As much as people like to compare the NCAA Football and Madden franchises, it's not really fair. While both games have the same rules and revolve around moving a pigskin across the goal line or kicking it between the uprights, what it takes to get there is entirely different. While the college game has been guilty of trying to live up to its big brother in the past, in NCAA Football 10 many of the changes have been specifically targeted at those who enjoy watching football on Saturdays.
College football fan, meet the kitchen sink. The sheer number of options available in NCAA Football 10 borders on the ridiculous. We'll get the obvious ones out of the way first.
You get an online/offline dynasty with nice improvements to the recruiting engine. Scrolling through players is much faster and you can even campaign against other schools the prospect might be interested in. These alterations can't change the fact that it's still a tedious shell game trying to recruit blue chippers that are practically impossible to land unless you're playing as an elite squad. You spend as much time sorting through menus as you do on the field with disappointing results. Just sim it.
If you're not a big fan of any given school, you can hop online and create your own and import it-complete with unis [you-knees], logos, and fields. There's definitely a certain level of satisfaction in seeing your 2D online squad take the field in full 3D for the first time. You can also create your own conference.
Season showdown is the hot new addition and it lasts four months. You choose one school to earn points for, but you do not have to play with that squad exclusively. Your team then squares off against another team each week in a battle of credits. You earn credits for your team winning games online or off, answering trivia questions, demonstrating sportsmanship, and variety of other ways. Extensive leader boards will keep you hooked for the long haul, with a 32-team tournament based on a leveling structure at the end of it all. It's awesome if a bit complicated, but it rewards dedicated players on a global scale. No one wants to see their favorite team or alma mater in the cellar.
Road to glory replaces campus legend with hottie Erin Andrews covering your career from high school to Heisman. She compiles highlights and photos, using them in-studio with magical green screen effects. Despite the eye candy, Andrews doesn't add much, and the mode is fundamentally the same as you play from one position with extensive sim options for when your player's on the bench.
If we really went into the details on all the modes this review would be 20 minutes long. The season showdown is the real innovation, engaging players in a way not seen in sports games before. The other options are mostly improved, but not fundamentally changed.
We have to give EA credit. It's tried to improve the gameplay each year, but improvement in one area has traditionally sacrificed the quality of another. NCAA Football 10 has its issues, but they're mostly balanced by a strong core.
Last year's breakaway engine was a little too generous, but the running game has been toned down significantly. Breaking tackles is tough, and when you do, there's almost always another defender waiting. That's not to say you won't get your yards. You just achieve them by keeping the defense off-balance.
One of the new features is setting up plays. On the play select screen some plays are linked together. Run the ball up the gut, and you set yourself up for a play action pass. Even if you get your play action set up at 100 percent, you still only succeed about 50 percent of the time. At least getting there is logical, if a bit slow, as you get more setup percentage by running successful setup plays.
Gameplanning is another revision, allowing you to adjust your team's philosophy at any time. You can increase your risk by going for big plays or play it safe while protecting a lead. Basically, it automatically performs actions that experienced players are already handling on their own like protecting the ball or jumping up for interceptions. Freshmen will love it, but seniors will ignore it.
Player lock allows you to play from the perspective of any player on any play-essentially infusing the entire game with the functionality of the road to glory mode. It comes with the same limitations. Some positions are boring to play and the camera doesn't always show you what you need to see.
Defensive keys allow you to predict what the offense is going to do while at the line of scrimmage. If you guess a run up the gut and they pass, you're screwed. This risk/reward system tends to burn you more often than not, and we had a lot more success just being smart with the play-calling. The last defensive addition is adaptive AI that will cause defenders to start cheating if you're relying on money plays. We saw the defense shift before the snap, but it didn't really make a difference.
Penalties are still a sore spot, and the holding call is essentially used as rubber band AI. Get too far ahead of a team you're not supposed to beat and the flags will start flying. What's makes it more frustrating is that you're literally held on every play and never get a call. Once your defender locks up with a blocker, he's stuck to him like a paperclip to a magnet. This allows QBs to spend ridiculous amounts of time in the pocket untouched.
Pre-snap options are plentiful, it feels good running with the ball, there are far less bugs, and additions are many. Some changes work, and some don't, but it's a solid-playing game at its core and great for battles against friends.
Aside from a new camera angle for onside kicks that makes it impossible to return them, the visuals haven't improved much, if at all. Animation quality and variety is definitely still its strong suit, yet the ball leaves the quarterback's hand awkwardly. Cheerleaders have become a much bigger part of the presentation, but they also cause the play call menus to lag. The game does run smooth with no slowdown and the visuals are sharp, but NCAA Football 10 looks basically identical to last year's game. We said the same thing about NCAA Football 09.
Hopefully you like marching bands, because you're going to hear a ton of brass and woodwinds. Playing the dynasty mode you'll get so tired of hearing your team's fight song you'll want to puke up your Gatorade. You will eventually want to avoid the blaring horns. On-field chatter is kept to a minimum, but the hits sound great and the crowd ebbs and flows as it should.
EA has managed to find enough middle ground in NCAA Football 10 to make it the best in the series this generation. Season showdown strikes at the heart of the college football fan and running the ball feels much more natural. There are also tons of new features and no one can fault the developers for not trying. But many of them prove to be irrelevant for experienced players and there are still more quirks and cheap tricks than there should be for a franchise so long in the tooth.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.
Source: EA Sports