It was nine short months ago when the infamous Madden NFL franchise made it’s debut on yet another generation of video game hardware. The 06 version for the Xbox 360 was a shell of what fans everywhere were used to in a video game with the name Madden on the cover. To meet the deadline of the 2005 football season… and the 2005 holiday season, developers were forced to gut the trademark depth that fans had grown very accustomed to. The game did look pretty though, so if that was the next-gen goal… it was accomplished.
Madden’s college counterpart, NCAA Football was suspiciously absent from the next-gen release roster in 2005. This was a disappointment for some, but the decision to not slap together a “pretty” version of the franchise for the sake of raking in some dollars during the holiday season was a respectable one. With so much more time to develop the perfect next-gen debut, we’re sure EA Sports is going to hit a homerun (or score a touchdown rather) with the franchise that was slowly, but surely, in line to becoming king of the football franchises. We are sure, aren’t we guys?… Guys?
To cut right to the chase, no, NCAA Football 07 does not offer it’s fans a giant leap forward that the new technology should warrant. In fact, it takes a bit of a step backwards. Much to the chagrin of the fanboys of this franchise, the “Campus Legend” and “Race for the Heisman” modes are nowhere to be found. I personally did not care too much for those modes, so the heartbreak for me wasn’t there, but I know they were favorites to many other gamers. Also M.I.A. are recently added items to the franchise such as defensive hot routes, stadium pulse, drills, create-a-school and most importantly, the mascot game. Again, I can deal with some of those loses (others can’t) but what really is unacceptable is deficiencies in gameplay… in which NCAA, for the most part, overcomes.
In a nutshell, the gameplay of NCAA 07 is basically a clone of Madden 06 for the Xbox 360, but polished up a bit. Some of the bugs that nagged Madden were cleaned-up, but a few new issues have arisen. The most glaring of bugs is that, on some occasions, tackles are made without immediate contact from the opposing player. It is most obvious during sacks, when the two players are in the forefront, where the quarterback falls a split second before the defenseman even gets to him. It happens to both user and AI controlled teams, but is still equally annoying.
Most of the player animations appear to have been improved, but for the love of God, can we get a realistic gang-tackle anytime soon? I don’t understand how hard that is to incorporate, even more so now in the next generation. Most other tackling animations have been worked on, but it is still left up to one defender to bring down the opposing player.
The greatest single overhaul in gameplay came this year by way of the kicking interface. Now the kicking game is entirely controlled by the right thumbstick. Pull back to start the meter, push up to kick. It is that simple and it really does work well and is not as easy as in previous versions of NCAA and Madden. I flubbed a few in medium and short-range situations that were a guaranteed three points in the past. Madden 07 will receive the exact same kicking treatment… and I, for one, welcome it.
At E3 2006, the element most hyped during the walk-through was the newly incorporated aspect of momentum. A “momentum meter” slides back and forth according to the success the teams has on the field. The concept is original, but after playing a decent number of games, I do not believe the momentum meter affects gameplay in any way whatsoever. Yes, the crowd gets more rowdy when the meter is in their team’s favor, and the players seem to be more excited in their animations, but as far as how it affects the gameplay… it’s just not “in the game.” I suspect this is an item that will be polished up for future releases, but in the meantime, it is just a shell of a concept.
Speaking of crowd rowdiness, one of the biggest improvements that the developers pushed at E3 this year was the specific crowd reactions within the stadiums. Specific sections of teams’ fans would react accordingly as to what their team was doing on the field. This was demonstrated at E3, and I’ll admit it looked pretty damn cool at the time, but I’ll be damned if I’ve seen it once within the game yet. I’m not saying it’s not there, but it is hard to see with the tight view of the playing field. Maybe, I’m just not paying attention to the crowd while I’m playing. When evoking the instant replay options, the different crowd reactions are apparent and can be viewed using the different zooms and camera angles. I’m not so sure the technology is worthwhile simply to see how the crowd reacts in the background of an instant replay. That time could have been spent more wisely developing another aspect of the game.
Obviously, the graphics have been given a complete overhaul from last year’s version of NCAA Football since it was only available on the previous generation consoles. Again, some of the animations are choppy and seem incomplete, but overall, the visuals look very pretty, especially the reflections on players’ helmets, which is the biggest standout in terms of eye-candy. If reflections are the best NCAA has to offer visually, the weather is the worst. Rain absolutely looks like shit. Actually, it just looks like vertical lines, something you’d expect in a late-90’s version of Madden. Another item to pay attention to visually is the stadiums, they look amazing and a true sense of the grand scale of some of these college venues is portrayed perfectly. Even with some oversights such as proper shadowing, the graphical presentation, overall, is a nice upgrade.
A great addition to the NCAA franchise are three new mini-games: Bowling, Tug-of-War and the Option Dash. I wasn’t too fond of the Option Dash (points-based game where only the option is run,) but I think Bowling and Tug-of-War are great mini-games. In bowling, your offense starts on the 10-yard line with the goal being to find the endzone. However many yards are picked up on the first play is the score in the first half of the frame, and a spare is made if you find the endzone on the second play. This is carried out over ten frames until a final score is achieved. Tug-of-War is another great concept where the mini-game starts on the 50-yard line with the goal, again, being to find the endzone. The two sides take turns running a play. Wherever the play ends is where the opposing team gains possession of the ball. The game goes on until one team scores a touchdown. Yes, it could amount to marathon-length game, but that’s the beauty of it.
There is one minor disturbing detail about the mini-game though… they’re not playable online! And no, that is not minor at all. The developers would not answer any questions regarding online play at E3, so I suspected online mini-games would be a deadline casualty even though I had hoped otherwise. These mini-games are made to be played online and it is a crime that they are not.
Back in May, at E3 2006, I remember all too well how I mentioned to several people that NCAA was finally dethroning Madden this year and it would be by an obvious knockout. Even with Madden 07 not on the shelves yet, I can confidently say this will not be the case… at least in the Xbox 360 versions this year. Too much has been taken out of NCAA while more is being inserted back in to Madden. But let’s face it, these two football franchises are not in competition with each other and NCAA Football 07 is still a great game and very fun to play. Since the bar has been raised year after year, we all tend to expect something mind-blowing with each passing release, and it most cases in the past, it had been delivered. Maybe that anticipation was raised with the graduation to the next generation of gaming consoles and we are all left wanting much more in this title. EA did owe us more with this release, but we’re going to have to chalk it up to the title being a virgin on this generation of consoles. We can only hope NCAA 08 returns to the glory we have come top expect from it… and possibly another run at the Madden football crown.
- Gameplay: 8
- It’s still NCAA Football, which is a good thing. But some features are still MIA.
- Graphics: 9
- It looks great, plain and simple.
- Sound: 9.2
- …and the sound is even better.
- Replay: 8.5
- Dynasty is still fun, but no mascot game and no online mini-games? C’mon.
- Overall: 7.8
- Still a very good football game, but a step down from what we’d normally expect.
— Steve Tomassetti