IGN Review of NCAA Football 07
[Editor's Note: The build that IGN initially received for the review of NCAA Football 07 for the PSP did not feature the "running game glitch" currently included in the retail disc. As an IGN policy, all games labeled "review" by the publisher are treated and understood to be the final build of the game. However, having played the retail version of NCAA Football 07 since our article was posted on July 17, we have discovered that the consumer UMD is different from the build we were given. As a result, we have re-evaluated the game and adjusted our text and review score to accurately reflect the quality of the final retail version.]
One play. Sometimes, that's really all it takes in college football to blow a game wide open or turn around a seemingly certain loss. You never know when that game changing moment might come, but you can definitely feel its impact on the field and the stadium when it happens. That emotional pendulum might seem to be one of the intangible characteristics of the sport, but EA Sports has managed to capture the up and down, hang on the edge of your seat for every play feeling in this year's version of NCAA Football 07. However, a significant glitch practically eliminates the ground game, turning this year's game on the PSP into a passing-centric title.
Hitting the Field
There are a number of offensive, defensive and special teams changes to the gameplay, which makes the game feel and play different than ever before. While there appears to be much more of a focus this year on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive, the adjustments really makes the game feel more dynamic. In previous versions of NCAA Football, you had a stock set of plays that just about everyone else had, which didn't really differentiate your school from another one. Sure, there were Ace and I formations as well as dropping back into the Shotgun, but unless you were going to dedicate the time to editing your favorite team's playbook to exactly what you wanted, you were dipping into the same pool of plays as everyone else. You no longer have to worry about that in NCAA Football 07. This year, each team has its own unique playbook with team specific calls on both sides of the ball, and since they're thirty percent larger this year, you'll most likely find some play that you've never seen before.
On offense, thanks to the increased focus on players pulling off their assignments, developing running plays, such as the option, is much more advantageous than ever before. Not only will your lead blockers jam defenders on the line, but they'll actually provide additional protection down the field. This gives your quarterback much more time to set up the play and decide if he'll pitch the ball or hold onto it. Players can also decide specific line shifts and or slide protection to help prevent blitzing linebackers or safeties. What's more, as your backs or receivers make plays down the field, you no longer need to worry about pounding a button to hurdle downed defenders, as players will instinctively leap anyone that falls in front of them.
Quarterbacks no longer need to worry about pulling down passing windows if they need to avoid incoming defenders. The sprint button is now dedicated to the R button for all controlled players, so you can always run away from trouble if you notice it coming your way. Your quarterback also has the same juke moves as his backs and receivers, so you should be able to escape from just about any situation and have the opportunity to make a play. While the added mobility is extremely nice if your pockets keep collapsing before you can do anything, the option to continually sprint can give your quarterbacks Vick-like evasion and playmaking skill.
While the PSP doesn't have a secondary analog stick, the game virtually emulates the control scheme of a second analog stick with the L button, which is designated as a modifier button. By pulling the L button, the four face buttons take on the role of the four cardinal directions of the "right analog stick" so that you can perform jukes, stutter steps or charges through opponents. However, the control scheme is set up so that you're not forced to use it either, instead giving you the standard stiff arms, spins and dives on the face buttons if you so choose. This way you can decide whether or not you're going to use the advanced or easy controls on each play, which gives you much more control over your play.
Special teams now has a new kicking meter, which ties accuracy and power directly to the movement of the analog nub. Pull it back and you build up power; push it left or right and you'll slice it in that direction. But this redesign also features into the new focus on trick plays this year. Apart from reverses, double options and direct snaps to halfbacks, you can also pull off puntrooskies and tight fake option passes to keep the defense on their toes. Unlike past years where it was pretty apparent that you were trying to pull a fast one, your players will actually sell the fake better this time around, giving you more time to let a play develop. It's truly satisfying to watch the entire defense bite on a fake handoff only to toss a quick strike into the flat and watch your receiver take off. Similarly, you can hot route receivers without changing their formations, further throwing the defense into disarray.
Fortunately, the defense doesn't have to face these insurmountable odds without their own tweaks. Now, the defense can call defensive coverage audibles to try to protect against pass or run plays. You also have the option to jump the snap. Instead of trying to simply sprint across the line, you can take a defensive player and try to time your blitz into the backfield. If you time it just right, you'll knock over the lineman or the blocker and have enough momentum to break up a play. If you're too early, you might be drawn offsides; too late and you may find yourself on your backside.
With all of these positive tweaks aside, it's that much more dismaying to discover that the running game this year is completely broken. For some reason during a running play, the game will inaccurately spot the ball at the point of initial contact rather than the actual yardage gained, where a player's knee goes down, or where your momentum stops. This can result in random subtractions of yardage. For example, running the ball for an eight yard gain might only be registered as a two yard gain if you were touched shortly after you passed the line of scrimmage. This flaw renders the ground game practically useless, which isn't particularly accurate to the sport, nor is it fair to those schools that rely upon the ground game.
