By now it is pretty well-established I like my sports games. I am no more offended by their yearly releases than I am by frequent Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed games. If the games are well made and fans enjoy them enough to buy them, then why not? The key however, is that the franchises do need to maintain a certain level of quality to convince gamers to drop their hard-earned cash on the latest releases.
There are some sports franchises that I pick up almost every year, such as Madden or NBA 2K. There are others I only pick up every few years, like MBL: The Show or Tiger Woods Golf. The NCAA Football titles tend to fall in the middle – I pick them up just about every year, but now and then I skip them.
The NCAA titles have some inherent issues facing them every year. They are like the kid brother to Madden titles, in that they often get what was new from Madden the year before, while playing a somewhat slower, more generic game of football. That is not to say the games are not fun, but they do have to work a bit harder to get noticed, especially when NFL fans know that Madden is coming out a mere two months later.
Graphics – 7:
Visually, the game is just fine. Not necessarily good, definitely not great – but fine. I can talk about how nice the stadiums and the grass and the soiled uniforms look, but those have all been around for some time and really, nothing new on that front has happened in a few years. The character models look nice, but oftentimes a bit generic. Really, I see very little difference between this year’s graphics, and those found in the prior two NCAA Football titles. Thankfully, while the character models fail to impress, the animations are pretty solid. This is largely due to the implementation of the Infinity Engine that debuted for Madden last year (again, the little brother/big brother conundrum).
Sound & Music – 7:
I like the music in this series, I always have. You hear a band playing music when you go to a real game, and that is the type of music you experience here. Hits sound good and impactful on the field. The commentary is… what sports commentary is. Canned and conditioned to trigger one of several responses when particular criteria are met. It generally works, and we have come a long ways in the last decade or so on this front, but the truth of the matter is this: when you play a lot of games in a season, you start to hear the same things over and over again. What is more annoying is when you hear the same canned comment twice in the same game. Luckily the crew used here has a pretty good variety of things recorded, so it never gets annoying, and at times can be quite entertaining. I would just like to see more content with better context.
Gameplay – 8:
The ground game is at its best this year. The infinity engine makes running the ball a treat, whether you are handing off to your running back or returning a punt or kick. The way you can string moves together on the right analog stick feels good, and trying to judge the right time to speed burst versus whether or not to cover the ball and risk a fumble. NCAA plays slower than Madden, which I am much more used to, but there are settings to adjust that. The menus are easy to navigate, and the weekly tasks such as recruiting or adding stats to a coach all work smoothly.
Intangibles – 8:
The dynasty mode is still a lot of fun. You can be a player or a coach. Your player can advance and attempt to become a college legend, or your coach can move around and accept new contracts on new teams. There has always been a progression system for the created a player mode, but the new leveling and points system for coaches is a lot of fun from my standpoint. I used to dig really, REALLY deep into the recruitment stuff in years past. This year the process is a good deal more streamlined, and for the most part I think that makes for a better experience, despite my natural tendency to want to dive into each and every little nook and cranny to milk the most out of my stats. I think it was a good choice overall.
Overall – 7.5:
Basically, NCAA Football 14 is still looking up at Madden it seems. The game is fun, and there are plenty of things to do, but it feels like maybe the series has hit a plateau. Many times I question if a series will benefit from the next generation of consoles or not, but I think NCAA Football might actually see some decent gains next generation, especially in the presentation.