NCAA Football 09 hands-on: Part two

Posted May 1st, 2008 at 9:05 pm

Earlier I posted my general experience and thoughts on things more related directly to the gameplay. Now in part two of my hands-on with NCAA Football 09 I’ll detail some of the new features that have been added. There are some big ones that should be really well received and others that will greatly enhance the overall gameplay experience.

I had the opportunity to sit down with producer Ben Haumiller and talk about the online dynasty mode. Essentially it offers absolutely everything there is in an offline dynasty. We already knew about being able to play with up to 12 teams for up to 60 seasons. Every team is included and all the features (even down things such as the Heisman watch) operate in the same way. When it comes to recruiting you compete against all the CPU and user controlled teams.

The whole thing is really well thought out. There is a commish that controls everything. First of all it is invite only there won’t be any online franchises comprised of a completely random group of people. Still if someone is flaking out they can sim that person’s activities and games. Also everything is completely auto-updated. As soon as a task is completed the game uploads the new info. For anyone concerned about people attempting to cheat the commish will receive “restart alerts”. Since everything is auto-updated there is no way to hide if you restart a game that isn’t going your way. The commish will see that a game has been restarted X amount of times.

There were a couple other things that worth noting. Any time you’re in the menus you’ll be in an open voice chat with the others who are as well. You can also have multiple people taking part from the same console which would make it a mix of the more traditional multi-user offline franchise with additional online users.

It really sounds as if they are going to deliver with online dynasty. The only worry has to be around the online lag problems and whether they have been rectified. They stated they are aware of those issues and have been working hard to make sure that online play runs smoothly.

Home Field Advantage returns but not in the same way as was previously implemented. This is a feature I had really hoped for in both football titles and I really like the way they instituted it and the effect it has on the games. The first thing to point out is that it isn’t over-powered like many believed it used to be. Road teams were playing effectively even in hostile environments when prepared.

The main way you see it is in the loss of the receiver icons and controller rumble. This makes for some anxious feeling if you have to wait for the snap to recognize the icons. This is especially the case for someone who uses a lot of audibles or hot routes. You also get the erratic play routes but those are at least somewhat distinguishable on their own. Despite all that if you are prepared and don’t lose concentration (by knowing what player is designated to what icon from the play selected) it can be overcome. I did notice a few times while on the road that hot routes seemed to be missed by the receivers. I don’t know if those instances were HFA related or not.

Another thing that has been added which somewhat ties in with HFA is the QB composure (being referred to as the QB challenge). After throwing an INT a screen comes up asking for you to choose out of three plays which one the defense ran. If you guess correctly your QB will sustain his composure (I suppose think of it as “learning from the mistake”) but select the wrong one and your QB will lose composure. The less composure the more icons that are missing pre-snap and it also seemed the more inaccurate the QB will be. It was my perception that the composure hit was more significant for the QB playing on the road but I don’t know if that is the case for sure. The screen took a little long to load (possibly a build issue) but other than that I liked this new element.

After timeouts you have the opportunity to select an area of focus. This should give a boost in this area for (assuming) the next play. While on offense the options are “ignore crowd”, “get open”, “block better”, “break tackles”, and “protect ball”. While on defense they are “shed blocks”, “lockup coverage”, “tackle better”, “get ball back”, and “no penalties”. It makes the use of timeouts more strategic which is an improvement over them only being useful at the end of the half or game.

“Coaches cam” now has two options for “bluff plays”. Pull up the coaches cam with the right trigger, press up to view your play, press down to view the individual player confidence levels, and pressing left or right will show incorrect plays. This is great to have for head-to-head games.

Post play continuation is more of a subtle improvement but it meshes nicely. I just would’ve liked to see more of it than all the shots of cheerleaders. Basically after a play is over sometimes there will be a scene played that fits with how it ended. The first one I saw I had made a reception near the sideline and was trying to stay in bounds. Once I stepped on the sideline and the play was over it cut to him continuing to run down the sideline.

After scoring a TD if your player hasn’t made a dive into the end zone you remain in control of him and can run around for a few seconds. This leads into a short celebration. If you run up to your mascot or the opposing team’s mascot it’ll be a celebration involving them. Some of which were pretty amusing and team specific (although will likely get repetitive).

“Icing the kicker” is now a feature (optional so it can be turned off). The meter is literally covered in ice which makes it more difficult to see for timing the power. It also gives the lower camera perspective and heart beat vibration and after the kick is in the air it continues in slow motion. It was a pretty cool effect and at least made kicking a little more challenging in a pressure situation.

Because we weren’t able to upload music to the game we weren’t able to test out the custom sounds. Chris Jacobs at NCAA Strategies copied down the all 23 situations in which they can be set

We were unable to reach the online area of the game to look at the procedures behind the roster sharing or online dynasty.

There are two new mini-games, both of which really aren’t worth noting. “Horse” offers a chance to play by kicking field goals from various places on the field (including outside the hashes) and “Special Teams Challenge” is just like the “Tug of War” but with punting. I can’t imagine anyone playing these after they get the achievement as they were just dreadfully boring. I suppose they could be used to improve skill in kicking, punt coverage, and punt returns.

The mascot games don’t play exactly like the regular games. They are more arcade style and include over-the-top jukes and flips.

In something that became a running joke there appeared to be a bug that on a couple occasions selected the play automatically and then wouldn’t display the audible options. All that was visible was the Coke Zero logo. This naturally led into discussion about advertisers choosing your plays as a feature.

I have the top 25 teams, top 25 toughest places to play, and top rated players at each position taken down (there are five players total who have a 99 rating). Those will be coming in the near future unless I’m informed that I need to withhold posting them (quite possible). Georgia is already known as #1, Oklahoma is #2.

I wanted to reiterate that everything I mentioned in my hands-on reports have been communicated and will at least be heard by the NCAA team. Whether they can, or choose, to make changes based on that falls on them. Granted it is too late in the process to make major changes, but the game really doesn’t need major changes. It could however benefit from some adjustments and tuning. Overall though the addition of all the new features and the shift to wide-open gameplay looks to make this one of the best received sports titles of this generation.