NCAA Football 14: Hits and Misses

by
Posted July 18th, 2013 at 10:00 am

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In recent years the NCAA Football series has lacked ambition, innovation, and even proper execution of features. With NCAA Football 14 however those concerns have been largely washed away and the result is a fun football video game that isn’t necessarily a great college football video game. Continue on for an assessment of where NCAA 14 has succeeded and where it falls short in this Hits and Misses review. 

HITS

Gameplay Improvements
Fun factor is often overlooked, and difficult to quantify, but there is little doubt that NCAA 14 offers more of it than recent iterations largely due to the work done on gameplay. The “Infinity” engine physics provide a huge upgrade not just in how the game looks but how it plays. Exceptional player control, significant blocking improvements, and more moves at the disposal for ball carriers make the run game far more enjoyable and effective. Option plays – which can be run now by both the CPU and users without failing miserably – are especially satisfying.

The CPU AI provides a much more realistic challenge. Every play can be utilized with the CPU QB much smarter about where to go with the ball and runners who have vision. When playing defense the weaknesses of the CPU’s offensive AI have always been present making things predictable and boring but that is no longer the case. The only problems seen have been with the CPU’s late game clock management and decision making which has been questionable at times. The various offensive styles all have the potential to gash defenses. Ratings really play more of a role in NCAA 14 than ever before. Highly rated defenses will be able to stop the attacks with which they are best equipped to do so but those comprised of poorly rated defensive players will constantly struggle.

Other valuable additions are the ability to set multiple difficulty settings to better create a challenge that suits each individual and new camera angles including the highly regarded Coordinator view.

Dynasty Mode
While it took a step in the right direction this year not all the ills were solved for Dynasty mode. The move to a more streamlined, and understandable, recruiting process is welcome but lacks some personal touch outside of campus visits. Even still recruiting can feel overwhelming at times and many will not immediately identify the best strategies or fully understand what they should be trying to do. Still this setup is preferable compared to the far more tedious system previously in place. There is also now the option for a Season mode which drops everything but the games.

The new skill trees for coaches and coordinators make for an especially intriguing addition but its full impact still can’t be completely analyzed. Having a way to personalize a coach’s traits though was a smart idea that adds more strategy into the mode outside of just the recruitment process.

Online Dynasty remains by far the best league-like experience in all of sports gaming and the online performance this year for any head-to-head games has been mostly smooth, responsive, and reliable. The main presentation addition for Dynasty is a Halftime show that is impressive (at least the first few times listening to it) but may not hold much lasting value. The intro videos are somewhat bizarre as they feature highlights of the two teams playing before they’ve even taken the field. Neutral site games are a long overdue addition.

Ultimate Team
While bringing in Ultimate Team for NCAA, featuring professional players from their collegiate days, didn’t seem like a great fit it has turned out to arguably be more intriguing conceptually than the professional versions of Ultimate Team. There may be more appeal in it for the casual college football fans than those which are hardcore supporters of a particular school.

Being able to revisit the early days of a current NFL player or legend’s career – and having different versions of players based on their performance level each year they competed – has made putting a team together more interesting than just attempting to secure the well-known names from professional leagues. There is a lot of variety there and it presents an opportunity to learn things about players that may not have been known otherwise. In particular how good they were at that time compared to now and framing their entire career arc or finding players that are now unrecognized but shined in college. The solo challenges against the CPU also have great potential as they can feature some all-time great teams.

The mode is far from perfect though. The interface often requires entering and exiting multiple areas just to complete a single task. There is no way to assess an online opponent’s team making for an experience that leaves the user feeling unprepared and unable to best form a gameplan. Most of the presentation elements are stripped out and online games are only three minute quarters (which feels like enough game to determine a winner but only because most scoring drives don’t use much clock due to the number of big plays). There is no trade block, no way to play friends online, and while some player likenesses look great many are hampered by being stuck with generic faces.

Nike Skills Trainer
Rare would be the occasion where a tutorial is worth singling out but the Skill Trainer introduced this year gets that achievement. Tutorials are often too simple and pointless for veterans to care about or too boring and isolated for rookies to want to learn from. The Skills Trainer solved those issues by implementing aspects of the game that many – even those who get the game every year – could use practice and further understanding of while making it a challenge that had rewards at the end.

Running the triple option, executing a wide array of audibles and hot routes, and the other skills involved not only had instruction that could be easily understood and allowed for the user to demonstrate the skills in a full 11-on-11 environment but did so in a way that new abilities would undoubtedly be learned from them that would translate to the actual games. Ultimate Team cards for getting “gold” on each drill made it worth putting the time into so the skill would become more than just something tried in the tutorial but become an ability to utilize later. The only frustration came with going for the “gold” but missing out because of things outside of the user’s control.

