Each year EA releases a new college football game, as they control the market. Nothing wrong with that, as once again the fans wanted better gameplay, and once again, they got it. Most of the things gamers complain about have been fixed.
Once again, EA updated their graphics engine to make the game seem much, much better. The first thing I noticed was that the graphics are sharper than previous years. The textures are especially nice, as the grass looks more realistic, as do the uniforms. For instance, you can actually see holes in some of the player jerseys. While on the subject of jerseys, they are once again drawn to perfection, just like their real life counterparts. Miami's jerseys have the stripe that goes down around the back and up to the other shoulder. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's jerseys have the standard intricately designed lines.
As far as player models go, they are detailed as well. You can edit small details, such as the shapes of their faces. You can even see the crease in their arms where their biceps and triceps meet. The models are very proportional, and look scarily like real human beings from a distance, thanks to the great attention to detail by the EA team. The same goes for the mascots. Player animations, such as running or passing, are very fluent and were created by motion capture.
Another thing that impressed me about the graphics is EA's preciseness toward each team's stadium. I can hardly tell the difference between stadiums in the game, and their counterparts in real life. The Orange Bowl, for example, is drawn with precise detail, and even has the famous "The City of Miami Welcomes You to the Orange Bowl" writing on the middle deck. The fans in the stands aren't as detailed, but after a play, whenever there is celebration, the fans look just like the players, and do funny things like dance or hold up signs corresponding to what the team does. For example, fans of the Florida State Seminoles will be dressed as Indian Chiefs and do the Tomahawk Chop. Meanwhile, Notre Dame will hold up signs that say "Go Irish!" with the mascot drawn on the poster. This all helps create the atmosphere of college football that EA was looking for.
EA decided to take a turn and put an EA track in the game instead of having the Fight Songs playing in the background at the main menu. The music they've used is rock, but isn't my cup of tea. There is an option to switch the fight songs back on, which feels more suitable to College Football. Each team has its own specific fight song that is played after the touchdown and extra point. Die hard fans of a team always love to hear their team's song played during real football games, so course they will love to hear them here. The home team gets one of their "secondary" songs after a big play, first down, or change of possession, such as the "Waving Song" of Oklahoma State, or "Tribute to Troy" of Southern Cal. Once again, this adds to the atmosphere of College Football.
If the fight songs don't add to the college football experience for you, then the commentary from Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and the Sunshine Scooter Lee Corso, will. Of course, it is the real commentators who provided the voice work, and they did a good job of it. Nessler gives the play-by-play, telling you what is happening during the game. Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso give their thoughts on the plays, and EA added in a few instances where the two will make small jokes at each other. Lee Corso does his traditional "Yo" and "Not so fast, my friend!" They always talk about what is happening in the game. For example, if a team is getting blown out, they will say, "Well, I think it's too little too late, but I like the effort this team is giving." There are quite a few new phrases in this game, as EA expanded on the old ones. It gets repetitive hearing the same things year after year, but EA at least got a start on changing them up.
The controls changed this year, and for new players, there will be no problems, but old fans will have to get used to the new controls on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. It took me two games to adapt to the new controls, but they are easier than the old ones once you get used to them. Sprinting is done on both sides of the ball by holding the X button. On defense, changing players is done by pressing circle, and on offense it spins. Starting a play is done with the X button, and passing is easy as ever. There will be receivers running routes with a button over their head. You press that button to throw to that receiver. The triangle lets you leap for the ball, whether on offense or defense. The only problem is that triangle was formerly used by the quarterback to throw the ball away. This year, it's a route, while L2 throws it away. L2 used to be the button to tuck the ball and run, but this year, you can do that by simply sprinting. On defense, the right analog stick is used to lay a big hit on the ball carrier which can shake his confidence and composure. It is a lot easier than the timing gimmick of last year. And of course, juking on offense is done with the stick, and the addition of backwards jukes are welcome. It takes some getting used to, but the controls are much better than previous years.
Matchup Stick/Composure: Introduced last year, the composure of players takes a toll on players. Before the snap, the player can see the composure of players, as well as how good they are playing, as compared to their counterparts on defense or offense. This helps when trying to create mismatches, as the player is able to match his veteran, calm players against shaky true freshmen. Making good plays makes a player's composure increase, and getting laid out or hit hard will lower it. Players with low composure will make careless mistakes, like dropping passes, but composed players will play their game well. Of course, this helps make it so that players are dynamic and not static throughout the game. Their stats and attributes will fluctuate with their composure, just as in the real college game.
Home Field Advantage:
Fear it or feast on it. Home field advantage gives teams the edge when playing at home, more so if their team has a great HFA rating. A school like Rice, that doesn't have outstanding attendance, won't be as tough to play as Texas A&M and Kyle Field, where the fans stand for the entire game, screaming their lungs out when on defense. The real life counterparts were used to rank the stadiums. What home field advantage (known as HFA from here on out) does is make it tough for the opposing offense to do much of anything. Teams who try to vocalize to receivers will have a tough time, and receivers may not hear the new calls. Receivers will run wrong routes, and the quarterback will throw to where the receiver is SUPPOSED to be, not where he actually is. When at home, defenders can pump up the crowd, and the quarterback can quiet the crowd down if they are still pumped from an interception or nice punt return.
Once again, the ability to micromanage a team is yours. There are many things to do, including in-season recruiting this year. The player can make his own playbook to use for his team and try to execute it to perfection. The player also gets the ability to make his own schedules (out of conference) and red shirting players who show promise but are not ready for the Division I-A game. Week after week, there is Sports Illustrated, which gives rankings, Heisman Watch, Award Finalists, and many other things. The schedules rotate once again, and it switches things up so the player isn't stuck playing the same teams year after year. If the team does well, players will want to come. If the team has an all-American quarterback, their QB recruiting class will be above average, as Quarterbacks from all over the nation will want to come to the school. Of course, if the offense isn't so hot, there won't be many good recruits on the offensive side of the ball. It takes knowing what the player wants, such as immediate playing time or location to get him to sign with the university. It is so deep, as you can do everything, down to disciplining the players whenever they screw up or get out of line.
