Monday, July 12, 2004

NCAA First Impressions

NCAA 2005 (Xbox) arrived today and I've got a few data points for you after about two hours of play.

The Good:
--Sound has gotten a HUGE upgrade this year. The crowd sounds absolutely fantastic and very realistic. This makes the in-game atmosphere much more immersive.
--Animations have been improved. Tackling and bit hits, in particular, seem more natural.
--Having your controller vibrate because of crowd noise when you're on the road is terrific. Also, trying to audible in that situation and see your players responding with hand gestures indicating that they can't hear you is outstanding.
--The announcers. I know, this is nothing new, but the quality of the announcing and the smoothness of their dialogue is nothing short of miraculous. How Madden can be so absolutely horrible in comparison is just beyond me.
--The new Match-Up Stick lets you find mismatches at the line of scrimmage. If you played this seriously, you were already looking for mismatches that you'd identified by looking at your opponent's roster, but this is a very clever feature.
--A recruiting enhancement where a few high school players will be identified as 'Athletes' instead of playing at a specific position. Once you sign them, you have the opportunity to assign their position. That's quite a bit of fun and a nice twist.

The Bad:
--Tipped passes bounce around like pinballs. Too exaggerated and not realistic. It particularly stands out because so many other parts of the game do look realistic.
--Recruiting has been dumbed down. Instead of selecting which coaches will visit a recruit, you just assign a number of recruiting points each week. That's much less fun than the old system.
--Major slider tweakage is going to be needed. Playing on All-American with Texas Tech, I was tied with Oklahoma 7-7 at the half. That game should be a blowout for Oklahoma. At no point did I see any physical domination from Oklahoma at all.
--Terrible use of the Xbox. Even using 480p, the in-play graphics are very, very weak, maybe even worse than last year. Close-ups look great, but during play itself, the graphics are muddy. During night games in some stadiums, it's so dark that you have a hard time seeing the color of the jerseys (no exaggeration). Oddly, though, close-ups still look great, as to the onscreen overlays, which says to me that somebody just screwed up the lighting values. Maybe it's because I'm playing in the stadium for a very small school, but it's just fundamentally too dark.
--Gameplay is slow, slow, slow. I feel like I'm running through quicksand. It's not framerate slowdown, it's just slow.

I always thought that Madden had much better gameplay than NCAA--much faster gameplay and much better A.I. (with the correct slider settings). NCAA has always had exponentially better atmosphere. It looks like that trend will continue this year.

My initial impression: good but not great.

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