With accessibility such a concern for sports gaming the Skills Trainer showed the right way to not only ease in new gamers but enhance abilities of those already comfortable with the series.

Loading Times 
Throughout this generation the NCAA Football series has been plagued by slow loading times and sluggish menu navigation and responsiveness. Those things have finally been addressed with NCAA 14 to where there is no longer such aggravation being met every time the game is started up and played. The initial boot to main menu is much faster while the menus are laid out better, movement through them is crisp, and button recognition has become immediate. A major gripe with the series being eliminated – though it certainly should have been dealt with earlier – should be acknowledged as it will be appreciated by everyone who plays it.

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MISSES

Authenticity
With so many programs to replicate there has to be some understanding that not everything will be perfect. NCAA 14 however missed on an astonishing number of things that are just inexcusable to fans of the schools affected or those who are passionate about college football.

There are many missing uniforms, a lot of stadiums that did not get their renovations (even the new Husky Stadium is absent), and equipment that won’t be found in the game. The only penalty that seems to be called is “Clipping”, the score bug shows 0:00 on the clock during overtime when it should just show OT, there is a “Tale of the Tape” graphic that shows team ratings, the CPU always kicks when they win the coin toss, and there are no surprise onside kicks. General stadium atmosphere and emotion from the crowd and players is better but still doesn’t come close to matching the experience of game day in person or even on national television.

Presentation
With the exception of commentary NCAA 14 made some strides in presentation this year but still falls far short of what should now be reasonably expected out of a licensed sports game. Commentary is the most obvious area of weakness as it has gone mostly unchanged for several years and desperately needs to be reworked or rebooted for next-gen. NCAA also lost the sideline reporter this year and didn’t bother to replace the position.

In-game presentation offers up some new graphics, post-play scenes have more emotion and relevance, and the intro videos while doing their job to hype the upcoming affair make little sense as they feature “highlights” of the two teams playing as though the game has already been completed. Things still don’t mesh as far as TV presentation with replays coming from camera perspectives that don’t exist in real life and cutaways to graphics taking place immediately after scoring TDs. Exciting moments – even including games that are determined on the final play – are not met with the proper respect from the commentary to the post-play or post-game scenes. Replays that are supposed to be saved of every play are often not – probably less than 25% are saved – meaning the user is forced to stop the flow of the game if they wish to save a highlight or screenshot.

Road to Glory/Hesisman Challenge
Career modes have become crucial to sports games in recent years but EA left Road to Glory and the related Heisman Challenge virtually untouched this year. The only notable changes come with the ability to change quarter length and camera angles. Of course the gameplay improvements factor in to the enjoyment level for the mode as well. Still there is no compelling hook to returning for more RTG for those who played it in recent years, it continues to heavily favor a handful of positions, and the mode lacks the off-the-field elements that have drawn so many to enjoy career modes in other games. The Heisman Challenge returned the same 15 former winners from NCAA 13.

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NCAA Football 14 represented a critical release for the series as it followed two largely disappointing iterations, introduced a desperately needed digital revenue-generating mode, and faced great uncertainty relating to its future due to the player likeness lawsuit. Though it certainly has its share of deficiencies and didn’t attempt to innovate NCAA 14 is a bounce-back effort from EA Sports. The gameplay improvements have delivered increased fun factor, Dynasty mode remains a rich experience, and Ultimate Team will find its audience.

  • Sean Anderson

    Pretty spot on review, Pasta. I thought presentation was better represented, but overall the game feels emotionless to me. True, they have added some cut scenes after a big play or a nice defensive stop, but I still feel disconnected with the NCAA brand. Gameplay wise, much improved, IMO, which is a huge plus. My favorite addition is probably the Nike Skills Trainer. I find it a good way to learn and get familiar with the game. Overall, this game just serves as an appetizer to big brother, Madden for me.

    • mikemck09

      Pretty expensive appetizer, dude! lo

  • agent916

    Pasta,

    Do you ever offer any articles on slider sets? Just curious. NCAA 14 seems to be a difficult game for hardcore players to find a challenging set while remaining realistic in terms of gameplay.

  • Yerger

    The cornerback play online makes games unbearable.

  • http://www.youtube.com/bobtrain Bobtrain

    Solid points. I’m a big RTG guy and find it disturbing how little attention these career modes get from EA in general compared to other sports games like NBA 2k and MLB The Show. There just isn’t any depth. I feel like little is added that really makes the mode feel different from years past.

