Love them or hate them, Electronic Arts was smart when it purchased the exclusive licenses for NFL and NCAA video games. Sure, the move increased the risk of gamers being left high and dry with the NFL and NCAA monopolies. But much as it’s done in the past, EA has found a way once again, in spite of its laziness-inducing exclusive NCAA license, to come up with an incredible game.
If you can ignore for a moment that NCAA Football 2006 is the only college-football show in town, you can also see that it happens to be the best college football outing to date. Hardcore football fans will argue that NCAA Football 2006 still doesn’t match the graphical horsepower of Visual Concepts’ 2K games, let alone the play-by-play quality. I’d have to agree with them. But taken as a complete package, NCAA Football 2006 is simply outstanding, never letting-on that its monopolistic status left EA with no real reason to work hard. Other than for the love of the game.
Like its Madden brethren, NCAA Football 2006 includes a dynasty mode through which gamers can run their own college program, all the way down to recruiting prospects from the high school ranks. Like its Madden brethren, NCAA Football 2006 has solid graphics with room for improvement, be it occasionally jerky animations, awful crowds or blocky character models when viewed up close. But unlike it’s Madden brethren, NCAA Football 2006 also has a “personal dynasty” mode, if you will, and its presence adds dozens of hours of play.
This mode, called “Race for the Heisman,” opens by placing gamers in a short high-school combine that’s well-attended by scouts. Select your position of choice (quarterback, receiver, linebacker or running back), then run through the drills. If you perform well, several schools may offer you a scholarship, which you can choose to accept. Alternatively, if your favorite school doesn’t offer you a scholarship, you can choose to walk on at any campus nationwide.
For better or for worse, the game then focuses solely on building your Heisman hopeful. The goal, naturally, is to win the Heisman trophy during your college career and/or to declare for the NFL draft. In many respects, this drives home just how selfish many athletes (ahem, Terrell Owens) have become, with the focus being personal glory first, team success second. Of course, team success adds to the power of personal success, so adding to the “win” column is theoretically just as important as padding personal stats. But let’s be honest now, if you want to win the Heisman, you’re bound to call more plays for your star character than for the second-stringer or other teammates.
That’s where the “worse” part of the “for better or for worse” comes in, because the number of plays you (sub)consciously call for your player is unnatural and detracts from the game’s reality factor. I, for example, started one season with a first-team Pac-10 QB who, when the season was complete, had fewer passing yards than my running back had rushing yards. Sure, it was incredibly fun to go on that season-long run, but it wasn’t exactly the most realistic of scenarios.
Presuming your player does well, you can them import him into Madden NFL 2006, extending his digital life and launching him on the path to the Hall of Fame. This is a great way to tie the franchises together, and it makes perfect sense in the grand scheme of things as well. Just realize that, since NCAA Football 2006 doesn’t include any RPG-like upgrades, your character will only be as good as his practices allow, which can make for a rookie season that’s as trying as your freshman one.
Although the graphics leave room for improvement, particularly in the up-close character models and between-play animations, NCAA Football 2006 really looks quite nice. It’s easy to nitpick, as I initially did, at the crowds and appendages, but a quick visit from friends who have comments like “whoa, that’s a nice-looking game!” will quickly snap you back into reality.
The audio, on the other hand, leaves much more to be desired. From the repetitive and far-too-delayed playcalling to the incessant reminders of each replay and factoid’s sponsor, EA has a lot of audio work ahead of it for 2007. The EA Trax soundtrack also gets old very quickly, particularly since it’s comprised of the same songs from NBA Street V3, among others. My recommendation, if you don’t turn the audio off entirely, is to at least switch from EA Trax to the old standby college fight songs.
If you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t even touched yet on the online play, unlockable teams and trick plays, or the dynasty mode, let alone the return of fan-favorite mascot games. That’s because NCAA Football 2006 is huge. Quite simply, NCAA Football 2006 is a whole lot of game, and if you’re into college football there isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t pick it up and start your own Race for the Heisman immediately. You will not be disappointed.
- Gameplay: 9.2
- Occasional miscues and inexplicably automatic plays by the QB, but the tight controls and number of plays make up for it.
- Graphics: 8.8
- They look good, but there’s definitely room for improvement in some of the smaller details.
- Sound: 8
- The play-by-play is flat-out annoying, but at least you turn off EA Trax. The crowd and in-game sounds are decent.
- Replay: 9.5
- Racing for the Heisman is a blast, and when you couple that with solid online play, the dynasty mode, mascot games and Madden NFL 2006 integration, you’ve got an incredibly deep game.
- Overall: 9.0
- Forget that it’s the only college football game for a minute and just bask in the glory of a well-executed title.
— Jonas Allen