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NCAA Football 07 (PlayStation 2) artwork

NCAA Football 07 (PlayStation 2) review

"First impression: lost and intimidated. In NCAA Football 07, every control performs some kind of special juke, spin, or stiff arm. One button launches a player into a forward dive; another accelerates him to a sprint. There are so many options, and you’ll feel the need to execute all of them at once. Adding to the indecision, there’s hundreds of offensive and defensive plays spread over dozens of formations. The complexity of EA’s collegiate pigskin franchise should make any casual g..."

First impression: lost and intimidated. In NCAA Football 07, every control performs some kind of special juke, spin, or stiff arm. One button launches a player into a forward dive; another accelerates him to a sprint. There are so many options, and you’ll feel the need to execute all of them at once. Adding to the indecision, there’s hundreds of offensive and defensive plays spread over dozens of formations. The complexity of EA’s collegiate pigskin franchise should make any casual gamer assume the fetal position. (According to Nintendo’s philosophy of simplifying games, anyway.)

Do not be afraid. NCAA 07 possesses plenty of stripped down training modes to cover the basic form for each facet of the game. Tackling dummies take the place of beefy linemen so only five or six key players are on the field, and the remaining wide open space allows plenty of room to become acquainted with all those confusing controls and player capabilities without racking up humiliating losses. Practicing a particular play ad infitum is also an option; you can run it until you’ve mastered the intricacies of its execution. However, even beginners don’t have to confine themselves here for long. Success is possible without all the fancy moves, and the game’s flexibility allows a choice in your level of responsibility; it’ll even recommend a play if you can’t decide.

Say you call a rush. The key is to see the running lanes open up – a manageable task since the camera is far enough behind the offensive line to view most of the field – then either follow your blockers or cut back to burn an overzealous defense. Control with the analog stick responds immediately, resulting in excellent command of the ball carrier. Stiff arms and slippery jukes are extraordinary moves once mastered, but this fundamental approach yields constant and significant progress down the field.

In contrast to the simple concept of dashing forward, throwing the ball seems overwhelming at first. Ideally, it’s a multifaceted process. Before the play begins, you press L2 to zoom out and view the opponent’s coverage, making adjustments by assigning hot routes to specific receivers. Once the ball is hiked, there’s only a few seconds to find an open target by pushing the face or shoulder button that corresponds with him. Be careful; the pressure used determines the arc of the throw, plus the left analog stick can further adjust the precision of the pass’s destination. After the ball is in the air, you press the circle button to switch to the receiver, finish running his route, and then hit triangle to secure the catch – or even square to layout for a fantastic completion. But if this process sounds too elaborate, the computer is willing to perform any – or all – of the steps automatically.

The AI is definitely smart enough, and it’ll happily show off what it can do when you’re on the other side of the ball. Its intelligent play calling and defensive reads can shred any defense, and that makes the new “Jump the Snap” feature EA’s most important gameplay addition. Take control of a player on the D-line, and a quick tap after the snap gives your player an advantage over his blocker. Time it right and you can wreak enough havoc to not feel helpless against an offensive onslaught. Yet it’s not a magic bullet. The computer is happy to throw extra bodies in your way, and the game still maintains a satisfying competitive balance.

The only area where the package weakens involves penalties, one in particular. Referees usually remain uninvolved, occasionally whistling a hold or illegal face mask grab, but when it comes to excessive celebration, they leave no flag unthrown. Adjust the frequency all the way down in the settings menu; it makes no difference. Touchdown, turnover, or defensive stop, these athletes go crazy after almost every big play – oftentimes negating its effect. Even down by fifty, players will gesticulate wildly after gaining just a first down. Cutting to a scene of a jock joyfully squeezing out celebratory pushups is disruptive enough, but pausing the game is the only way to preempt these penalties. It’s a superficial blemish, but one so counterproductive and annoying that it needs to be fixed for the next installment.

NCAA 07 contains other new and old nuances: impact players that perform at a slightly higher level than others, trick plays that can instantly turn momentum, and a tight third person view on kick returns that limits vision and emulates the feel of getting blindsided by the coverage. EA wraps this core in layers of collegiate frenzy. The game loads up showing rabid fans yelling their school chants while marching bands blast well-known fight songs, which serve as the entire soundtrack. Virtually all Division I teams are included, both A and AA(though a very few of these smaller schools were overlooked). Visit legendary venues like The Horseshoe or The Swamp, and Sony’s stolen rumble technology buzzes through the controller, mimicking the roar of a hostile crowd. Dynasty mode elevates team spirit another notch. In addition to winning games and recruiting to build your favorite institution into a national power, there’s banter about polls, BCS snubs, plus the Heisman and other individual honors. Every week these stories are laid out on a series of magazine covers, and it’s exhilarating to see your players featured in the spotlight.

Of course, these are branded as ESPN: The Magazine, given EA’s business relationship with the Worldwide Leader. That coupling is also apparent in the announcing team of Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, and Brad Nessler. Aside from commentary that grows predictably stale over the course of a season (provided your games are worthy of broadcast), the pseudo College Gameday crew consistently provides pertinent analysis of the game. They’ll freely endorse or condemn play calling on a previous drive, marvel at extraordinary and record-breaking feats, but still chide you for running up the score. Even Lee and Kirk’s jokes, however corny, are delivered as an organic part of the experience. And naturally, Corso dons a piece of school paraphernalia before each game to signify his pick, but he always chooses the higher ranked team. Next year they should give him some cojones along with his mascot heads and helmets.

If polls and team prestige are not you goal, though, Campus Legend mode lets you insert a big, fat “I.” Here your objective is to build a superstar on and off the field by micromanaging his practice sessions, study routines, and social outings. (Sorry, no juicy details are actually revealed.) It gets old quickly. Practices are the main event of every weekday, and they’re simply a test of how well you run ten random plays. Games end up skewed, too, since the motivation is to channel the ball exclusively to your creation. Nothing should be simmed either, because then your player won’t improve at all. Even though this scenario is supposed to individualize the experience, it ends up feeling more generic; the CPU won’t even auto-name the other players as it will with a dynasty.

More entertaining are alternate versions of play: silly mascot games and rivalry matchups complete with quirky trophies. (Give me the Little Brown Jug!) Of course, EA provides an online mode – at least until a month after the 2007 college football season ends – when beating up the computer grows tiresome. Besides going head to head, the hardcore tinkerers have plenty to do: customizing offensive and defensive packages, balancing the playbook to maximize individual player production, and developing draft day studs for export to Madden. But beginners have nothing to fear from the manageable learning curve, and everyone can enjoy the raucous atmosphere of university athletics . NCAA Football 07 delivers a great package to the entire college football fandom.

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Community review by woodhouse (September 28, 2006)

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