#3 of 2010: NCAA Football 11

Posted January 5th, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Coming off a flat year that created some concern about the future viability of the franchise, NCAA Football 11 stepped up with significant improvements to gameplay and valuable feature additions. Sales numbers got a bump of 8% in the first month showing how the proper priorities could result in a shift of consumer interest, but even accounting for that the series has not been able to display necessary growth throughout the generation. Regardless NCAA Football 11 has become arguably the most complete football game delivered by EA Sports to date.

The ranking of games in the best of 2010 list is based on the personal amount of enjoyment had with a particular title, whether advertised features were fully delivered on, post-release support, community interaction and communication, overall gameplay experience, feature set, and online play performance. Again this is largely a personal take on the games and not a recap of those with the highest scores on Metacritic. The analysis is weighted heavily towards those which I had the most fun with while considering them as a whole and compared relatively to the field.

(Related: Sales RiseOver The Top w/DLC)

Gameplay wise the most significant advancement came via locomotion which made player control fantastic, and in turn the running game more fun than ever. Being able to cut back across the field for example provided that “anything can happen” feeling which is so difficult to tap into with a video game that is playing within certain rules and restrictions. Bringing in different offensive styles also helped to differentiate teams and provide some variety against the CPU.

Overall though the “120 Ways to Win” just felt more like different playbooks than completely different styles. That is probably because mobile QBs for the CPU still don’t run like they should. I don’t know if anyone has ever gotten gashed by an option team? What I did like a lot was the new no-huddle system which allowed for the full playbooks in the personnel packages to be called from on the fly. The use of no-huddle by the user and the CPU made for the different styles to come through more than anything. “Real assignment AI” also made a positive impact on gameplay.

The presentation was upgraded significantly by bringing in the ESPN packages. It was not complete television presentation, and the especially outdated commentary needs a refresh, but the ESPN branding made a big difference. Replays in particular were much better this year though the ultra slow motion on them made it more likely they’d be skipped through.

One of my biggest disappointments with the NCAA series has been a lack of emotion. Where it has been most prominently absent has been with the players. EA Sports did some good in that area this year by adding in team specific entrances for a number of schools and also bringing some of that emotion to the players on the field. There is still much to be done there however to capture the authentic feel of college football.

The biggest selling point of NCAA Football over the past few years has been the Online Dynasty mode and after not much was done with it last year a whole new element was brought in with the web functionality. Info on the dynasties could be looked up on the website but beyond that even recruiting could be completed there. That was a big deal in that the console didn’t have to be fired up just to check up on things or make progress and it could be done from anywhere. Teambuilder remained but pretty much in the same form as NCAA 10 so it would be nice to see some upgrades there in the future.

Post-release support for NCAA 11 was excellent. There were three patches and four tuning packs. The tuner updates were first introduced in NHL 10 and made their way to NCAA 11 with the benefit being they could be delivered without going through a patch process.

That being said there were a number of issues that had to be resolved through that post-release support. There was the play-action rollout screen passes that locked the QB into an animation that ran them backwards for safeties, and weak ratings of recruits in generated classes entering dynasties watered down the talent nationwide a few years in. There was also the offering of downloadable content that rubbed many the wrong way, with even just the ability to be the commissioner of multiple Online Dynasties being charged for.

NCAA Football 11 made a push towards authenticity and improved on gameplay while at the same time remaining really fun to play. Online had great performance and even won the “Best Online Play” award from the community. It is good to see consumers respond positively to the effort made just one year out from what was seen as a down year as that will encourage EA to continue the focus on those areas that are important.

#3: NCAA Football 11
#4: EA Sports MMA
#5: FIFA 11
#6: Madden NFL 11
#7: Kinect Sports
#8: MLB 10 The Show
#9: NHL 11
#10: NBA Jam
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