"And then the hedonistic binge called recruiting begins. You'll be confronted by a map of the United States. Clicking on any state will give you the list of all the potential recruits residing there. Or, to simply things, you can go to a menu to give you more focused lists such as those kids ranked in the nation's elite players, those from your school's state or those who initially have some degree of interest in you."
A certain sickness comes over me from time to time where I feel a compulsion to grind through a handful of video gaming football seasons. When I was younger, I played Tecmo Super Bowl and its SNES sequels to a degree where I have an unhealthy amount of knowledge about them. Eventually, I moved onto the Madden NFL series and bought the new (ie: same game with updated rosters and one or two new gameplay functions) version every year for a little while. While the gameplay might not have been as simple and addictive as my beloved Tecmo games, I found the ability to draft new players and engage in off-season duties such as contract negotiations and free agency to be a very fun addition to my football ritual.
And then, a couple of years back, I snagged NCAA Football 06 and have never looked back. Essentially it provides the exact same style of play as the Madden games, but has a much deeper and more addictive off-season -- to the point where I find that part of the game to, at times, supersede the actual on-field play. I'd never played any of the earlier NCAA games and haven't bought any of the more recent ones just because I see no real reason to. Why would I care about getting yearly roster updates when EA's not allowed to use the real names of the NCAA's prized "student athletes"? I'm too lazy to fill in real names (especially when the computer can generate fake names for the thousands of players) and due to the short duration of collegiate eligibility, virtually every player I'm familiar with would be gone after only a couple of seasons.
Right away, you'll have plenty of options when you start this game. There's a "Road to the Heisman" mode, where you can turn yourself into a star high school player and progress through your college career. While a cool concept, I've found virtually all of my NCAA Football 06 time devoured by Dynasty mode. Here, you pick any of the game's 119 Division 1-A teams or, if you want a REAL challenge, any of dozens of 1-AA teams to bump up to the big time. Those squads have next-to-no talent, making them involving multi-year projects to even get up to respectability. From personal experience, I can tell you that an offensive line consisting of dudes rated 44 and 48 won't hold up well against the barrage of 80s and 90s you'll find on the average good to great big-time program.
Each season consists of 11 or 12 games, along with the possibility of playing in a conference championship game if your league has one of those. Afterwards, you might play in a bowl game and/or receive postseason awards and then it's off to the off-season. While you get try your hand at recruiting a handful of elite players during the actual season, here's where you'll be doing the bulk of your work to improve (or at least avoid falling completely off the map if you graduate a great class) for next year. Maybe you'll get a couple of transfers from other schools. Or you might find a few of your players are either planning to leave, by either transferring or applying for the NFL draft, forcing you to attempt to convince them to give you another year (or more) of their lives.
And then the hedonistic binge called recruiting begins. You'll be confronted by a map of the United States. Clicking on any state will give you the list of all the potential recruits residing there. Or, to simply things, you can go to a menu to give you more focused lists such as those kids ranked in the nation's elite players, those from your school's state or those who initially have some degree of interest in you.
The recruiting process lasts for five weeks. Five weeks where you'll be allocating the points that make up your "budget" to scouting players and attempting to woo them either cheaply (phone call from an assistant) or at the expense of a ton of points (where you "send the house"). As each week goes by, while you might pick up a few players, odds are that others you had an eye on will fall off the radar, so you'll be constantly looking for new players to offer remaining scholarships to. At the end of those five weeks, you'll have a number of new players who may or may not adequately fill all the holes that graduation and random departures have left you -- and likely a few sheets of paper full of barely-legible scribbling from your attempts to keep everything straight.
Like the Madden games, there is a constant rotation from in-season to off-season duties. However, I found the off-season work to be far deeper and more rewarding in this game. As for the gameplay, if you've played any recent Madden game, you're doing the exact same thing. About the only differences I noticed were that players have a composure rating and that road games against big-time opponents can be dangerous. Low-composure athletes, no matter how gifted, might screw up in high-pressure situations, while not-so-talented guys who are battle-tested in big games might be the ones that wind up making the big plays. And when you're on the road against a Florida or an Ohio State......watch out. When your opponent's crowd starts getting into it, not only might it elicit mistakes from your less-experienced players, but from you as well when the screen starts shaking from the utter chaos in the stands.
I really have no major qualms with this game. Some things seem to be completely randomized, like your players deciding they might want to go pro. You might have a guy refuse to let you convince him, reset the game and try again.....only to find you only have to expend the bare minimum of points for him to immediately return. I do occasionally get the feeling in certain big games that the computer isn't above forcing a "mistake" such as a crucial fumble out of your team in order to ensure the game remains close. And, after two or three games of listening to the commentary by the three announcers, I tend to just play with the TV muted and listen to music, as they recycle lines on a game-to-game basis. Still, I've found this to have become that perfect game to come back to whenever "football fever" hits me, so those problems obviously don't bother me that much.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 01, 2008)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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