    NCAA 07 had a dorm room where you had to manage going to class vs. practice. While that got old, the idea was good and they give up on ideas far too quick. It seems to be a repeating problem for EA – Introduce a new feature and dump it the next, then fans get upset so they reintroduce with no real progress. I feel the entire current gen has been about slow improvements to gameplay with little in actual features being added. I hope next gen offers a chance to hit that reset button.

  • Smh

    Gameplay is better in certain aspects but still bad in a lot of other places too. I still watch linemen run right past the first option to block even when that tackler brushes on them and causes them to do an avoidance animation they still don’t touch them..

    Pass trajectory towards the sidelines sucks.. Hitting the streak in cover 2 used to be money, now passes can’t be positioned to the sideline and you either get picked or tackled immediately.

    The shoelace tackles suck too.. I can see getting tackled that way maybe 1/4 of the time but the other 3/4 should be a stumble not a tackle.. A lot of my big plays are killed because my RB can’t outrun a diving linebacker in the flat, angle and all.

    I still drop like 6 interceptions a game.. Like really easy interceptions..

    Horrible control of the wide receivers kills my love for the deep ball because if my QB is off on his pass then I pretty much have to accept its picked. I should be able to slow down and make a play on the ball or at least jump and disrupt the ball from being picked without zig zagging across the area..

    Last thing that sucks.. Option plays they go after my RB all the time and my QB ends up getting the majority of option reads.. Other than those things and the same tackle animations and commentary since 2007.. Not bad lol

    • Nick

      Smh, I couldn’t agree more. The lineman avoiding their block so they can run up the field is the bane of my existence, it has driven me nuts for years and still hasn’t been fixed. The large number of dropped INT’s, both for and against me, is still in place as well. The shoestring tackle is a new one this year, and fairly annoying.

      The biggest new problem though is when Infinity Engine 2 doesn’t work. To often it makes the ball carrier way overpowered, knocking bigger defenders flat on their back, or even worse, the defender continues the running animation while magically sliding backwards.

  • mikemck09

    Jeez, what is it with the penalties… I don’t get how a franchise can go without a correctly implemented penalty system for going on 3+ years now. Do they not play multiple games and think its not normal to only see the same “3” flags being thrown each game!? Penalties are big for me, especially in a sports game… The CPU always Kicking just seems like a hitch in the system, that can be patched. I don’t know if I’m going to dive into it this year. As always though bro, good coverage on the latest news… Cheers

  • Keith.

    Pretty fair summary, Pasta. I’d have included the lack of in-game saves and a broadcast camera and terrible ball physics among my misses, but you covered a good bit. One week after release, the bugs thread at OS is already up to 41 pages so I guess you can’t mention everything.

    I do still see a LOT of people complaining about the game freezing. Unless reviews start to mention that problem (which seems to be unique to EA games), it’s never going to go away.

    • rinodino

      LMAO, I know right? It amazes me that the NCAA Football game has so many freezes in it, for the last THREE YEARS!!!! and they get a pass on this.

      • Keith.

        I’m still convinced that Madden 12 did in my original PS3. Never had any problems with ANY game freezing before, bought Madden (used) that year, and before long my system was dead. How and why they’ve gotten a free pass on the user reported freezes with NCAA, TW and Madden is beyond me.

        • tony

          The freezing thing is with older consoles. when madden 11 froze every single time i played it wasn’t fized until i got a new 360, the old one died like a week later.
          Also the ps3 is sposed to last 10 years but they last a little under 5, which has been the shelf life of every console i can remember. no one seems to call sony on it

  • korsh

    Good review. Problems and all Im enjoying this game a lot and thats all that really matters.

  • kbomb1upc

    One Hit you could have added is how appealing the game looks. I’m referring to the colors of the game. They no longer look washed out but they actually have some pop to them.

    But one Miss are those stupid ankle tackles. If I see one more 300 pound lineman dive 10 feet towards my ankles just to trip me I’m going to throw my joystick through my tv.

  • Bolt Thrower

    Generally speaking, I feel this is pretty spot on. Good write up. And before anyone mentions that defense is crap in this year’s entry, I tried out some stuff. I began 2 separate dynasties with one-star teams to work my way up and would get ripped apart by better teams’ offenses. It would piss me off to no end to where I thought defense was busted. So I tried another dynasty with Florida State and the difference between a good team and a scrub team is HUGE. Some of my FSU games were close but I’ve won because I didn’t make mistakes (picks, penalties, etc) while I forced the other team’s mistakes. Just like real football. When I did lose, it didn’t feel cheap. So bottom line, defense does work.

