Wednesday, August 08, 2007

NCAA (360): Final Impressions

I've put another 10-15 hours into NCAA at this point, so these impressions are essentially final.

Like every EA Sports game, this is a mixed bag. The mark of a great sports game is that it gets better over time. EA games, though, always seem to get worse the longer you play them.

The star of the game this year, without question, is Legend mode. It's easy to pick up and play, it's intense, and games only last about 25 minutes. It's an excellent experience, overall, and most of what doesn't work well in Legend mode doesn't work in Dynasty, either.

As I said previously, I highly recommend playing as a middle linebacker. The camera angle is entirely usable, you have a chance to be involved in more plays, and the desperation of a goal line stand is keenly felt.

Then there are the warts.

I started off using Texas Tech in my first Legend career, and I was amazed that the daring of the offense was well-reflected in the game. In particular, Tech gambles on fourth down more than any other team in the country, and this was almost perfectly modeled, which was extremely impressive.

It would never have crossed my mind, though, that the gambling behavior wasn't limited to Texas Tech.

Everyone seems to gambles like Texas Tech in the game. Everyone goes for it on fourth down from highly risky field position. It was exciting at first, but now it just seems lazy. College teams are uniquely defined by their tolerance for risk (in the NFL, it's much more homogenous), but in NCAA, that tolerance is almost identical.

Other gameplay issues:
--no one throws the bomb. I've never seen one. Seriously, how stupid is that?
--interceptions are out of control, mostly because defensive backs can break to the ball when they're not actually looking at the ball. There are no slider settings that fix this, and even the ones that improve it have a ripple effect that causes other problems.
--run blocking, in many cases, is extremely poor. Offensive lineman are frequently too stupid to figure out who to block when the ball is snapped, which means defensive players have a free run into the backfield all too often.
--for about the hundredth year in a row, penalties aren't distributed properly.

Playing in Legend mode, these problems are less noticeable, because your role is more narrowly defined, which is another reason I recommend it over Dynasty mode this year.

One ironically amusing note: the weather conditions (when offline) are far more accurate for the time of year the game takes place. Unfortunately, when I started a legend with Mississippi St., it meant that I played 4-5 games a year in the rain.

Sometimes, fidelity to reality kind of sucks.

I haven't spent nearly as much time with Dynasty mode this year, but I did delve into the new Recruiting system. In a design sense, it's excellent and extremely interesting, with far more choices to make, as well as a real-time element when you're talking to a recruit--your total phone time for that week decrements during a call, so you frequently have to decide whether to bail on a call if it's running long.

The only problem with this complexity is that it's far, far better suited for a basketball game.

In my first year in Dynasty, I had 25 open scholarships. Trying to manage even 20 recruits is a very time-consuming process. It's a grind, really. With 3-5 scholarships to fill, it would be absolutely fantastic, but with four or five times that many, it's painful.

In other words--correct design, wrong scale.

I did develop some sliders that I think are are very playable on All-American difficulty. I used them in Legend mode, but I think they'd work equally well in Dynasty. Because of the inexplicable absence (again) of CPU vs. CPU mode, the only sliders that can objectively be tested are the kicking sliders, so those are should be absolutely correct or very close.

All-American sliders:
QB Accuracy: 100 (User), 100 (CPU)
Pass Blocking: 60 (User), 60 (CPU)
WR Catching: 50 (User), 50 (CPU)
RB Ability: 75 (User), 75 (CPU)
Run Blocking: 90 (User), 90 (CPU)

Awareness: 0 (User), 0 (CPU)
Knockdowns: 90 (User), 90 (CPU)
Interceptions: 0 (User), 0 (CPU)
Break Block: 50 (User), 50 (CPU)
Tackling: 50 (User), 50 (CPU)

FG Power: 30 (User), 30 (CPU)
FG Accuracy: 60 (User), 60 (CPU)
Punt Power: 40 (User), 60 (CPU)
Punt Accuracy: 50 (User), 50 (CPU)
Kickoff Power: 40 (User), 40 (CPU)

--everything set to 100 except Clipping (40) and Int Grounding (70).

Human and CPU settings are identical except for Punt Power.

If you're playing in Legend mode, even with it's flaws, NCAA is a very fun game. Dynasty mode, depending on what's driven you crazy in past years, may have you tearing your hair out in large chunks.

This is a game that epitomizes EA's approach to team sports games: a truly excellent design that never really gets polished because the game gets shoved out every year.

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