Coming off two very weak efforts EA Sports needed to reestablish the NCAA Football franchise as something other than an also-ran to Madden. What used to be an innovative series has been anything but in recent years – and when trying for new features they’ve failed miserably with the implementation and their assessment of what consumers truly desired out of the product.
While NCAA Football 14 doesn’t break any new ground actual effort is immediately recognized in areas that have desperately needed it. The challenge from the CPU – which can now execute all manner of plays – along with the physics engine and incredibly responsive player control makes the game fun again.
Debuting in NCAA this year is the “Infinity” engine physics that were first found in Madden NFL 13. The physics have been refined limiting the number of goofy looking pileups and players tripping over one another. There is still some of that but they’re more easily overlooked. The benefit to gameplay though far outweighs those occasional oddities. Each play feels much more dynamic and the outcomes appear far more realistic.
The CPU AI is one of the biggest advancements made with NCAA Football 14. The CPU runs a wide variety of plays well – ones that it had always failed at in the past – and operates more true to the styles of each individual school. I’ve been absolutely gashed on the ground by an up-tempo pro style running team and had trouble stopping a team that primarily ran the triple option. The CPU QB just makes much better decisions. Users are also able to utilize a number of plays that had never worked in the past and that really opens things up to more creativity and variety.
Blocking improvements drive the success seen in the running game. Though there are instances where a blocker will break off prematurely to go after someone on the next level those haven’t been too frequent. Whether at the line of scrimmage or downfield the blockers can be trusted much more. That, along with the exceptional player control, makes running the ball immensely enjoyable. Controlling the ball-carrier with the left stick is really all one needs to cut or make guys miss – but the right stick also offers up a number of combo moves.
A few other gameplay related notes: running the read-option is an absolute blast, there has been encouraging push by defensive tackles to create interior pressure, the presence of an actual pocket for the QB is great to see, and the new Coordinator camera angle is a nice option to have – I just can’t commit to it since it isn’t in Madden. My main takeaway gameplay wise is that I’m able to play the game the way I have always wanted to, go heavy in the run game and utilize movement in the passing game, and the competent CPU presents a unique challenge in every game.
While gameplay has seen dramatic advancement one area that notably lags behind is the presentation and atmosphere. This has been a weakness of the series that has yet to near an acceptable level. Commentary is more stale than ever, post-play scenes are better but still don’t completely mesh with the idea of TV presentation, and the atmosphere just doesn’t live up to what is expected from game day. It doesn’t even come across as well as it can on TV let alone for those who experience it in person.
As far as Dynasty mode goes I’m not deep enough in to analyze the effects of the changes but so far like the simplified process in recruiting. Getting rid of what some will still feel was depth – truly it was artificial depth that made things tedious and few fully understood – was a good move. The skill trees for coaches is intriguing (tying in goals and point accumulation) as are the scouting effects and planning of campus visits while custom playbooks being brought in was a crucial move. The in-game Dynasty related presentation such as the new halftime show to go with the studio updates and bottom line ticker all add to the feel that the games are important and part of a bigger world.
The streamlined menu navigation and quicker loading times may be overlooked by some but it is a vast improvement over what has been arguably the most sluggish sports game this generation in those areas. No longer am I dreading firing up the game and moving through the menus.
Another valuable addition worth mentioning is the Nike Skills Trainer. EA has managed to create a tutorial that not only teaches well but is challenging to complete and has some rewards at the end in the form of Ultimate Team cards. I managed to get a feel for things like the Triple and Shovel Options that I never bothered to try and figure out in the past and now may choose to integrate in my gameplans and custom playbook.
Authenticity remains a problem with NCAA Football 14. It’s astonishing how many uniforms are missing and stadium renovations not reflected. The new Husky Stadium isn’t even in the game which makes playing as Washington far less appealing for me. I’ve actually hunted for different teams to use solely because of that and it’s a bummer. For the most part only fans of the teams are likely to notice such specific omissions but there are a hell of a lot of fans of teams who are missing something. These are not things that sprung up as last second surprises but rather have been ignored, dismissed, or overlooked. EA will have difficulty hooking consumers for the long term when they fail to pay the proper attention to the specifics of each program.
Some issues spotted in early play include safeties stopping their drop back and coming forward when they shouldn’t – allowing for deep routes to be wide open. This seems to occur primarily when multiple receivers are going deep (hail mary and four verticals as examples). There are some reports of turnovers in the end zone resulting in a touchdown or ball placement on the wrong 20. The CPU almost never (I’ve yet to see it happen with 40+ games started) chooses to receive when they win the coin toss. Also somehow it’s 2013 and there still are no surprise onside kicks despite that being a legitimate strategy coaches have at their disposal and attempt from time to time.
Despite the deficiencies the bottom line is that the fun factor is back with NCAA Football 14 thanks to the gameplay enhancements and changes in Dynasty. Two troubled iterations are now in the rear view mirror and this one has at least stepped back into adequate territory and may resonate far better than that with many. Look for the full Hits and Misses review late this week or early next after additional time is spent Dynasty, online play, and the new Ultimate Team mode.