Here’s another sneak peak of my review for the Omaha City Weekly this week:
Budgets are tight, and this game comes out every year. You need to know if it’s worth it to drop the dough on the newest iteration.
Bottom line: yes it is. There’s so many improvements this year that I’m having a hard time squeezing them all in to this review. NCAA Football 10 has many substantive enhancements to both the on-the-field action and new gameplay modes.
On the field, you will find an additional layer of strategy with the game planning feature. It has 11 offensive and defensive keys where you can set your players to react aggressively or conservatively. For example, if you tell your defense to focus on stripping the ball, you will create more fumbles at the expense of more facemask penalties. Telling your offensive line to hold their blocks longer will give you more time in the pocket and potentially more holding calls.
Certain offensive plays are linked together, allowing you to run one play to set up the other. Once a play is 100 percent set up, the defense is more likely to bite on the play action and you’re more likely to bust a large gain.
On the defensive side, prior to the snap you can attempt to guess the play to get a jump on the offense. If you think the offense is running right, you can direct your defenders to swarm to the right by pulling the left trigger and moving the right thumbstick. Of course, if you guess wrong you will be open for a big play.
And you will need to adjust your strategy from time to time, as the adaptive artificial intelligence will adjust to your playcalling. If you constantly run up the middle, for example, the defensive line will begin to pinch and take away the running lanes.
Running down the clock is also no longer a chore with the inclusion of the Chew Clock option which fast-forwards the play clock to 12 seconds when you break huddle.
In addition to enhanced strategy, the on-the-field action is crisper and more beautiful with more than 1,000 new animations. EA Tiburon used a system called Pro-Tak to allow more realistic tackles with up to three defenders ganging up on the ball carrier. Defensive backs will jam wide receivers at the line and there will be more hand checking and jostling for position when the ball is in the air. Defensive players also take much better pursuit angles reducing the risk of large offensive gains and making it more difficult to get around the corner.
Ball carriers can actually spin or juke their way out of tackling animations. Offensive tackles fan out more, creating a more realistic pocket for the quarterback and defensive linemen are more likely to try to swat the ball out of the air.
In addition to a better core game, NCAA Football 10 includes even more ways to play.
Campus Legend mode has been improved and rebranded as Road to Glory mode. Here you create a recruit, guide him through his high school playoffs and sign with a college. ESPN reporter Erin Andrews follows your recruit with her video camera and hosts a broadcast-style highlight presentation whenever your recruit hits a milestone, such as a first start, being named player of the game or becoming a Heisman finalist.
While Road to Glory offers a different way to play the game, the problem lays in the time spent in between games. You must spend your week practicing to try to earn a starting position and participating in various evening events to boost your stats. However, an inconvenient load screen to get in and out of practice bogs down the experience. Especially since evening events are only selected from a list with no graphics and no interactivity. The loading, practicing, and loading makes the time in between games tedious and it is difficult not to simulate through it and forgo any skill boosts you would earn.
Road to Glory mode is position and school specific, adding a lot of replayability. A Nebraska quarterback will have a vastly different experience from a wide receiver from Akron. An online leaderboard allows you to compare your recruit to everyone playing that position for your team, your conference or across the NCAA.
Season Showdown is a new mode that should keep you playing the game throughout the entire season. It is a competition to decide once and for all what school truly does have the best fans in college football. Everything you do in the game earns points for your favorite school, which you select upon first loading Season Showdown mode. Executing a setup play earns strategy points and user tackles will garner skill points while going for it on fourth & long when you’re up by 21 will lose you sportsmanship points.
Each week we as Husker fans (I’m assuming) are playing against the fans of our team’s opponent for that week. For example, the week of September 13 Husker fans will go up against Virginia Tech fans. You earn points in five different categories, whichever team wins three of those categories is named the winner.
In addition to three categories involving actually playing the game, non-gamers can help Nebraska earn points by participating in a college football trivia game online. The final category, Allies and Rivals, puts any tiebreaker in the hands of college football fans at large. Each week you can vote on who you would like to win each of the nation’s matchups, which will most likely end up meaning you will vote against the teams you don’t like.
At the end of the season there will be a 32-team tournament to decide who has the best fans, although the grand prize at this point seems to be bragging rights only.
Finally, Teambuilder rounds out this year’s major new features. With Teambuilder you can log onto teambuilder.easports.com to build your own football team, upload your logo and customize your uniform, stadium and rosters. Then you can search for your created team and download it to your console, as well as any other user teams you fancy. These teams can be used in custom conferences and online dynasties against your friends.
So finally, we will be able to play as the UNO Mavericks, or as Creighton’s fictional football team. We could even see a Millard West and Millard North showdown with accurate uniforms and logos. If you can dream it, you can create it.
Dynasty mode is largely unchanged, but has subtle features in recruiting. Now you can recruit against other rival teams, and the interface has been updated. One significant change is the inclusion of dynasty “accelerators” for those who want to pay to speed up their progress.
For just over $10, you can purchase a recruiting advisor, coaching seminar, boost the toughness of your stadium, improve recruiting pitches, maximize training buffs, add a pipeline state, unlock all promises and spy on other teams with recruiting reports. These “accelerators” can also be purchased separately for around a dollar a piece.
While none of these “accelerators” are necessary to play and enjoy the game, their existence as paid upgrades feels like nickel-and-diming.
So there you have it. These are tough economic times, and video games–especially annually video games–might be considered a luxury. Luckily EA Tiburon spent the last year wisely, cramming a ton of improvements and new features into NCAA Football 10, some of which set new standards for the franchise to build on.