The EA Sports NCAA Football franchise continues to work towards providing an authentic college football experience. The intensity, tradition, and college environment are a few of the more important aspects of the game that can help the franchise set itself apart from other sports games. NCAA Football 11 takes that authenticity a step further with “120 ways to win”.
While the qualities of college football off the field are essential to the experience, it is on-the-field authenticity that has been lacking in years prior. With “120 ways to win” EA Sports Tiburon has implemented each and every offensive and defensive package for all 120 teams. But is this along with a few new additions enough to take the franchise to the next level?
What is most apparent with this title is its presentation. As someone who plays every single EA Sports game, NCAA Basketball 10 was easily the most impressive to me in terms of presentation prior to now. However, NCAA Football 11 has undoubtedly surpassed that with the long awaited integration of ESPN broadcasting.
For many, including myself, the presentation has been lacking in the NCAA Football franchise for years. But when you take something like ESPN broadcasting and seamlessly integrate it into the menus with ESPN radio playing, it truly makes sifting through menus enjoyable – despite the amount of time you spend in menus during dynasty.
If the ESPN touch doesn’t come across in menus, just start a game. From the ESPN pre-game intro, to the player statistic banners, to the ESPN swipe animation during replays, to the post-game, NCAA Football 11‘s presentation not only brings a visually pleasing experience, but also drastically improves the authenticity of the college football experience.
Despite the impressive presentation, there are still a few things that could use some improvement. Authentic team entrances are finally here, but they really feel like the only unique part that helps identify the stadium you are playing in.
One of the most important elements of college football games is the fans. Throughout the course of the game, fans are nothing more than dreadfully awful looking sprites. With what little the fans currently contribute the experience, there are a ton of improvements that future games could offer: fans shaking their keys during a “key” play, college specific chants or dances with up close fan shots, anything.
While presentation is important, core gameplay is easily the most important element of sports games. This year, significant improvements have been made to AI blocking. These improvements are best seen during running plays. Linemans’ blocking responsibilities as well as the defensive formation are shown pre-snap, which greatly assists in accurately determining the route you may need to take after hitting the hole. Because of this, running plays between the tackles are leaps and bounds better than in previous years. But while blockers undoubtedly make an attempt to block the correct defender, this doesn’t always work out.
The inconsistencies in blocking at times are enough to make you quickly switch to the passing game for a bit. While this is not a bad thing, as mixing up plays is in your best interest, it does make you feel a bit cheated. Pulls and traps by offensive tackles or guards are the places where these issues tend to arise. If the defender happens to be taking a more direct route to the running back, the lineman, instead of attempting to either deliver a big hit or drive the player down the line of scrimmage, attempts to square up and block and obviously fails miserably.
Open field blocking is another area that still needs to be worked on. Screen passes will sometimes cause issues in open field blocking, for example. As the offensive guard and tackle sweep out to make an open field block, they move in complete unison. They then make a turn at the same time, go through some logic under the covers and check down which defender is best for them to block. However, while this is all happening, the play is developing and the running back will either be left with one lineman not blocking anyone, or attempting to block the most illogical choice possible in the given situation.
Despite these occasional blocking issues, I stand by my statement that AI blocking is significantly improved. The running game is a much more viable option, not only allowing teams to follow their actual playbook but also opening up the field and keeping the defense on their toes. Ultimately, these are welcome changes that will appeal to both the casual and hardcore.
If the real assignment AI isn’t enough to convince you of the validity and realism of the running game this year, the locomotion engine will. While AI blocking is out of your control, the control of true and fluid movements of the player is right under your fingertips – well, your right thumb to be more precise. Locomotion, which can be found in Madden NFL 11, allows you to control the movement of the player with the right analog stick. Instead of canned animations to juke left and right, you will now find the player plant his foot, push off that foot, and shift his body weight in much more realistic and fluid movements. This can also be seen when executing a spin move.
Gone are the days of turbo controls, as each movement you make is nothing more than a risk/reward situation. Stopping on a dime is all well and good, but keep in mind that the player will require time to build up momentum to get back to top speed. The control this provides not only feels much more intuitive, but also feels like you have a lot more control over the success or failure of every play. It also allows you to seamlessly combine successive movements with both the left and right analog sticks in a way never made available before.
