IGN Review of NCAA Football 08
When the PS3 was released late last year, we were surprised to find that one of the titles that wouldn't be making its way to Sony's system was NCAA Football 08. The game, which burned up PS2s with its deep Campus legend mode, seemed to be perfect for the powerful system, and so PS3 football fans had to look towards the upcoming year to get their first taste of college ball. Well, NCAA Football 08 has finally taken the field for its PS3 debut, and while it's still a solid first step onto this new field, you can't help but wonder if it should've waited until later in the season to become a starter for the system.''''The first and most immediate change that's been made to the gameplay is the scrapping of the momentum system for the new Motivation mechanic. What this does is allows any player to take control of someone on the field, performing individual actions with them like user catches, tackles or picks to boost their motivation levels and get them in the zone. Once that player is in the zone, they have the opportunity to make a big play and further inspire the players around them on the field. It's an intriguing system because it forces you to rely upon your actions to trigger these game changing moments, but it's also extremely underutilized compared to the PS2 and Xbox versions of the game. Whereas a measurable stat boost is distributed to the squads on the field on the older consoles, the PS3 version issues a strange orange circle from your athlete, which is supposed to mark his "sphere of influence" when you make a big play.''''Unfortunately, that generic visual comes across as a rather cheesy and somewhat ineffectual addition to an otherwise impressive field presentation anchored by a ton of improved animations. In last year's game, you couldn't really make cuts, spins or even directional changes without being forced to complete certain animations. For instance, this could sometimes result in accidentally running out of bounds on an out route because your receiver couldn't catch the ball and break up the sideline without their momentum forcing them off the field. In NCAA 08, players are given the ability to interrupt their actions based on what the player wants them to do, which means that you can perform an incredible sideline grab, make a quick juke step to the middle of the field and accelerate from a defender in three smooth moves.''''''''However, just because you can potentially be elusive on the field doesn't mean that you'll be guaranteed success with these new moves. Players will find that there's a new emphasis placed on hits and tackles. NCAA 08 focuses a lot of attention on gang tackles this year, so players will find that a back in the secondary will be hit by two or more players as they gain yardage. The same could be said for the extra weight placed on mid-air collisions, so receivers that go up for a ball may find themselves paying the ultimate price for that reception as they're flipped or spun to the ground from a fierce hit by a defender. Even the hit stick has been redesigned, so larger defenders can truck ball carriers while smaller DBs can take out another player's legs to stop their progress. While you can possibly avoid this by hurdling these low tackles or use the new Lead Blocking controls to take out some of the defenders, you can expect a harder hitting game this year, which you might need to defeat the included trick plays like the Statue of Liberty or the Hook and Lateral.''''The presentation of the game has also been augmented, thanks to the inclusion of The Weather Channel feed fuction, which provides the current weather situations that are occurring at that stadium in real time. That means that if it's raining at The Big House, for example, your rivalry matchup against the Spartans of Michigan State is going to be a wet one. Depending on how you play your game, you may find that your title is worthy of being considered an EA Classic. However, you are also given a chance to create your own highlight reel thanks to the new photo and video highlights feature. As you enter different games and make impressive plays, such as key stops or incredible catches that you take to the house, the game will take snapshots of these plays and allow you to save them on the hard drive so you can relive the glory moments of each game or upload them to EA's servers to share with friends.''''There are some minor downsides that you'll find with these highlight moments, which doesn't break the feature, but shows that it isn't fully used in the best way. First of all, the snapshots that are taken are often from bad angles that cover up all the action, so you'll find a reception blocked from view by a defender or other odd angle. Many of the replays frequently don't focus in perfectly on the on-field action, so you'll be forced to manually adjust and change the angle so you can capture that perfect moment of scoring the crucial touchdown. Finally, the snapshot feature will also add a second or two of transition time during games, which can break the flow of getting back to the huddle and running a play. It's not major, but I don't necessarily need to see every snapshot after every major play - I can wait till the end of the game and cycle through all of that when I'm done.''''All of these saved moments will then be viewable in the new My Shrine feature, which will display these personal bests on the video wall at the top of the included lobby. The large rotunda that comprises your shrine is dressed in the flags of your favorite team's selected conference, with your school's colors taking center stage. Any and all trophies that you happen to win are displayed in cases around the walls, which is a nice visual touch for players to get a sense of just how impressive it is to gain and own one of these hard fought awards.''''When you're ready to move away from the flash of the shrine and into the meat of the game, this year's Dynasty mode will suit you just fine. Much deeper than it's ever been presented in previous years, coaches will be not only be able to manipulate their season schedules and their depth chart, but they'll be able to create a prospective player and redshirt athletes to allow them more time to develop underneath your system. However, one of the largest changes that has been made this year has to be the recruiting mechanic, which you'll use to build up your team for the future. While you'll go about selecting the athletes you need to fill the spots you'll need for the next season, the way that you'll go about contacting your prospective players has radically changed thanks to the new Recruiting Central feature. Players will have the ability to use a new prospect search engine to track down players with a number of parameters, including their 40 times, caliber rating and commitment status.''''Once you've targeted your 35 separate prospects, it's time to contact them via your recruiting board, which gives you an idea of a lot of key factors for your program, such as how interested these athletes happen to be in your school, where you rank, and whether or not they've received offers from other schools. Even those key students that aren't particularly interested in your program can be swayed if you have good phone skills. That's right - as the coach this year, you've got to call up each player and offer scholarships in person, or pitch up to 14 different topics to a player to sway them towards your program. Each topic is rated by its school ranking, as well as how important that factor is to the prospective student. Since you've only got ten hours to make these calls, you have to make your calls count with the students you're trying to sway to your school.''''Depending on where the player is, you can find out where their interests lie, and even hard sell