The Race for the Heisman feature is really fun. You start out and enter your last name in a high school iron man competition where college scouts are present. Decide what position you want your player to be and you are taken to a drill. Depending on how well the player does in the drill, he will get offers by schools. If you perform well, you will get offers to big named schools such as USC or Iowa, but if you don't do so well, you will be recruited by cupcake schools such as Army and Ohio Sta... I mean, uh, SMU. Of course, the player can choose to walk on at any school, but they will lose a lot of their stats. Once the player decides on a school, he is taken to their dorm room where he can do all sorts of things. There is a computer to check rankings, Heisman Watch, and many other
things. Depending on how well the player performs, he may be given a more expensive room the next year, and become an impact player. There is fan mail that fans will send depending on how well the player performs. Once the player finishes his four years and wins the Heisman (hopefully), he has the option of going into the NFL draft (in which you can continue your career in Madden 06) or becoming a Division 1-A coach, in which he will start Dynasty Mode as a coach who has played and won the Heisman Trophy Award.. Once again, EA at work giving the gamers a college football experience.
Before every game, there is a small presentation by the three commentators, giving their opinions about the upcoming game. Lee Corso will even put on the mask of the team he thinks will win.
A new addition that will help players practice is the Spring drills. The player engages in many different drills, on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The player receives nothing but a score, but it is always a welcome addition to brush up on skills such as executing the ever so tough option or quick decision making in passing. Madden players will fit right in doing the small drills. A fun thing to do to burn time when a player does not have enough time to play a full game.
New this year are the impact players who can break a game open at any moment with their skills. Impact players are slightly more skilled then other players of the designated position. However, a good play or two by impact players will put them "in the zone" where they are very dangerous. A halfback, for example, will be able to break many more tackles while in the zone. Meanwhile, an impact linebacker in the zone will swarm to the football quicker and will very unlikely get run over by an offensive player. Speaking of which, EA added new clashes where a player can either break free or else get dragged down, depending on how well they break the tackle. The ball carrier and defender will lock up and both will be driving their feet. If the running back wins the battle, he will break free. If the defender does, he will actually push the runner back so that he can't gain any more yardage. This is great for goal line stands and other short yardage situations.
What has been available in Madden for years is finally available for NCAA. Packaging involves switching skilled players to different areas on the field or putting different players in, in order to create mismatches. For example, the player can flex a tight end out to a slot receiver in order to try and do well against a weaker defensive back. Backups can be put into the game much easier, so if the player lands two good running back recruits, it will be useful for them, as they can switch them out easily. Of course, most players will use them to switch receivers around, and hopefully get an impact receiver on a young, inexperienced defensive back.
Unfortunately, the college classics were taken out, but they served little purpose anyway other than putting the user in certain situations and letting him try to win. Of course, the classic teams are still around and you can still play them. This year, though, you don't have to unlock them.
The gameplay is much improved from last year's game. For one, the new controls open up many new strategies. The new sprinting by the quarterback is much easier than having to press a button to tuck and run, and it was impossible to throw while on the run in previous years. This year, sprinting and scrambling is much easier, and finding open receivers is easier, as the player does not have to take down passing icons in order to sprint out of pressure. Another great thing, is that the annoyances from last year's game are gone. Last year, there were many things wrong with both the running and passing game.
Running between the tackles is different. Whenever a player is being blocked, he will not magically come off of a block to make a tackle. Running lanes actually open up. That isn't to say the player will gain yardage on every run. Linebackers are able to fill up the running lanes to stop the run. The only complaint is that impact running backs will always seem to shrug off tacklers, unless it is and impact defender tackling them. Option running is much better as well, as the player will actually have to run the option as it is supposed to be run, where the QB has to read the play in order to be a successful option Quarterback.
The passing game is much better, as there are a LOT less dropped passes. It was frustrating to be wide open, only to have your receiver drop the pass last year. Especially backs out in the flat area where there should be NO dropped passes, notably when the receiver is wide open. Also improved is the defensive back super jump ability of last year. A receiver could have his man beat by almost 10 yards, and when the ball is throw, the defensive back leaps in an inhuman type jump that would knock the pass down. This year, it doesn't happen, but the defensive backs stay closer to the receivers, so it is easier to tell who's open, and who isn't. The defensive backs won't sit back and just stand in one spot as the receivers run routes, and then magically jump up and pick the ball off. Every route is possible to throw a completion to this year, if the quarterback is keen enough to find the open receiver.
The defensive side of the ball is a lot better as well. The players are more alert and follow their receivers around, or whoever they are covering, instead of relying on their super jumps, which if they failed, would leave the receiver with all the field ahead of them with nothing left to tackle them. So you get beat deep fewer if you know how to defend the pass once the ball is thrown. The running game is harder to stop, especially if the running back is an impact running back. If you are good, and you know which holes to fill with the linebackers, you can usually keep backs in check, but if you misread it, the back will explode into the secondary for a big gain. Everything is much more organized on both sides of the ball this year, and it allows the player to actually do well if he is skilled enough to do so, and there are a lot fewer cheap mistakes that the computer would make happen.
And that's a wrap! EA did much better this year, improving the poor gameplay while introducing new and innovative additions to the game to keep the gamer happy. They also did much better while trying to create the atmosphere of college football, keeping things realistic.
NCAA Football 06ESRB:
Platform: PlayStation 2