[10 August 2010]
Growing up as a little brother is not the easiest existence. With a brother three years my senior, I know intimately the various trials that come with it: getting beaten up publicly (in front of friends, girlfriends, strangers, etc.), living up to an established standard, and being known as an “other” (for a large part of my childhood, I was known as “Little Andrew”). But there comes a time, at least in my experience, when we pull even. No longer are we easy targets for pummeling, and on the rare occasion, we actually win a fight.
In almost all ways, EA Sports’s NCAA Football franchise has played the younger sibling role to the company’s cash cow Madden series, rarely getting the newest updates, getting critically blasted for it, and being a fairly obvious Tonto to Madden’s Lone Ranger. But NCAA Football 11 may be the year that all of that changes, or at least, when they pull even.
Aside from a graphical update—the one that Madden 10 received last year—NCAA Football has for the first time played guinea pig to some of EA Sports’s newest advancements, and while being the test dummy for some drastic gameplay changes might not seem ideal, EA has established itself as a football powerhouse, rarely missing with massive overhauls. Principal among these is the new Locomotion system that has been implemented in NCAA Football 11 and the upcoming Madden 11. EA did away with the traditional speed boost button, which had been a staple of their games for countless years. Instead, the developers focused on making fast players fast and slow players slow, taking characteristics like agility and acceleration into account in ways that they never had before. The end result is the most fluid, realistic football game ever created. You can actually see running backs pulling away from defensive ends and players slowing down when running in a zig-zag motion.
On a micro, game by game basis, NCAA Football 11 is as near to perfection as you can realistically get in 2010. Given the hardware limitations, the realism of the game is unprecedented. But in a more holistic, macro sense, NCAA Football 11 suffers from some crippling issues, primarily problems with the extensive Dynasty mode, year by year maintenance of a program wherein you recruit, play seasons, and attempt to build a national power. Prime among the issues in the game is character development and computer depth issues.
High school recruits, as they are in real life, are rated on a star basis, one- to five-star recruits, denoting their skill level, with five-star players being the most talented. In any given year, there are approximately only 150 four- and five-star recruits to be spread among each program. Though these numbers are realistic, the game’s lack of character development makes for teams that are utterly lacking in talent. Because in NCAA Football 11 a three-star recruit will never be as talented as a four- or five-star, recruiting ratings are permanent and always spot on.
The other major issue in the Dynasty mode is the prevalent depth chart concerns. The game limits teams to 70 scholarship players, a full 15 less than the NCAA actually allows in real life. And while those 15 players might not seem consequential, with injuries and talent deficiencies their absence makes for serious problems. For example, on one play after I had subbed in my second-string defense, due to injuries, the game inserted my starting left tackle at cornerback. For those unfamiliar with football, that’s sort of like replacing a Honda Accord with a school bus.
NCAA Football 11’s other deficiencies are mostly inconsequential except to those who adored NCAA Football 10, namely the lack of any addition—literally none, the exact same animations and voice tracks are supplanted from last year’s edition—to the Road to Glory mode, which is still the best career mode of any sports game. But the cons—a few glitches that at the writing of this review nearly a month after the game’s release are yet to be patched—are overshadowed by the pros. For the first time in the games’ mutual existence, NCAA Football 11 feels like a unique, worthwhile experience that’s catered to the college football fan, rather than the game that primes people for Madden.