College football’s toughest critics - the ones who agonize endlessly over the disaster that is the BCS or the unfair advantage that big-time conferences enjoy over their mid-major counterparts - are also its biggest fans. When it comes to EA’s annual collegiate gridiron efforts, we group ourselves in that mix. We’ve loved the series for years but are keenly aware each season is an opportunity for developers to rest on their laurels and serve up a virtual roster update. Thankfully, any worries we had faded with every hour we spent behind the wheel of NCAA Football 10; it’s a significant extension of the franchise that’s the best version yet.
To be sure, NCAA Football 10 is less about major on-field adjustments - although there are some subtle improvements there - and more about expanding the game’s universe. An ambitious list of new options headlines this year’s effort, and most are welcome additions that’ll make you think twice before trading it in the day Madden hits stores.
Between the hash marks, much is unchanged from the last couple of seasons, which is fine with us. All that means is that the sweet visuals and smooth gameplay are back. However, there are some notable enhancements we love - especially so-called “chained” plays that share the same formation, with one usually being a run and the other a play-action pass. Run one a few times and the defense will get “set up” for the opposite number, with those percentages displayed so you know if you’ll catch ‘em flat-footed. It’s a small stroke of brilliance that may never happen in real life but adds a dose of satisfaction we’ve never had before.
The real story of NCAA this season, though, is the Teambuilder mode - a total realization of separate create-a-school and roster download services in years past. We weren’t exactly impressed with the “back of the box” bullets about it - after all, we’ve created schools for years. However, we soon realized it blows away anything similar that’s come before. First off, it’s all configurable via PC. No more infuriating controller-typing! Secondly, not only do you get to tinker with the smallest uniform and scheme details, the entire roster is open for editing. Not just names and attributes, mind you, even individual appearance. It’s an open book that allows obsessive-compulsive gridiron fans to create teams from years past or “fantasy” rosters of all-time greats - and they’re all easily downloadable from your console. Score!
There are plenty of other features to sink your teeth into, of course, including the return of online dynasties, a nationwide “meta” stats aggregator called Season Showdown, and an updated Road to Glory mode allowing you to take a created high school prospect through a college career. You won’t lack for things to do, that’s for sure.
We were wondering where NCAA would land this year, and we’re extremely happy with the results. So please excuse us while we go pit Bear Bryant’s legendary Crimson Tide against Pete Carrol’s current Trojans - this one could get personal.
Jul 20, 2009