NCAA Football 14
College football season is right around the corner. Crazed fans will soon be tailgating at their favorite stadiums and gathering at their usual spots to watch their beloved schools battle it out on the gridiron. It’s a beautiful time of year. And when the actual football season is right around the corner, it can only mean that the virtual college football season is here right now. NCAA Football 14 is here, and it’s time to see what’s new, what’s great, and how excited you should be about picking it up. The great news is that while some of the issues that have garnered complaints in the past are still here, this is a great package of college football that is worth every fan’s time.
This is an interesting time in any year-after-year series, as this iteration is set to be the last one on the current generation of consoles. Come this time next year, everyone will be picking up the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game. I had one prevailing thought that kept coming to mind as I played this game. That thought is that, to no fault of EA Sports, it seems that the football video game has gone pretty much as far as it’s going to go on the PS3 or Xbox 360. It’s just reality at this point. The graphics really can’t get any better, and any super-creative gameplay elements or changes would be better used as an introduction to the next generation.
The biggest addition this year that EA has been touting is the brand new physics engine that debuted in Madden 14. Movement is designed to be more natural, contact more realistic, and animations more fluid. All in all, there is a noticeable difference, but it’s not earth shattering. The biggest change it brings is how you feel when you’re controlling the ball carrier. Cutting, bumping, getting tackled, and absorbing contact from defenders all feel much more realistic. If you see an opening, you’re able to hit the gap in a very satisfying way. In addition, the game will reward you for utilizing your personnel in the best way possible, and punish you for misusing them. For example, if you’re handing off to a small, quick tailback, you’re not going to get very far trying to truck and stiff-arm linebackers. But get to the outside or through the hole and master the juke moves, and you’ll be cutting your way up the field in no time at all. Besides the improved engine, gameplay remains largely the same, with small changes such as a new energy meter under the controlled player that shows stamina level and “turbo” potential.
Honestly, much of this game remains largely unchanged, in terms of what you are able to do. Game modes are virtually identical, and feature sets are as well. Dynasty mode has seen the most work of all. You’ll have the option to take over a program as a head coach, offensive coordinator, or defensive coordinator, and you’re able to call plays based on your role. It easily holds its place as the deepest, and most time-intensive and rewarding game mode.
Recruiting high school players in Dynasty mode has seen a big improvement. Instead of a time allotment for making phone calls, visits, and scouting trips, you now are awarded a set amount of points that you can dish out to your list of recruits. It sounds like it’s been overly simplified, but the most important addition is that each coach now has an experience level that affects different perks you can apply to certain recruits. You’ll earn “points” by achieving various goals throughout the year, such as scoring touchdowns, and you can spend those points on ranking up your coaches to attract better recruits in different ways. In this reviewer’s opinion, this new system simplifies the process and makes it much less of a chore, while also making it more interesting and entertaining. It’s easily the best “non-gameplay” change in NCAA 14.
Team Builder mode is back, and while it’s largely unchanged, it continues to be very, very cool. Through EA’s custom website, which ties into the game online, you can create your own program, including colors, stadium, uniforms, players, etc. You can then import your team into the game and use your school in Dynasty mode. It’s an awesome way to make the game more personal, and there’s a ton of fun to be had by personalizing the experience. Plus, the ability to create content on your computer eliminates the tedious process of controller-creation. Along with Team Builder, Ultimate Team mode has also been ported into NCAA 14, and it’s very similar to what fans have come to love in the FIFA series. By collecting packs of playing cards, you’re able to add new players, skills, and other assets to your team to improve. Along the way, you can compete online against other players’ teams. Although it’s not a new game mode, it is new to this series, and thus it’s a welcome addition.
The presentation in NCAA 14 is as strong as ever, and even improves in subtle ways. New cut scenes make games feel more like TV broadcasts, and ESPN integration adds to this. Score updates, in-game highlights from other games, and other notifications accentuate the feeling of college football. You’ll see coaches walking the sidelines barking orders, players will show emotion, and more. Visually, this year’s iteration looks virtually identical to last year’s. While animations and movement have improved, the modeling, environments and players could be easily confused with those of NCAA 13. The commentary from the booth is the one area that is somewhat disappointing. Comments are generic and repetitive, and sometimes even out of place. Here’s hoping that the next generation of consoles can bring with it commentary in sports games that is fresh and dynamic.
NCAA Football 14 offers a worthy culmination of this generation of football games. It won’t blow anyone out of the water, but again, we really have come to a point where only so much is going to happen this generation. There is enough additional content here to warrant a purchase, and the improved physics engine does add noticeably to the realism of the gameplay. Dynasty mode is as deep and enjoyable as ever. By not taking any big risks, EA will be free to get creative with Madden and NCAA games on the Xbox One and PS4 (and Wii U???). I, for one, can’t wait to see what EA Sports will have for us when it’s next-gen football time in 2014.
Reviewed By: Dan Nielson
Publisher: Electronic Arts
This review is based on a retail copy of NCAA Football 14 for the PlayStation 3 provided by Electronic Arts.