    Good write up Pasta

  • Jacob Dougherty

    The halftime and postgame show won’t appear for me. I play with a 4GB Xbox and EA said it has to do with HD capabilities and data and stuff.

  • mbergh22

    I wonder if the teams with the missing updated stadiums and what not was due to the feeling that NCAA was going to pull out?

  • Jaxon Wright

    Hesisman Challenge? typo

  • Iown You

    Still playing the demo myself. The game is definitely fun to play, but I’m starting to find it too easy on All-American. On Heisman I can keep it close, but the CPU always does something outrageous.

    I love the feel of the controls. And I love fighting for an inside rush on d-line, the struggle is really there, although the game still has the problem of o-lineman giving up on a block too soon without a fight. I hate that. I mean, I don’t mind them getting beat of course, but at least make it look believable.

    As for presentation, it still needs a ton of work. The cutscenes are great and full of energy, and I actually think the graphic cut-away for TD’s makes sense because it creates a sense of time-space between having a player score and then having his teammates in the endzone celebrating with him. This is a big problem Madden hasn’t addressed as well, because that lack of space makes the scene not seem believeable. 2K did a better job by having replays or by having an on-field cutscene of a coach on the sideline or players on the sideline celebrating. But the approach in NCAA 144 still accomplishes the same purpose but in a different way.

    But I think the most remarkable thing about the cutscenes aside from how quick and timely they are, is just how smooth and natural the animations are, and how they’re not hokey and corny like Madden’s. No other football game I’ve seen besides NFL 2K5 had cutscene animations that were this smooth. They did a really good job there.

    The replays are cool when they’re not close-up all the way through. The overhead and far-off stuff is awesome. I still say that when Ian Cumming had control of the replay dev tool for Madden 11, he did the best job of creating a proper replay angle balance. He started with a far shot and then created a build-up to the closeup shot. Since then, Tiburon has decided to go haywire with closeups, and the replays are MUCH worse in Madden since every second of it is a closeup shot. It’s one of the dumbest things ever and it makes watching the replays excruciating. It also didn’t help that Madden’s were in slow motion. I just have no idea what they were thinking and it looks like they’re about to screw it up again in Madden 14 (25).

    Commentary sucks. It’s not even that it sounds bad, there’s just too many spaces of silence and a lack of recognition for big moments which is the trademark fail of Tiburon football games in the commentary department.

    Anyway, good game, not perfect, no game is. Too little too late. Still needs work in a number of areas.

  • Jesus the Sun

    An obvious miss to the misses would be the unbalanced defense to offense. Playing defense, especially during on-line ranked games can be quite frustrating. OS has the “Defense is broken” thread. Gaming Tailgate has a thread “Has anyone ever seen a football game with worse defense?”. Passing money routes makes stopping critical 3rd and 4th downs extremely difficult. Punting the ball is usually the second best option on 4th down online games. During a practice session, I realized I could close my eyes and make pass completions 9-10 times.

  • Scott

    How is the online play this year? Is there any lag? Is it worth the $60. or should I just wait for Madden?

    • http://pastapadre.com/ pastapadre

      I’ve only had one game where things got bogged down. The rest have played really well. I can’t speak for everyone though.

  • Details

    I’m enjoying the game this year but it’s still lacking the attention to detail that games like Nba 2k & MLB the Show have. Things like lifeless horrible looking players on the sidelines with shoes always being white & not matching the players on the field. No chaingang. Players & the ball morphing through endzone walls, goalposts, refs, other players, etc. Plus all the things u mentioned lacking in presentation just kills the immersion. There’s also a lot of quirky twitchy movement at times. Hopefully we get a patch soon. Good write up.

  • turkey86

    Just read this, went to play a game and the computer choose to receive. Was this patched? I just got the game yesterday.

    • http://pastapadre.com/ pastapadre

      Maybe it happens very rarely? I’ve started upwards of 60 games and have yet to see the CPU choose to receive.

      • turkey86

        Maybe it has something to do with the teams? I’m not exactly playing powerhouse football with Iowa State.

      • Merchant1874

        I had this happen last night. Was amazed. 1 time in 50 games ain’t so bad…….

    • The Rock

      Happened to me twice in the 30+ games I’ve played.

    • Jesse

      In the games I have played I have seen the CPU choose to receive about 20% of the time.

