Tuesday, July 27, 2010

NCAA 11 Impressions (360)

Surely, this is the most schizophrenic sports game series ever created.

Most years, it's great and it's terrible. It's sublime and it's idiotic. The last two years, it was just idiotic, but this year, NCAA has returned to form. Once again, it's the beautiful woman with tobacco-stained teeth.

First, the positives:
--Off the field, the interface is clean, intuitive, and very functional.
--In online Dynasty mode, it's now possible to recruit from your computer instead of the console, which is a brilliant addition (when it works--more on that later). Recruiting in NCAA is complex (overly complex, I think), and being able to use a mouse instead of a gamepad is a substantial improvement. Plus, it's possible to set up a single-player online Dynasty, so that feature is available for solo players, too.
--On the field, the game feels more dynamic now, without feeling cheap.
--Run blocking has improved.
--The new animation system is a clear upgrade and looks much more realistic.
--Lee Corso is gone. Finally.
--Slider settings have a noticeable effect, and slider adjustments can make the game fairly realistic. Not as good as Madden, certainly, but a huge improvement over the last several versions of NCAA.
--Even though it's still completely idiotic that there aren't custom cameras, the default cameras are very good.

That's quite a lot of improvement, really. It's not as much of an improvement as Madden made last year, but Madden was a one-off in terms of its leap. This game has made big, big strides.

Now, unfortunately, the negatives, including one absolute dealbreaker:
--Online recruiting is great, when it works, but too often it doesn't. I don't mean servers not working for a minute or two-I'm talking hours at a time. It's ridiculous and embarrassing.
--Highly-rated quarterbacks have absolute rocket arms. I'm fitting throws into ridiculous spaces because my quarterback has a cannon. Way, way overpowered, and there's no slider adjustment possible for this.
--Three-man defensive fronts are far too effective against the pass, and for all the wrong reasons. Quarterbacks seem to hold the ball far too long against the three-man front (they're more effective against a four-man front, actually), and sacks are far too frequent. Coverage sacks are fine, but not like this. Yes, you can adjust the pass rush slider, but then you make the four-man front far too ineffective-there's no way to create the proper balance.
--Penalties are FUBAR again. Seriously, how ***damn hard is it to create functional penalty code? Like always, certain types of penalties get called all the time, and some (pass interference, for example) are just urban legends. This gets ignored every year, which is idiotic, because if was just fixed once, it would be fixed going forwards.

Actually, let's put the dealbreaker into its own section, because it is so inexcusable that it should have its own highlight. In short, Dynasty mode is useless for anything beyond single-season play.

Why? Bill Abner, Dean Of Sports Game Reviewers, lays it out very clearly here. The most important aspect of any progression system is stability over time. No matter the season, you want to retain the original ratings composition in aggregate, because if you don't, the game is going to play very, very differently.

Bill's post explains it in far more depth, but in only four seasons, there are no "A" rated teams left in the game, because the prospect creation and progression engine doesn't produce any great players (or, more accurately, far too few).


How bad is it? In Bill's dynasty in 2014, 55 of 120 teams have a rating of "D+" or lower. In the default ratings when you begin the game, there were 17. That's right--almost half the teams are rated D+ or below.

Teams rated "A-" or higher? In 2014, there are zero. Zero. In 2010, there 12. And the change in "B" and "C" rated teams is almost as pronounced.

It's not just progression that's broken, either. The CPU can't manage a roster, hoarding players at certain positions and ignoring others.

Oh, and then there's kickers. Again, Bill nails the issue down very clearly--as soon as the default kickers graduate, they get replaced with scrubs. Basically, the best created kicker in NCAA the video game (beyond the default ratings) is going to kick as poorly as the worst kicker in real NCAA football

Bill was all over these progression issues, so big kudos to him.

Look, progression and player creation are broken. Even as the EA Fanboy Defense Force bleats away on the OS forums (including such laugh-out-loud thread titles as "I Love How Progression Is Done"), there is no discussion possible on this issue. It's broken. Period.

This is a game that's come out every year for what, the last decade? Progression was totally broken in the shipping version last year, then it was patched to be decent, and now it's broken again. And anyone, absolutely anyone, who simmed even a few years in Dynasty would have seen this happening. It's impossible to miss.

So what about all the reviewers who loved this game? Well, they obviously didn't run a multi-season Dynasty, did they? Look, the job of 90% of sports game reviewers is to have a review ready to drop on launch day. That's their job, and that's why they get paid. It's not their job to represent us and actually play the game the way we would play it, or explore all the game modes in depth. 80% of the text in most launch day reviews is ripped almost word for word from the preview.

That sucks, but it's the truth, and it's also the truth that many of them don't know what the hell they're doing. Seriously, did ANYONE mention this besides Bill? Was no one else paying attention? How freaking obvious does it have to be to get noticed?

So it's nothing short of a total embarrassment that a game released every single year STILL can't get one of its major features right. And it's also a total embarrassment that people who get paid to review this game can't do it in a thorough manner.

NCAA is still entirely salvageable if the online Dynasty servers actually stay up, and if progression is fixed. It's unplayable for multiple seasons in its current state, though, so if you're considering a purchase, be forewarned.

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