NCAA Football 07
Some say that football season starts with the release of a new Madden, but that's changed in recent years--the tremendous performance of EA's NCAA Football franchise has gotten people now thinking pigskin a month earlier. So does this next-gen debut maintain the series' stellar winning tradition? "Notso fast, my friend." NCAA 07still plays really solid (you can actually block kicks now) and is the best looking NCAA game yet--from the players to the picture-perfect stadiums, NCAA Football is starting to outshine Johnny Ballgame's creation. And for those who require depth, you'll definitely dig the robust 60-year dynasty mode (complete with in-season recruiting) and the minigames (Option Dash--now with multipliers for moves like fake pitches--being my fave). Yet what bogg les my sporto mi nd is that the 360 version--which, remember, costs $10 extra--doesn't include all of the new gameplay features of the uglier NCAAs (see sidebar). Can't institute the current-gen's off-field stuff in your first year on a new machine? OK, fine. But when you start cutting corners between the goalposts, thatfe when I have a problem. Especially when your biggest gameplay change-up in 07, a momentum meter that's supposed to give you more opportunities for making big plays, might as well not even exist--it's not like you can ever tell if it's working or not.
The crisp October afternoon in Morgantown, WV, turns from dusk to night with beautiful next-gen accuracy over the course of four quarters as my killer quarterback/running back combo options its way to over 600 total yards--another easy Mountaineer win for me. Every game of NCAA 07 looks great on the 360, but every game also feels skewed toward offense. That's OK, because it delivers an extremely fun gridiron experience, especially head-to-head. However, it's hard not to look at all those features on the current-gen version--monster playbooks, Campus Legend mode, trick plays, special-teams tweaks--and wonder why a football game coming one generation after Madden on 360 doesn't have what you'll find on the PS2 or Xbox. Still, 07 is my favorite 360 sports game so far.
I appreciate college football's storied past of miraculous, game-changing plays, but when they happen every game, as they did during my playtesting, they don't feel so legendary--they feel staged and annoying. If the ebb and flow of momentum actually mattered, it would've made more sense, but it doesn't. Like Bryan, I saw no perceivable relationship between a team's mo' (regardless of what the new meter read) and being able to pull off a big play. Other loose ends, like iffy collision detection that turns inside runs into a mash-up of bodies and brings down ball carriers without wrap-up animations, left me considering benching this in favor of the current-gen version. It plays a good game of ball, though, thanks to the solid controls and return to a more traditional default camera angle.
The Returning Letterman
Just because next-gen NCAA is in the spotlight doesn't mean EA neglected its current-gen diehards. Actually, the PS2 and Xbox versions offer way more both on and off the field. On special teams, the camera now shifts to the back of your selected defensive player, giving you a much better perspective for blocking field goals and punts. And on kickoff returns, the camera zooms in (a bit too much), making the run to daylight more intense.
Campus Legend replaces Race for the Heisman as the main single-player mode, where you'll also be tasked with selecting a major and taking real exams. If you perform well on these tests, your created player will actually receive a slight stat boost. See, studying can pay off.
In terms of sports titles, I've always thought that the more accessible the title was, the better the title was. My theory is that as titles get better, developers learn how to manage the crucial balance between gameplay and simulation. NCAA Football 07 does just that by giving you a well rounded and feature rich football simulation with great controls as well as a series of mini-games that go beyond a simple football game.
Loading up the game, it asked me for my choice of favorite team, to theme the game for me. After that, I could play around with a plethora of different gameplay options. A series of what the game calls 'spring drills', mini-games that help you practice your individual football skills are some of the first that caught my attention. My favorite and the one I was most interested in was the Campus Legend mode. Simulating acceptance into a college based on your performance at a scouting match, you'll be able to balance academics with game practice and social activities to become a top notch athlete.
Once you actually get to play a football game in proper, you'll find the controls in this game to be enjoyable and forgiving. With good onscreen controls, and an easy to learn interface, I found it easy to get used to playing this game, something I've had very little luck with before. Not being a tremendous sports fan myself, I haven't played games like this for hours and hours before, something that's hampered my ability to get into other sports titles. Although I'm not a good judge, the AI in this title seemed quite good, capable of executing a large portion of your play without your direct attention, in addition to having the other team do a good job of kicking your tail.
In the realm of presentation, NCAA Football 07 looks good, but not great. To its reputation, it can show you a nice wide spread of the action, and also let you take a 3rd person perspective to get a tighter control over the character you're playing.
I'm no football fanatic, but I found it remarkably easy to get into this game and have a good time. With great multiplayer (I mean, it's a sports game, so it figures), and a wealth of different gameplay options, this is a title that should keep you entertained for a good long while. Plus, as an added benefit, you can take elements from your NCAA Football 07 game and transport it into Madden NFL '07, extending the fun. Whee!