Monday, July 18, 2005

NCAA 2006

[Edit: For some additional impressions on Heisman mode, scroll up. I say in this post that "none of the things I'm going to mention are changed by moving up to Heisman," but based on the game I just played I believe that is not fair.]

Thanks to Gamefly, I've put in some time with NCAA 2006, and here's a very quick set of impressions after about ten hours of play. I'm playing on All-American level and the sliders are pretty maxed out in terms of difficulty unless I move up to Heisman. To the best of my knowledge, none of the things I'm going to mention are changed by moving up to Heisman.

Like no sports game I've ever played, NCAA is a combination of expert and amateurish. I've seen this game get 9+ from almost every review and I'll tell you this plainly--sports reviewers are using the wrong standard when rating games. Period.

This is what happens. In 2004, Sports Game X got a 9.0. In 2005, improvements have been made, and as the reviewer plays the game, he thinks "Well, I gave it a 9 last year, and it's better, so it must be a 9.4 this year." Conceptually, that's totally wrong. Sports games SHOULD improve each year--they're annual releases. That shouldn't be enough to rate a higher grade, but that's what happens. It seems like NCAA gets this ratings benefit every year.

Here's what's good about NCAA this year:
--Run blocking has been vastly improved.
--The home field advantage is very real in this game.
--The crowd noise is fantastic, and the idea of visiting teams having difficulty hearing audibles is genius.
--Impact players, at least conceptually, are an excellent idea.
--Run For the Heisman, while very shallow this year, is still a good idea and a nice addition.

There are also many design improvements, like a code for slider sets, so people can just input a code instead of manually adjusting thirty sliders. That's wonderful. Or a mass substitution option, you can put in the entire second unit during a blowout instead of having to manually substitute for each player. There are so many little touches like this that clearly, some very bright people worked on this game.

That's a 9 if nothing's wrong. Man, that is so not the case.

Here's what bad about NCAA this year:
--The graphics engine desperately needs replacement, both for player models and animation. Man, does this game look old and tired, even with the addition of some new animations. Last year's ESPN NFL game was years ahead in terms of graphics and animation. Given the budget that EA puts into these games, that's inexcusable.

--"Mario-running" is still common (it's been happening for four years), which is also inexcusable.

--Many player collisions still result in someone bouncing off and falling down (broken--four years) instead of actually reacting to the opponent.

--No "sim to completion" option, so if you're ahead 50-0 and want to sim the fourth quarter, you're out of luck. I know that sounds like a minor issue, but it's not minor when you have to play the second half of every game that's a blowout.

--The deep pass is as close to a money play as I've seen in a football game in years. Want your impact wide receiver to have 400 yards a game in receiving? NO PROBLEM. If his impact player circle is pulsing, which means that he's in the zone, it's almost a guaranteed 40-yard completion.

--"In the zone" severly unbalance the game. This is an example of a very good idea that has been very badly executed. Having impact players, in general, is a great concept, but giving them an additional ratings boost periodically during the game makes them superhuman, particularly on offense.

--The A.I. is an absolute HORROR SHOW. I'm sure you've read a bunch of reviews that talk about how smart the A.I. is this year. That is a load of crap. Here are a few examples.

Example one: I'm playing the University of Texas, which features Vince Young, one of the greatest and most elusive running quarterbacks in NCAA history. His ratings in the game are off the charts, and he's also the only impact player on offense for UT. I play a max zone for most of the game, which only leaves TWO defensive lineman on the line of scrimmage after the snap. Vince Young runs for two hundred yards by halftime in the real world if I keep calling that defense. In NCAA 2006, though, in the entire game, he runs for TWENTY YARDS on four carries.

Example two: I'm playing Oklahoma University and Adrian Peterson, who is an incredibly dominating running back, both in the real world and in the game. It's the last game of the season, and Peterson is ranked second in the Heisman rankings and has almost two thousand yards of rushing offense. I call the dime on nearly every play--about 65% max zones and 35% a simple blitz package. So how many carries does the country's second leading Heisman candidate get during the game? THREE. Three freaking carries.

Example three: In the opening game of the season, when I've just started playing the game, I face a weak team called Florida International University (I think that's their name). They run a wide-open passing attack, and they are kicking the crap out of me. I'm down 41-7 after three quarters, even though I'm trying every defense under the sun. In the fourth quarter, I call the Prevent for the first time. Then I call it again. And again. By the end of the game, I'm down 41-31. So I restart the game and call the Prevent defense on every single defensive play for the entire game. That's going to get me killed, what with NCAA's much improved A.I., right? Nope. It's money. I win 31-7. They average over ten yards a carry on the ground, but they're too stupid to keep doing it, even when I call the same defense over and over and over again.

Example four: This is a real gamekiller (although the examples listed above are gamekillers for me as well). The deep ball is a money play this year, which I've already mentioned. Here's the worst part, though. You'd think that after my impact wide receiver had two hundred plus yards of receiving at HALFTIME, that maybe the A.I. would double-team him in the second half. For a play or two. No worries, though, because the A.I. is so brain dead that he's not double-teamed on one play FOR THE ENTIRE GAME, so he piles up seventeen receptions and a kajillion yards.

Example five: This isn't systematic stupidity like the previous four examples, but it's pretty embarrassing nonetheless. Last night I'm ahead 34-3 and my opponent has the ball in the last seconds of the game. With five seconds left, they call a last-ditch timeout. To try and score a meaningless touchdown? Well, that would be bad enough, but no. They call a timeout SO THEY CAN PUNT.

Now if no football game had ever done these things right, I could understand them not working. Unfortunately, they have--over ten years ago. The state of the A.I. in this game is absolutely, totally inexcusable.

--That's just scratching the surface, really. The discipline system (still broken), simmed stats (quarterback numbers are so ridiculously high that it's embarrassing), and the announcers have somehow gotten worse each year (I blame Lee Corso).

Is it fun to play. Sometimes. There are lots of big plays, which can be fun. It's clearly an arcade game this year, not a sim, and there are moments when that's fun as well. It seems like every year, though, this game gets more and more dumbed down. And that's not fun--at all.

So is this game a 9? Well, on a scale of 1-12, maybe. Otherwise, no.

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