NCAA Football 2007 scores big, delights fans
Brian Doxtader | Wednesday, September 6, 2006
There are some certainties in college football that are like clockwork – someone from the Seminoles will get arrested, Michigan will be overrated, the BCS will be a mess and EA Sports will release a new version of “NCAA Football.”
“NCAA Football 2007,” however, may be the best version yet. It tweaks improvements from 2006 but retains last year’s playability.
The biggest change to “NCAA Football 2007” is the Campus Legend mode, which is really just a revamped Race for the Heisman from 2006. The user creates his or her own player, chooses a position and goes through training camp, which then gains the player scholarship offers to various schools. Once at the school of choice, the player is immediately inserted into the starting lineup, no matter how unrealistic – a freshman QB obviously wouldn’t get the start over Quinn, but that’s how it goes in the game.
Campus Legend mode requires players to balance academics (with majors ranging from Division I-A Mascots to Chemistry) and football with a schedule that allows them to choose where they want to concentrate. Focus too much on football, and the GPA slips (which can make a player ineligible). Conversely, focus too much on academics, and on-field performance suffers.
The schedule is controlled from a “dorm room,” which gets bigger and fancier in each succeeding year – though it seems pretty unlikely that a Notre Dame or UCLA player would have a Reggie Bush poster hanging on the wall.
While the mode is actually pretty easy, it unbalances the game by driving the player to use his or her created character more often than is realistic. It’s conceivable to win the Heisman all four years at running back, quarterback or even receiver, even on the highest difficulty level, as long as you keep feeding your player the ball. This leads to 50-yard bombs late in the fourth quarter when you’re ahead by 30 just to pad stats.
After three or four years, you are given the choice to either export your player to Madden 2007 or to coach – which is pretty funny, since a 22-year old player probably wouldn’t get to be head coach at a D-IA school, even if he did win the Heisman four years in a row.
Dynasty mode, however, remains the core of the game, as players try to lead their teams to multiple national titles. Players can recruit in-season and invite prospects to visit during key games.
There are welcome new features, including more varied playbooks and a new “momentum meter” which shifts according to big plays during the game. A team could have all the momentum and be driving toward the end zone when the quarterback throws a pick six. Suddenly, the other team grabs momentum and gives its players a performance bonus.
For the most part, the graphics are very good and much improved. The collision engine is better, which means that players rarely run through each other anymore. On the other hand, there are still no gang tackles or shared sacks, even though sometimes it appears that there should be.
Other animations, especially celebrations, are also back and better than ever, although EA needs to fix a few things in the future. There’s nothing more bizarre than watching a running back celebrate a two yard run up the gut.
The game balance, once the series’ Achilles’ Heel, is much easier in 2007. The running game works as players break tackles, fall forward, push for extra yardage and blockers actually hold their blocks once in a while. Receivers have a greater tendency to catch balls thrown their way, with far fewer inexplicable drops.
EA has also fixed the balance issues from previous year, which heavily favored mobile quarterbacks. Though they are still extremely effective (especially Troy Smith and Pat White, who runs amok against slower defenses), better defensive recognition and QB spy plays that actually work help negate their advantage and make pocket passers like Quinn and Brian Brohm more viable.
The AI, unfortunately, is still dumb as rocks, even on the highest difficulty, which means an offense (or defense, for that matter) can continually run the same play and the computer won’t pick up on it. No matter the opponent, you’ll feel like you’re playing against a Greg Robinson-coached team every time.
One of the most frustrating parts of the game is the frequency of roughing the kicker and running into the kicker penalties, especially on extra point tries. A penalty is incurred about every other attempt – a stunningly high frequency, especially given its rarity in actual games.
In fact, special teams as a whole are problematic. The new “over-the-shoulder” cam used when defending punts and field goals is nice and an interesting idea, but it makes blocking the kick way too easy. A similar cam is used when fielding kickoffs and punts, which makes it much harder to see downfield.
The kicking game, however, is much improved. Kickoffs and punts are now controlled using the right analog stick (think “Tiger Woods Golf”), which makes it much easier to be accurate.
Historical rosters are once again in the game, though these seem merely transferred from previous editions, which means Notre Dame’s 1977 quarterback still isn’t Joe Montana (though he is, oddly enough, the starter on the All-Notre Dame team)
The unfortunate absence of the absolutely loaded All-America team from 2005 is a bit disappointing for those who would love to see Reggie Bush and Vince Young line up in the same backfield and Paul Posluszny and AJ Hawk wreaking havoc together at linebacker.
College ball is, in many ways, more exciting than the NFL and the ability to run “gimmick” offenses like Spurrier’s fun-and-gun, Meyer’s spread option and the triple option attack give the game increased playability.
There are still some issues with the AI and graphics, but for the most part, “NCAA Football 2007” is the best game of its kind. And if that’s not enough, for the first time in the game’s history, Notre Dame is one of the best teams in the game, which means that, at long last, you too can go out there with all you’ve got and win just one for the Gipper.