them on a program to get them interested in attending your school or visiting to check the campus out with their parents. You can even promise these kids specific things, such as numbers or playing time to get them to turn their soft commitment to the school to a set in stone agreement to play for your system. However, you'd better be prepared to fulfill these promises, or you'll find your program catching a lot of flack for your lack of honesty. To give you a yardstick on the success or failure of your negotiations, a football icon will show up with varying smiles and frowns, which you can use to gauge the pleasure or anger you're receiving from an athlete.''''While it's much more complex than it was last year, there are still some issues that are featured within the Dynasty mode. Usually, hard selling a player something that they're not particularly interested will annoy them or turn them off to the possibility of that tactic working for them. However, every now and then, you may find that a player that isn't interested in something like academics or campus life at all will receive a hard pitch and they'll be overenthusiastic for that and other uninteresting topics for a while. What's more, players will find that you've only got control over some elements within your dynasty. There's no medical redshirting players in this build, nor can you run players through training drills to specifically control their progress. As a result, you'll simply be given a random amount of statistical improvement across the board, which makes your control over your program seem somewhat restricted.''''NCAA 08 also includes the missing Campus Legend mode from last year, with a primary focus upon taking a created player through their senior year high school football playoffs to the school of their choice. As they play their particular position on the high school fields to lead their team to a state championship, they help define what kind of recruit they'll be and what offers they'll receive. Players can choose to pick a lower rated school and immediately start for the upcoming season, or pick a powerhouse and try to work their way up the depth chart to become a legend on their campus. Part of this won't be solely governed by your play on the field; you'll also need to spend time working on your extracurricular activities to become the big man on campus.''''Even though the chance to relive your personal "Friday Night Lights" scenario is a lot of fun, one of the largest problems that constantly appears to plague the mode is that it's way too easy to become successful. Your high school career is practically set up to showcase your player as a big fish in a small pond, particularly on offense, so if you happen to have any kind of skill with the game, you'll easily be able to earn a four or five star caliber rating. However, even if you're having a hard time, a three caliber rated player can quickly ascend through the depth chart at their school to become a starter. The first quarterback I created needed only three weeks to move up from third string position at a top 10 rated school to owning the position, which he was never ever in danger of losing to incoming freshmen or the other QBs on the team. After I acquired that spot, I didn't even need to attend practice to maintain that spot. How does that work?''''The other thing that was way too easy was the inclusion of stat boosts by performing just about any activity. If you go to practice, you gain temporary stat boosts. Give a friend a lift or attend a pep rally, and you'll get a stat boost. Even if you fulfill some aspect of a school project, you gain a boost to your GPA. Without having to actually work for all of these, it makes gaining actual permanent boosts feel somewhat anti-climactic. What's more, there are some times when you'll technically get a bad result from an activity and it won't have any impact upon your player. For instance, I played a pickup football game and was told that my running back sprained his ankle. However, the next day, he's perfectly fine and running for 120 yards in the next game. I'd love to meet that team trainer
''''While NCAA 08 is somewhat sharper than last year's title, especially thanks to the new animations, there are still some problems that weren't fixed from last year's title. Apart from the camera issues that were mentioned earlier about replays, there are plenty of moments where you'll notice that the clipping through players runs rampant. I'm not just talking about players that wind up running through other people as they try to get into position; sometimes it affects how a game is played. Earlier this week, I was playing a match with Greg, and the tight end caught the ball through his back for a seven yard gain without physically turning around. That was stunning, and definitely different from the ball warping situations that we found, where a player suddenly was drawn faster than they could physically run to a pass to make a reception.''''Other issues that were found within last year's game are slightly better, but not by much. For instance, weather actually looks a bit better than it did last year, which is probably due to the association with The Weather Channel, although it still appears to be situated solely over the football field instead of the entire stadium. As the camera moves, you'll notice that the weather effects seem to be rather isolated with rainfall and snow. On the other hand, heavy snow will literally obscure the sidelines and yard markers, making it extremely hard to play in college games that resemble the Ice Bowl. The only downside is that your movement on these affected fields won't move snow or other environmental effects. Your players will also seem unaffected by the elements, and I can't actually recall seeing rain bead off a helmet or soak a jersey.''''Now, while the PS3 version includes the same Sixaxis controls that were found in the launch version of last year's Madden for the PS3, the largest technical flaw that crops up has to be the fact that the game doesn't run at 60 frames a second. For one thing, once you've gotten used to playing any game at 60 (including Madden on the PS3, which ran at a faster frame rate), going back to 30 feels like you're moving through molasses. For a sport where making split second moves is important, this halving of the speed really throttles down your plays, forcing you to sometimes over-anticipate passes or defensive jumps. It's really disappointing that the game was shipped this way; if anything, it would've been much better had the game been shipped a month or two later once the game could actually be optimized at 60 fps. Even worse, the PS3 version is locked at 720p as its maximum output, which isn't anywhere near as good as the 360's 1080i and 1080p settings. You'll notice the difference on everything from character models to shrine textures, and it doesn't look nearly as sharp as it should.''''The online play is still solid, although it's still disappointing that there are still no online season options included for players to join and play. You're still relegated to ranked or unranked matches, but that's pretty much all that you have outside of the lobby system. The ESPN license, which was weakly used in last year's game, is still pretty light. While a mock ESPN.com feature is used for dynasty mode news, and there is the ESPN On Demand and ESPN Radio updates that joins the ticker, there's still very little content that gets provided to the game. I've seen some of the same news updates and video clips on the game menu for almost a week, which has even avoided many of the important stories that have happened in the sporting world. The entire ESPN thing really needs to be improved functionality wise or eliminated.
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