Continuing to push realism and authenticity, EA Sports now offers “120 ways to play”. Providing each team with a playbook that matches their offense and defense is something that not only helps define college football, but also adds new elements of strategy to the game – a welcome change for the hardcore. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a college team’s playbook in real life truly carries over into NCAA Football 11. As such, players are given the tools necessary to bring together the most realistic NCAA Football experience yet.
The real question is whether or not the inclusion of authentic playbooks is appealing to the masses and if it will be utilized to its full potential. My true hope is that players, both hardcore and casual, embrace this new addition to the series instead of falling into the habit of choosing plays that either exploit the game or play to their advantage in an unrealistic fashion. As said, the tools are there to provide the most realistic NCAA Football experience yet, but it is up to you to take advantage of that. As such, should GameFlow be a hit with Madden, it may be in EA’s best interest to implement it in NCAA as well to help guide players into a true handcrafted, authentic college football experience.
For those dynasty fans, NCAA Football 11 offers a revamped recruiting system. Each week you are given ten hours to spend on recruiting 35 potential athletes for next year’s season. With these ten hours you are able to spend time on the phone with recruits where up to six topics can be discussed. Each topic, at a cost of 10 minutes each, is randomly chosen between 14 different topics ranging from program tradition, to coaching experience, to athletic facilities.
Based on the pitches you make to the recruit, feedback is provided allowing you to determine the impact your discussion had on the player. While recruiting can get a bit tedious at times, it is definitely not for the faint of heart. The hardcore players looking for a true sim experience will enjoy these additions immensely. Recruiting finally feels much more enjoyable, realistic, and rewarding.
Outside of the additions to recruiting, there are no real improvements to offline dynasty. However, online dynasty has received improved website functionality to manage your team. As can be seen above, recruiting can now be done through the website. Being able to recruit players online allows the player to take a step away from the game’s menu system and also allows for much easier access to follow through with an extremely important element of dynasty.
Also available on the website is StoryBuilder. StoryBuilder allows players to customize their game recaps with their own unique touch. While this won’t be utilized by everyone, it really does allow for players to immerse themselves in the dynasty experience by writing up a recap of their game, providing their thought process, their excitement, their disappointment, and really anything that strikes their creative nerve. And while this shows up in-game at the Dynasty Wire (a central source for computer generated or user generated stories), it can also be shared over Facebook and Twitter.
Unfortunately, the biggest downfall comes at the cost of its game modes. To put it bluntly, they are the same as NCAA Football 10 and, for the most part, the same as NCAA Football 09. While Season Showdown was a nice addition to last year’s title, it really was a passive addition that wasn’t very appealing. Also, Road to Glory mode last year was nothing more than an improved Campus Legend mode with Erin Andrews thrown in. Both of these modes are left unchanged. As a result, if new gameplay modes are what bring you to upgrade, there isn’t much new here outside of recruiting changes and website functionality. Keep in mind though, the amount of replay value in the given game modes is enormous, but it will definitely feel all too familiar to those NCAA Football 10 owners out there.
Overall, NCAA Football 11 is a strong title that offers a lot in the areas of presentation and core gameplay, though only a small amount in the area of game modes compared to last year. The importance of these areas to you will ultimately be the deciding factor in making a purchase. NCAA Football 11 takes to heart all of the issues with last year’s title and fixes or improves upon them. However, the casual fans may not get as much out of the additions and improvements as the hardcore. Nonetheless, it is undoubtedly the best NCAA Football yet.
The addition of ESPN broadcasting brings about a much more realistic and enjoyable experience. A huge step in the right direction has been made here, but there are still some improvements that can be made - specifically fans and unique stadium experiences.
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Real assignment AI provides improvements to blocking but still needs some issues to be addressed. However, the combination of improved blocking and locomotion have finally brought a viable running game to NCAA. "120 ways to play" is a great addition that only improves authenticity and realism.
Not too many improvements over last year. Generic and unexciting announcing is a disappointment given the cast. The new PA announcer is a welcome change.
Tons of time can be spent with online and offline dynasty modes as well as Road to Glory mode. For those upgrading from NCAA Football 10, the interest in game modes may wear down faster since outside of recruiting and PC additions there isn't too much new to sink your time into.
NCAA Football 11 brings substantial improvements to core gameplay and presentation but lacks in improvements and additions to game modes. While it isn't without its issues, it is undoubtedly the best NCAA Football game to date.