I can always tell when we are nearing the end of a generation. Sadly I started to feel that with the sports offerings as early as the 2011. NCAA Football is a victim of circumstance. On the surface it is a good game that does all the usual things right. The new additions are worthwhile, and simply make the game more fun to play. Unfortunately it never pops. The game never stands out and showcases why we need to spend yet another $60 for the latest numbered college football game, and that is the most disappointing thing about NCAA Football 14.
Full disclosure: I am not the biggest fan of college football. My heart lies with the NFL, but when it comes to covering a game like this, no one on staff is even close to being able to keep tabs on what makes the fight songs and school pride such an integral part of the experience. NCAA has always been a great series, and each year we do our best to understand what keeps this series going so strong. NCAA 14 showcases just that. Items on last year’s checklist have been fixed, and the inclusion of the Infinity Engine finally gives the game a new dimension in game play.
The biggest change comes in the running game. Players now have to account for motion when carrying the ball. Stopping and making hard cuts actually affects how the encounter plays out. It sounds subtle, but it really goes a long way in increasing the realism. There is also a new juke system that uses the right analog stick to create a dynamic way to run the ball. Players can once again use the momentum and stiff arm tactics, making the run so much more dynamic, and fun.
I wish the passing game was equally as fun and dynamic. Sadly the defensive back play is still a chore for me to analyze. Watching players magically appear into range of the pass on harder difficulties gives me heartburn. I would lose games because of this fault in the AI. It isn’t exclusive to the passing game though. Offensive linemen would miss tackles and blocks at times, and overall it just feels like Tiburon has done all it can with the current crop of consoles. The AI seems improved at times, while others just feel like the same old mistakes.
Game play is still solid, and with the addition of the Nike Skills Trainer this year, players are able to dive deeper into the cerebral part of football. This new mode teaches which players to watch on given plays, how to read defensive positions and formations as well as a host of other football nuances. Sure it may be pointless for some, but it is a nice way to learn the mechanics of the game. I hope Madden employs something similar this year, as the end of a console cycle is usually when gamers not normally taking the plunge dive into the popular sport.
Medals are earned in the new training mode that unlocks rewards in the Ultimate Team portion. The trading card feature returns and remains similar to past offerings. It was addictive collecting cards, and the games are short enough that they rarely get boring. I have never been a huge fan of Ultimate Team in any EA Sports title, but I do understand their appeal. Hooking them into one of the new features is definitely a smart move.
Dynasty mode is here with new tweaks that streamline the experience. Instead of having to make calls and generally waste a lot of time off the field, the new coaching options really kept me actually playing the game. I spent far less time in menus, which is a good thing. XP is still earned, and can be allotted for several perks just like always, but now the game keeps players doing what they love. If only playing one season is your thing, then that is here too. This removes all of the management stuff, and simply lets players knock down the game lineup with little tidbits between each week.
Road to Glory also returns, but remains pretty much the same experience. Taking a player through high school before being drafted is still one of the most enjoyable things to do in NCAA. The XP system works well, and I liked being notified of new schools interested in me. Creating myself in these games is always more exciting than generic QB #7 on the roster.
One of the biggest areas where the generational age is showing is the visuals. The game still looks good, especially the new Infinity Engine, but I can’t shake a lot its issues. Flat sidelines and repeating crowds are starting to wear thin. The animations are also still weird when players get mixed up during tackles. There is still a fair amount of clipping as well. The game also chugs when menu overlays and replays are showcased. Balls disappearing and weird glitches round out the package. I am definitely ready to see where Tiburon takes the franchise when the new machines launch, but as it stands there is still a sea of problems with the presentation.
Commentary falls on the same problems. A lot of what I heard started to recycle after two or three games. Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit do a decent job of focusing on specific players, but again without licensing real names, it falls a little flat. I do like the focus on what’s going on around the league at halftime, but I also noticed a lot of times it was focusing on irrelevant games. The fight songs and stadium specific chants are a nice touch though, and the ambience of every venue really brings home the feel of college football.
NCAA Football 14 is a good game that suffers more on the limitations of an aging generation. The new additions are admirable, and fans of the series will enjoy faster loading times, and slicker menus. Still, I can’t help but feel like the series is slowly running out of steam on these aging machines. I hope that Tiburon is already hard at work on taking full advantage of the new hardware for next year’s iteration. As it stands NCAA Football 14 is enough to get by, but not enough to revolutionize the series.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.