IGN Review of NCAA Football 07
If there is any sports title primed for the next generation, it's NCAA Football 07. Last year, the franchise surpassed everything we could have hoped for with NCAA 06. The tight gameplay, addictive Race for the Heisman mode and immersive college football atmosphere pushed the franchise so far ahead that it already bordered on next-gen, so much so that NCAA 06 landed the Xbox game of the year award.
We all waited in anticipation. With a more powerful console and plenty of development time, there would be no launch-title excuse this time around. The emails streamed in with one question: Where was EA taking NCAA Football 07 on the 360?
The answer, sadly, is backward. While it's still a good, fun college football experience, there are so many features missing from the 360 version that the game should be packaged on the back of a milk carton. Race for the Heisman. Campus Legend. Defensive hot routes. Spring game. Drills. Create-a-school. Stadium Pulse. ESPN Magazine. Where did all of it go?
On the field, NCAA 07 utilizes a tightened-up version of the Madden 06 game engine with good results. The collision-detection issues have been cleaned up and you'll see some of the finest football animations around, on both sides of the ball. From jarring de-cleaters to one-handed grabs, highlights abound. EA also added in a some college-specific animations, best defined as having the extra "hustle" that NCAA players are known for. My personal favorite is a back, pumping his legs through an arm tackle, fighting for every inch of real estate.
Another bright spot in NCAA 07 is the control layout itself, which mimics the Madden 06 layout and adds a pitch button. Sprinting feels natural on the right trigger, allowing your thumb the freedom to flick that right analog stick for hat-between-the-numbers hits or, on offense, an ankle-breaking SportsCenter highlight. When you go back to the current-gen setup, it feels awkward, especially on the already-awkward Xbox controller with the ill-placed black and white buttons.
The default difficulty, Varsity, is altogether too easy for anyone that's played NCAA Football before, so the jump to All-American or even Heisman will offer a welcome challenge. Money-plays like the power option and deep corner routes are quickly nullified on the higher levels. Still, there are plenty of AI gaffes that will leave you head-scratching. Occasionally linemen will run right by their assignment or running backs will cut the wrong way on an option during a pitch, allowing the ball to fall precariously to the turf. Then again, there are a lot of instances of great computer AI as well, especially in the realm of down-the-field blocking.
Also, the catching game is very intuitive and well-implemented. Gone are the days of letting a CPU-controlled receiver make a catch for fear of messing up the route or dropping a pass. Once the ball is in the air, I love switching to the receiver to go get the ball, especially on deep passes. On defense, too, controlling defensive backs and breaking on the ball for a user-pick feels good, and you'll make a lot more of your own interceptions than in other EA football titles of the past.
The kicking game has been mapped to the right-analog stick, which is so en vogue these days. Similar to the analog swing in Tiger Woods PGA Tour, you'll pull down and push up to kick. Instead of aiming the kick, you'll now pull down to the left and push up to the right, for example, to kick to the right. While not revolutionary in any way, the new system works well and feels intuitive. The only complaint is that the kickers feel like they lack power and you'll frustratingly miss a few 42-yarders short.
The big, back-of-box selling point this year is Momentum. The broadcast team recorded a lot of extra dialog concerning momentum, and a handy meter lets you know exactly where momentum lies, which isn't always apparent on the scoreboard (usually it is). The momentum meter is a bit wonky though. If your opponent scores, the meter fills in his favor. If you answer right back, often times the momentum will remain with your opponent, albeit a bit decreased. At the very least, the pendulum should rest right in the middle or, having scored last, move in my favor.
When the meter is filled, the crowd will get a bit more into the action and the players will act a bit more excited between plays, but it doesn't feel like momentum plays into gameplay. That's probably a good thing, as EA wanted to avoid giving teams attribute boosts so as to avoid a rich-get-richer paradox. If anything, momentum is a nice touch that adds yet even more atmosphere to the game.
Dynasty mode returns from not NCAA 06, but from NCAA 98. Back then, being able to recruit and sign players was pretty deep. Not anymore. The 60-year Dynasty can be broken down as follows: target recruits; customize schedule; play game one, play game two; etc.; sign recruits; consider job openings; move on to next season. You can at least export your draft class to Madden NFL 07.
EA tries to differentiate the 360 game from other offerings with three mini-games. While fun, Bowling, Tug-of-War and Option Dash don't have the lasting-value that a fully-fleshed out Dynasty mode would have had. In bowling, you start from the 10-yardline and get two plays to score -- score in one play and it's a strike. In Tug-of-War, you trade off plays and field position with an opponent. First one to score wins. In my personal favorite, Option Dash, you run college-football's defining play over and over, trying to rack up as many yards in a designated time limit.
If you're logged into Xbox Live, you can take advantage of the ESPN ticker, which displays the latest headlines from your own dynasty and real life. This pales in comparison to the current-gen versions of NCAA 07, which offers the ticker and live ESPN Radio updates, introduced with MVP NCAA Baseball 06. With NBA Live 07 set to offer video highlights, it's a mystery why ESPN Radio didn't make it into this "next-gen" game.
The ticker is about it as far ESPN presence goes. You can save close games as ESPN Classics, but there's no ESPN Magazine or the studio presence we all expected from this deal. There's not even classic teams or a stockpile of ESPN Classic Games to play through, like last year's BCS Championship Game. With Trey Wingo hosting NFL Head Coach, I would have expected some presence from the television side of ESPN, but I guess Corso and Herbstreit will have to do.
In the booth, that duo, along with Brad Nessler, do an admirable job, as always. Corso and Herbstreit bounce off each other as well as any broadcasting combo in the business, and their chemistry shows up here too.
Visually, NCAA 07 is a mixed bag. For every beautiful touch, like the "living stadiums," helmet reflections and dynamic lighting, there is some kind of glaring error to negate it. Weather, like rain and snow, looks atrocious. The rain looks more like two-dimensional static. It doesn't bounce off players or the field -- it's just little white lines tearing through the screen. At the Orange Bowl, there's a hedge of bushes behind one of the end zones, but the rain simply disappears behind it, a stark error that should never have gotten past the testing phase. Snow appears as a dull gray film across the field instead of the fluffy white stuff that builds up over time at the Big House. What's even stranger is that the sidelines are somehow immune to the snow and the grass surrounding the field remains green even during white-out conditions. During overcast games, there will often be no shadows whatsoever on the players, so they look like they're floating their way to the BCS. As time passes and the lights come on, this will change, and things look particularly good in the sunlight.
But gosh, those helmet reflections look good. In between plays, the camera zooms in for a cinema-like effect and you can get a great look at the players, complete with stick-marks emblazoned across their hats. EA put a lot of work into creating about 70 stadiums for the 110-plus teams in the game, and they all look great. Even the fictional stadiums for smaller teams look great. It's a bit of a mystery, though, why ranked teams like Cal and Texas Tech get the fictional stadiums and the Akron Zips made the cut. Each stadium has accurate student sections, visitor sections -- even spots for the bands. Take a minute away from the game to watch the home team fans cheering for their team after a score while visiting fans shake their heads in dismay. We've been pining for decent crowds for a long while now, and EA definitely makes some strides here. Adding some cutscenes of rowdy fans and cheerleaders would have been even better.
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