Turning the Tide
Depending on how well you play during a game, you'll notice a meter slowly increase after big plays. Stop the offense on 3rd and short, bust a run for thirty yards, or run back a punt for a touchdown and you'll quickly get a sense of how much the momentum in the game changes. For the most part, this shift will go back and forth during evenly matched contests, although there is always the possibility that one game changing play will swing the balance in favor of one team or another. As the momentum meter fills up, you'll start to notice some of your players pulling off even more spectacular plays, such as one handed catches, big hits on defense, and fighting for extra yardage to the point where their stats are boosted.
While these momentum bars can be overturned with one play (and in fact are even cut in half when the teams go into the locker room at halftime), the one pitfall with the system is that it can unfairly unbalance the game towards one particular team, leading to unintentional blowouts. For example, running backs will easily mow down defenders and wide receivers will have incredible hands that catch anything thrown near them, no matter how sloppy the spiral might be. While it would only take one play to turn the tide of this system around, you sometimes never have that chance because the boost is so extremely high.
Unlike the console versions, the PSP version of NCAA Football 07 doesn't feature a Campus Legend mode to take a created player into their school's Hall of Fame. Hopefully we'll see something like that included next year, or perhaps a tie in to the PS2 version to take a dynasty on the go. Instead, the PSP version pulls many of the other modes from the console version to focus upon. There is a Mascot game that lets the oversized representatives of each school fight it out on a football field. Similarly, the Rivalry mode that lets players fight it out for a trophy that's meaningful to those two schools is included, as is a Play Now feature and a ten year Dynasty mode, which is as fully featured as the mode found in the console game. There also happens to be seven exclusive ESPN highlights videos that you can unlock whenever you achieve certain tasks during a game, such as blocking a kick or jumping the snap. These videos allow you to see archived footage of players doing the same action in a game, demonstrating how massive a momentum changing moment that was on the field.
Players of last year's Madden game might be concerned about the load times for NCAA Football 07, but fortunately, that's one of the first things that was addressed in this title. Most game titles take about 10-20 seconds to load at the most, which is much improved upon the grinding disc from last year. Nor will you find a continual load in-between each menu screen, making a return to gameplay much faster during a match.
Veterans of previous NCAA games will notice the ESPN integration within the game. ESPN: The Magazine provides the updated stats and tracked info during a season of play for coaches and players alike. You also get ESPN Instant Classics, which will evaluate the play of your games and, depending on how dramatic and incredible the game way, assign it a greatness score. Next, you can also get an updated sports ticker with sports scores displayed at the bottom of your screen, as well as ESPN Radio updates every twenty minutes once you connect online.
Graphics and Gameplay
The recent NCAA titles have really looked exceptional, and NCAA Football 07 is no different. Along with helmet sheen and snow and a few new additional player faces to differentiate the character models on the field, there are some new animations to make the game seem more realistic. For some reason though, you may notice that some of these players fall down like bowling pins, even if the particular impact to that character model should cause a different drop to the ground.
One of the more immediately striking features comes with the new cinematic camera angles during kickoffs and punt block attempts. Designed to give you a feeling of actively playing a cinematic, the camera sweeps in low and follows the in-game action, making you feel as though you're actually running on the field as well. The same can be said about the momentum moments, which tightly zoom in on the play before sweeping out to a normal view.
You can run into a slight pitfall with these moments, because if you wind up getting a momentum moment as you score a touchdown, the transition between that camera angle to the celebratory animation will go so long that you'll usually get flagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It sucks when you're not taunting, but the game decides that you are anyway because of its own play mechanic. You'll also notice that the camera can sometimes get lost on some of these momentum moments, selecting the wrong player on the field to focus on. For instance, it doesn't make any sense to highlight a linebacker leaping for the ball when the play isn't anywhere near him. Similarly, the included feature of coach challenges don't necessarily work as well as you'd hope they would in the game. While it's nice to have the option to challenge a referee's call, there are some plays, such as passes declared receptions even though the receiver is blatantly out of bounds, that the game will let stand. This will simply infuriate players, and practically relegates the challenge to a gimmick that you can toss a quarter over instead of accurately getting fair reviews.
There's also a funky glitch within the Home Field advantage that pops up. By pressing on the select button a few times, you can build and sustain the crowd noise from one play to the next without any problems, regardless of how your team is doing on the field. Not only do you not have to worry about constantly hitting this button, the effective disruption will always give the home team a stronger advantage. This makes it almost impossible to shut the crowd up if you happen to be on the visiting side and you're playing a game against another player who chooses to pump his stadium up all the time.
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