Sunday, July 14, 2013

NCAA Football '14: The Devil's in the Details

For college football nuts the two most important days of the year are the first day of the season and the day that the latest edition of EA's NCAA Football drops and you can finally guide your alma mater to the national title that you've been longing for. 
Like many of you, I pre-ordered NCAA Football '14 and have spent the better part of the last week with the game. I'm not prepared to review the game in full (as I have only spent time with the Dynasty mode), but here are some early impressions: 

  • The gameplay is the best the series has ever offered. The new physics engine feels great, running the ball is finally an enjoyable experience and the "read" indicator for option plays adds a helpful hint for beginners. 
  • On the flip side of that, defense is still tilted in the computer's favor on the higher difficulties and sometimes it feels like you're being punished because your AI-controlled player loses a man in his zone or a defensive back inexplicably stumbles. These things happen, but they don't happen as often as the computer would make you think and sometimes the experience suffers for it. 
  • Recruiting has been revamped and instead of calling prospects and making pitches, you simply assign points to recruits and essentially cross your fingers. On a positive note, you spend much less time in the recruiting menus and more time on the sticks. However, after assigning the maximum allowed points to a recruit and offering a scholarship, there's not much more you can do but hope. Jury's still out on this one. 
  • The coaches' skills trees are a great addition. You can now decide if you want to be a power recruiter, a master game manger or a nifty combination of both. It also forces you to consider your conference and what skills could be useful to you. For example, if controlling a Pac-12 team, it might be useful to boost your defense's stamina for those up-tempo offenses. Or, if you'll be facing the power run games of the SEC, you might want to max out your run-stopping ability early on. In-game achievements give you points to spend on your coaching trees so each result is consequential and it adds a lot more weight to the game. My favorite feature of this year's edition, hands down.  
  • The game is not without its disappointments though, mainly in the presentation. And when I say the presentation, I mean all aspects of the presentation. The announcers are white noise and rarely say anything relevant. On several occasions I've caught Herbstreit chastising a quarterback for not throwing the ball away immediately after the signal caller side-armed it into the stands. The pre-game intros are annoying and don't add much for me. Seeing a poorly rendered Chief Osceola run out onto the field isn't getting anyone fired up. In-Studio Updates have returned and you can almost hear Rece Davis cringe when delivering lines like, "This one's tighter than spandex on a sumo wrestler." A lot of the elements that are supposed to make it feel more like an ESPN presentation just feels hokey and it's something that could be done without. 
  • The graphics for anything not on the field look like they could be from the last generation of consoles. The fans look terrible, mascots are alright, but you'll often find things where they should not be, like a quarterback's hand towel in the middle of his stomach or a mascot's arm elbow-deep in his own head. 
The problem with NCAA Football '14 (and many of EA's sports offerings, for that matter) is that they aren't being pushed by any competition. You would hope that being the ONLY college football franchise would raise the mantle of responsibility, but that's not the case (just ask South Alabama, who was omitted from last year's edition entirely). And that's why they can get away with things like having the wrong cut of grass on a field, having throw-away announcers or having poor graphics on a next-gen console. 
The gameplay is great and if you're a fanatic, you'll play it and you'll love it and the tweaks they've added encourage you that they're not asleep at the wheel. I just couldn't help but be a little disappointed in all of the little things and the devil's in the details. Hopefully some tuning updates will fix some of the things mentioned here, but you can't help but get the sense that it could've been so much more. For now though, it's a welcome distraction in the dog days of July, leading into the new season. NCAA Football '14 gets a 7/10...for now.

Want to play? My gamertag is "sick nellers." 
Like the article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter @sicknellers or on Facebook, "From the Cheap Seats." 

2 comments:

  1. Glad to see you writing again (here at least). I remember thinking after watching the commercials that the graphics look like they took a step back.

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  2. Hey I appreciate it man. I know I'm a quality writer, it's just a matter of finding time for it and a place to put it. And yes, the graphics are disappointing in places. At the end of games the computer will replay the best plays of the day and often the players involved will abruptly disappear.

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