Everyone loves college football. Well, any red-blooded American, anyway. And everyone has their schools with which they align themselves while knowing that this year, of all years, is their year. This off-season has been one of the most active in history, with several major universities announcing conference changes (Nebraska, Utah, and rising power Boise State). Coaching changes have also caused a lot of buzz, as have the always-increasing charges of tampering and under-the-table money. All of this aside, it’s safe to say that folks all over the country are geared up for the start of another season. NCAA Football from EA Sports has set out to replicate this experience year after year, and 2011 is no different. EA has added some fantastic gameplay elements and features this year, and while there seem to be some missed opportunities, NCAA Football 11 is the best college pigskin game of the last few years.
The heart of the franchise has always been the dynasty mode, and this year’s title is no exception. It is still addicting, deep, and rewarding. Recruiting has been made more accessible while also adding layers of depth for the more hardcore. You have the ability to phone a high school player and choose exactly what you want to talk about. You will not only have the ability to tell them why they should come to your school, but also why they shouldn’t go to your rival’s school. This adds an entirely new layer of fun and strategy to recruiting. Back in similar formats are the ESPN News sections of Dynasty, providing weekly headlines, Heisman race updates, and so on.
One brand new addition this year is the ability to head online and tell everyone else about your huge win, and how good your team is. With Dynasty Wire and Story Builder together, players now have the ability to create custom game stories by using writing, photos, and even video highlights in the form of a game story. You can then post your story to Facebook, Youtube, and more. Initially, it was not a super-smooth process for us, but it did work, and as fans get used to it, this could be a tremendous way to connect players’ virtual games to their friends’.
If you’re not happy with your own Dynasty, you can always head online to mix and mingle with others. There is great integration with EA’s website, which allows you to view recaps, standings, highlights, and schedules without ever logging into the game itself. Battling for recruits with real people certainly adds a layer of fun to the experience.
The other biggest mode here is the Road to Glory mode, which in my opinion is a missed opportunity for growth. It is largely untouched from last year, and it sure would have been nice to see some innovation in this career-style journey. One example of this is the fact that all of the cut-scene movies with Erin Andrews are exactly the same videos as last year. They couldn’t get Erin to shoot a few new spots, maybe in a different outfit?
One area in which EA has improved this year is the online play. In my tests, I experience almost no lag, and not one disconnection. This is definitely an improvement from last year, when lag was almost too much trouble to deal with at time. Gameplay is smooth, and competing over the air against another real person who is also punching the couch in frustration is a great time for all.
In terms of control, the biggest difference this year is the ability to use the right stick for all of your running moves, instead of face buttons. This does end up providing quicker, more responsive movements from your runners, and allows you to evade more tacklers. This addition also ends up being my biggest complaint about the game, which is that the offense seems to have a distinct advantage. Several times during each game, I feel as though I’ve made a successful attempt at a tackle, only to see my defender make an inexplicably misdirected dive or curious cut backwards. In short, the offensive moves are more effective than the defensive moves, and it feels weighted to the former’s advantage. This is a small gripe, however, and after all—who doesn’t like points?
The presentation of this year’s game is very solid, and done in full connection with ESPN, as has become the norm. Returning are all of the standard features, such as the bottom ticker, which lets you know current scores, news, and headlines from the real world. ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and Brad Nessler are back in the commentary booth, and do a surprisingly good job of following the action and keeping things fresh. And of course, there’s Erin Andrews on the sidelines. Team huddles in the tunnel, stadiums, mascots, and cheerleaders all look terrific. The game is a joy to watch in motion. The interfaces are easy to use and simple, and you’ll actually enjoy navigating your way around the menus.
Even with some missed opportunities for growth, particularly in the Road to Glory mode, NCAA Football 11 is still easy to recommend to college football fans, and sports fans in general. Sure, this may have something to do with the fact that there is no competition, but at least EA isn’t resting on its laurels. The gameplay improvements are substantial, and the online elements in gameplay and Dynasty mode make this game a winner.