Your momma always said that the best things come to those who wait. Chances are she wasn’t talking about excellent college football video games, but who cares - after a mediocre Xbox 360 outing last year, EA Sports’ NCAA Football 08 is back with a vengeance and belongs in every pigskin junkie’s library right this minute. The promise of next-generation football is finally upon us, and we couldn’t be happier if we tried.
On the field, every fundamental element - gameplay, visuals, play-calling, and so on - is smooth as butter. We’ve discovered all sorts of nifty nuances, such as running backs reaching out to follow their blockers instead of sticking to them (finally!), and dozens of seemingly random new (and wholly realistic) tackle animations. Last year’s stuttering stops and starts during and immediately after the play are long gone, appearing only occasionally during pre-snap menus and cutscenes. Three cheers for that.
Naturally, there are more than a hundred Division 1 schools for your choosing, from Alabama to Akron and every college in between. The Dynasty mode has been beefed up, with a revamped and incredibly deep recruiting model that enables you to scour the virtual country for prospects to court and sign. Between targeting high schoolers, deciding when and how to contact them, and making promises to lure them to your school, it’s no easy task to build up your squad from an also-ran to a championship contender. Obviously, if you’re coaching up Texas or USC, life’s a lot easier than in outposts like Wyoming. Regardless, transforming yourself from Gerry Faust into Bear Bryant takes plenty of time and effort, but the results can be fantastic.
If running a program from top to bottom isn’t necessarily your thing, the new Campus Legend mode lets you create a high school phenom, strut your stuff in your home state’s playoffs, then choose which institution to attend - all from a position-specific perspective. Before you have nightmarish flashbacks to Madden’s Superstar mode, though, don’t worry - it actually works this time around. We also love the integrated ESPN Sportscenter feeds and embedded podcasts - they aren’t new to EA Sports games, but they’re sweet nonetheless.
There are, of course, some quirks that we could do without. Players have a tendency to celebrate their awesomeness even after minimal gains, and the constantly jumping-in-unison crowd appears to be attending Lollapalooza instead of a football game. Injured players are left lying helplessly on the field with no trainers coming to their aid, and the field barely looks worse for wear through the course of a game - even if it’s played during a downpour.
Middling annoyances aside, NCAA 08 is easily the best football game yet for the Xbox 360. Sporting a beautiful look and feel and more modes than you can shake a stick at, it’ll cure your football fever all season long.