  • Agent916

    Anyone have an opinion on a hard but realistic slider set? I’m looking for one bad.

  • Rebel

    “Neutral site games are a long overdue addition.”

    They had this way back on NCAA Football 2001 for the Playstation. It’s pure laziness on EA’s part it just now made it back in as a “new” feature.

    Penalties have been broken and pass defense nonexistent in every single EA football game for the last several years.

    • Nerdsmasher69

      I have to agree that it’s REAL pass happy by default but i made minor tweaks and all of the sudden i felt i or the cpu couldn’t pass at all. A great balance is there atleast when you get the sliders right.

      I do really like this year’s version. Finally love playing it over and over again.

      • Rebel

        Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of fun with the game. Pass defense isn’t really worse than it’s ever been before. The CPU actually has a running game, at least at times. It’s still a little too easy to stop anyone that’s not a really good running team.

        I’ve been messing with the sliders but haven’t found a setting where my pass defense looks acceptable yet. It doesn’t help the QBs are very accurate this year.

  • Andrew

    The lack of authenticity is the most disappointing thing to me. Playing as Nebraska, I immediately noticed they didn’t include the expansion to the east side of Memorial Stadium, or anything even vaguely resembling the tunnel walk before games. Also, Nebraska has never had male cheerleaders that I’m aware of and I’ve never seen Herbie do pushups after a score.

    • Dalibor

      Wait, a mascot doing exercise…absolute blasphemy…and men as cheerleaders, what is this, the 21st century!?! Get back to the mine fields and work.

      I think we’re going a bit overboard with “attention to detail”

  • Dalibor

    I thought the Huskie’s stadium was still under renovations, so it may have been difficult to include those improvements if they weren’t done until late 2013. But, if it was done last year, then I’d understand (even if UW isn’t much of a power-house that people care how their stadium looks).

  • Just a guy

    My major gripe is the crowd noise. CRANK IT UP EA. NOBODY WILL CARE.

  • Carlos Dáwon Murry Jr

    Am I the only one that notices the gameplay slow down horrible after a few games? Like it’ll be lagging and cuts are slow as if I was playing online but I’m not.. Weird

  • GMUPatriots

    Great review Pasta. I’m especially glad you touched on the penalty issue. I’ve played several games offline and most of them have been penalty free on both sides. That’s not realistic. The couple games I’ve had penalties called they were all clipping. I have no idea how the developers didn’t catch and fix that before the game went gold.

    I’m loving Ultimate Team. This is the addition that will keep me playing this game until the next one is released (if there is a next one that is.) I’ll finish the conference matchups and bowl games relatively quickly but I like the weekly challenge opportunities. It felt great when I finally leveled up my team enough to beat Miami in the Week One challenge. I think those are a little unbalanced though. or at least they were in Week One. After I beat Miami I had little difficulty with the other matchups. The EA team with Tebow as the QB was especially easy to beat.

  • Not that guy

    I get an interception on the goal line camera spends while my guy is stuck in stumble mechanic SAFTY!! 2 points for the other team

  • dhall

    WHERE ARE THE FUCKING PENALTIES!!!! We’ve been dealing with this shit for 8 years now! Rediculous…It is almost a game killer for me…This version is probably the best on this generation of gaming, though…

  • Good but so wat

    This game should of hit this level by 07-08 at the latest, so it looks like EA is still 5 years behind, only now the bar is so low they will b praised for this effort.

  • EAHater

    You forgot the biggest thing Pasta, NO DEFENSE!!!!!!

  • Dustin Latham

    am i the only person having trouble with the coaching xp? im the commissioner of an online dynasty and all the coaches in it except my head coach will gain xp. will muschamp is set at 0 and his xp is 0/0. it never changes. any reason for this or any way to fix it???

  • aaron

    Been having trouble with my online dynasty with people not getting off zero coach level and me stuck at zero with negative points… anybody know how to fix it?

  • ThorGrimm74

    Scrub question, so please bear with me. I’ve read on different forums that PS3 users
    have this issue with defending the no-huddle, where you’ll have MAYBE 1-2
    seconds to call your defense before the offense hikes the ball, repeat ad
    nauseum. These same threads have said
    the problem is PS3-related, not 360-related.
    360 users, can you confirm this?
    Do you actually have time at the playcall screen and pre-snap to call
    your defense and give yourself a fighting chance? Yes I’m PS3 and yes it drives me crazy. I have no problem with no-huddle for the
    record. Just that you can’t call your
    defense until the offense is set, and hiking the ball immediately anyway.

    Thanks!

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