"Despite its many improvements, NCAA Football won’t be able to overtake the Madden franchise anytime soon. But as far as alternatives go – whether based in the college division or some fictional realm where late hits are encouraged – you can’t do much better than NCAA Football 11."
Will a perfect college football game ever be developed? It might seem like a pipe dream, but with NCAA Football 11, EA has gotten a few yards closer to making that dream a reality. This year’s game follows in the footsteps of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 by striving to achieve a greater degree of realism while providing enough user-friendly options (both old and new) to retain its mainstream appeal.
The AI, controls, and player animations are of a much higher quality this year. AI opponents will still fumble balls that they should have held onto, and occasionally miss an easy tackle when the quarterback decides to sprint. But their defense is solid; don’t count on being able to easily slip through the cracks with a running play, or avoid getting sacked by running backwards. Your opponents will cut through, chase you down, and force you to get rid of the ball or face a significant yard loss.
And that’s not even the best part. After a successful pass, the AI reacts very quickly and realistically as opposing forces start to swarm in your direction. If you’re out in front, it isn’t that hard to avoid getting tackled. However, if you have to breach a few opponents while running toward the goal, the game is brilliant. What’s impressive is that only the most logical and thought-out evasion strategy will work.
If you simply spin or run in the opposite direction, you’ll probably lose. But if you study your opponents very carefully (take note of their running path and the direction they’re facing), you can find a getaway path that works without any cheap interference.
No opponent can take you down just because he is within your vicinity – instead, he must be able to physically grab and drag the player to the ground. This might sound like a no-brainer for football games, but for years, game developers managed to screw it up. NCAA Football wasn’t the only series that was guilty of this flaw – NFL Street, NFL 2K and even the mighty Madden franchise have been plagued by cheap and unforgivable tackles. It’s nice to see that this game has finally gotten it right.
NCAA Football 11 also improves on the player animations, which are some of the best of any football game. In less than six months, EA has already managed to supersede Backbreaker’s one and only claim to fame: that no two tackles are alike. In Backbreaker, it was a cool visual gimmick. In NCAA Football 11, the animation details are so subtle that players may not even notice them, thus fulfilling the general goal among animators – to create something that is so real that consumers don’t think about it or realize how much work went into the product. Bravo, animators – mission complete.
For anyone who wishes to simplify the experience, NCAA Football 11 offers a new one-button mode that allows players to execute the primary functions (play selection, passing, and kicking) with the X button. While this could entice a few intimidated newbies, and perhaps appeal to those who hate the analog kicking mechanics, few players are likely to use the one-button option for more than a few games. The full-button gameplay is much more rewarding, and to be honest, isn’t that difficult to learn. Furthermore, one-button play doesn’t seem to be available online, which means you’ll have to get used to the standard control format whether you like it or not.
This year, online play is mostly a familiar (albeit upgraded) affair. The standard ranked and unranked matches haven’t changed, though you might encounter an annoying message that states that the “data download has failed.” According to an in-game message, this stems from an error that occurred on EA’s end, which forced the publisher to turn off the Season Showdown feature. As of this writing, it has not been turned on again.
The online gameplay is just as great as the offline modes except for two things. First, some of the moves are hindered by lag. It’s slight, but when trying to execute a punt, you’ll notice a delay between your action and the game’s response. Consequently, this prevents any player from executing a perfect punt, kickoff or field goal. Likewise, overzealous players will find themselves in hot water if they press the X button more than once before the snap. I did this a few times, thinking that the game wasn’t ready when I had pressed the X button the first time. But it was – the button press just wasn’t registered right away. Thus, my second press counted as a pass, and my ball flew down the field prematurely and was intercepted by a lucky opponent.
Thankfully, the other issue is purely visual: when selecting a play, NCAA Football 11 doesn’t know what to do with the player who finishes first. To give the waiting player something to look at, the game offers a wide, TV-style view of the stadium. It looks cool but stutters every time. Depending on how quick you are at selecting a play, and depending on how long your opponent takes, you could be staring at this ugly image for up to 10 seconds per play.
Those issues aside, NCAA Football 11 delivers an enjoyable online experience. Sports enthusiasts will be amused by the new Online Dynasty features, which allow players to interact with elements of the game – such as the ability to view the schedule and recruiting updates – with any device (an iPod, a laptop, etc.) that’s connected to the Internet. The results aren’t mind-blowing (hence my belief that enthusiasts, not everyone, will be intrigued), but it is interesting to see a major sports franchise venture in this direction.
Despite its many improvements, NCAA Football won’t be able to overtake the Madden franchise anytime soon. But as far as alternatives go – whether based in the college division or some fictional realm where late hits are encouraged – you can’t do much better than NCAA Football 11. The game’s various flaws show that the developers still have some work to do in refining next year’s update. In the meantime, players have a great sports game to sink their teeth into – one that’s mostly stellar and one that’s never boring.
Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (August 12, 2010)
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