years version did with a few more bells and whistles. Madden fans whom have not made the leap to NCAA Football will also be relieved to know that NCAA Football 09 plays very much the same way as Madden ‘08 does. For younger gamers, NCAA Football 09 may be a little too complex, but for fans of EA Sports football games NCAA Football 09 will most likely not even take you a quarter or two to pick up. The controls are easy to learn and it doesn’t take much to fire up a game or start a dynasty season. There is no sense examining some of the features that have been around for years, so at this point I will examine some of the new features in this game.

For starters, NCAA Football 09 features a new Home Field Advantage where your home stadium, home crowd, and pressure of playing at home all play a much more critical role in the game. In this feature you can call a time out to ‘Ice the Kicker’. It’s great to use against your opponent. However, when an opponent tries to ‘ice’ you, you start to feel the pressure. Your kicking meter display turns into ice, making it harder for you to see the power bar rise and hence your ability to kick a solid field goal is drastically hampered. This feature may seem a little over-the-top for some; however it is a great addition which I have yet to see any football game pull off. It certainly added to the intensity of the game and made my hands sweat a little bit more when I lined up to make a game winning kick against Notre Dame. With Home Field Advantage you can also quiet the crowd while on offence and pump the crowd up while on defence. Additionally, NCAA Football 09 features Quarterback Quizzes after the opposing team picks-off your QB. Get the correct answer and your QB regains some of his composure he lost following the interception. It’s a cool feature but it does seem to get old in a hurry.

Another feature new to NCAA Football 09 is the wide-open “authentic” gameplay. Here you can expect higher scoring games than you have in the past. For starters, the running lanes are more open, it’s easier to make pass completions and there is more room to make better kick-off returns this time around. That being said, I noticed there is less parity this time around. Teams in the top 10 were incredibly difficult to play and I was not able to run and pass at will against them. On the other hand, it was easier to move the ball against the lesser ranked teams. I found this year’s version a little more realistic but there is certainly some room for improvement. For instance, the defence does not break up plays nearly as much as they should. Often I felt I had the wide-out covered, however the majority of the time the completion was made. It made for some frustrating times on defence to say the least.

NCAA Football 09 also features an all new mascot play which I found was a real disappointment. I was hoping the mascot games would have been dumbed down making it easier for the casual and younger gamer to play the game. Unfortunately, the mascot games features the same play book and controls as a regular football game. In my view, this area should have been simplified. I was hoping I would have been able to play a simple mascot game with my five year old, however the controls and play selections were simply too complex for her. As a suggestion, perhaps a five-on-five mascot game with plays such as short pass, long pass, and run would have been sufficient. The in-game sideline mascots on the other hand are very good and play a more active role in touchdown celebrations. This year, after scoring a touchdown, you can interact with your team mascot and perform some goofy celebrations them. All in all I found this to be a neat little feature.

The Dynasty mode, which is where most hardcore football gamers will play, has also received a nip and tuck. In addition to developing your college teams program, you can now recruit head-to-head online with up to 11 players for 60 seasons. For me, this was a little over my head as I consider myself more of a casual, yet experienced, EA Sports football gamer. Generally when I go online I manage to stay competitive but more often than not I loose. So I would only recommend joining somebody’s online league if you have the skills to back it up. There are customizable downloadable rosters available for your dynasty league, however it is not as simple a process as I would have liked. In the end, it is worth the hassle as I cannot stand looking at QB #10 or HB #24 as opposed to the players name on the back of the jersey.


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