Review: NCAA Football 14 (PS3)

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Title: NCAA Football 14
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (6.3 GB)
Release Date: July 9, 2013
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Price: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
NCAA Football 14 is also available on Xbox 360.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 327 of the podcast.

We’ve been through this enough times, so I’m not going to bore you with the details. We’ll take a look at the new modes and interface, but at the core, I’m pretty sure that you know what to expect.

Gameplay:
If you’ve played any of the past NCAA Football, or Madden games for that matter, you’ll definitely know what you’re doing here. The game is still plagued with hitching and hesitations throughout. It really put a damper on the experience, especially when it affects your running game, or when you’re trying to thread the needle with a pass to your Tight End on a crossing route. It’s been happening for years, and they still haven’t fixed it, and quite frankly, it actually seems worse than last year.

NCAA14- 6.12

Control of your player is tight though, and the running game definitely benefits. Using the right stick to juke and dive, and even flicking down to try and recover from a stumble all feels great. The player interaction has been tweaked again using EA’s new “Infinity Engine 2” for better player physics, giving you the ability to slide past a defender instead of merely getting knocked over if you so much as touch him. Seeing the runner or receiver slide past a guy is a pretty cool thing, and it gave me a great confidence boost when attempting to get through the smallest of holes.

I have to bring this up though. When your opponent goes with a no-huddle offense. it takes forever for the play call interface to appear for the defense, usually resulting in the ball being hiked while your players are still shifting formations. There’s no excuse for it, and makes me almost throw my controller out of frustration, especially since half of the teams I’ve played in my season use the no-huddle almost exclusively.

NCAA14- 1.4

One option that’s pretty fun is the ability to view and save specific replays after the game has completed. .You’ll be shown any even semi-important play by quarter, allowing you to view with a few different cameras. If you find one that you’d like to keep, hit a button and it’s saved to your vault. You even have the opportunity to upload replays to EA’s servers, which can be viewed via web browser on the NCAA site. It looks like the replays rotate out though, so when the game hits, I have a feeling they won’t last very long for public viewing. It’s a neat idea though, but one deficiency is that you can’t do any editing or camera switching, so what you see is what you get.

As in many of the other EA Sports franchises, Ultimate Team is here. I’m not an expert on it, but basically it’s all centered around trading cards, but instead of just comparing cards like we did as kids, you’ll actually be able to setup a team from all of your available cards, and play games out on the field. It’s an interesting mode, and either it’s been picking up steam, or EA is simply just adding it to drive revenue via card pack sales. I was excited though, that I got Bo Jackson right out of the gate. The guy is a beast (obviously) and in my first game, I ran in all but one play. Bo knows how to run. I was disappointed a bit though when I received this from EA:

NCAA14- 1.1

“Just wanted to give you a heads-up that Bo Jackson is making his triumphant return to video games in NCAA Football 14! Bo will be available as a player in the Ultimate Team mode, and best of all, everyone who plays the game in the first week and logs onto the Ultimate Team servers will get to add Bo to their squad for free! This launch week version of Bo carries an overall rating of 85, which should allow him to do plenty of damage on starter teams. Of course, you probably remember the glory days of “Tecmo Bo” and want nothing less than a godly Bo Jackson. We’ve got that covered too, as players who open packs will have the chance to snag a rare Epic Bo with a 99 overall rating, including a 99 speed rating, 99 trucking and 98 acceleration. How many touchdowns will you score? All of the touchdowns.”

I thought that I was special 🙁

I’m glad to see that I can simply play a season too. For a while, EA Sports seemed to have been trying to get rid of that mode, and it’s usually the only mode that I use in most sports titles. It’s handled really well, although getting from week-to-week is a slow process, as it updates all of the other scores, and creates data for the ESPN integration in terms of “highlights from the rest of the league” and what the commentators might talk about. It’s not too terribly bad though, and it’s a pretty robust system overall.

NCAA14- 9

Dynasty makes a return this year, and from the looks of things, this is where most of the updated depth went. New features include Coach Skills and Power Recruiting, and looking at everything that is taken into consideration, it may seem pretty complex, but the developers have actually streamlined things quite well.

Road to Glory has also been expanded this year, allowing you to either create your own player or use an existing player. My favorite option though is the Heisman Challenge (brought to you by Nissan) allowing you to actually use past Heisman winners to see if you can actually do any better. I played a bit as Ron Dayne (number 33 of your Wisconsin Badgers!) It’s a pretty cool setup, and something that I want to play more.

Visuals:
Nothing has changed, except for the stuff that’s gotten a bit worse. What the hell is going on here?? Once again the visuals have stayed essentially the same, but some of the textures are downright pedestrian. As usual, I’m playing a season as my Wisconsin Badgers, and during a spot between plays the camera slowly moves-in on the name “Camp Randall Stadium”, or at least, that’s what it’s supposed to say. With the combination of aliasing and low-res textures though, you can barely make the name out, and the ‘I’ in ‘stadium’ can’t even be seen.

NCAA14- 6.4

They still have a decent lighting engine, but things just have a muddy look all over. I even had a few instances where the curve of the helmets disappeared and instead diplayed the sharp edges of the polygons instead. Other glitchy stuff like players falling all over each other and a supposedly haunted Football floating across the endzone after a player drops it are present multiple times per game. The worst is after a big play, teh camera will focus on the player, so you can watch him bump into stuff instead of picking your next play. I let one of these run without pushing a button, and the play screen never appeared, and I got a delay of game penalty. After all of the years that EA Tiburon has been making Football games, you’d think that this kind of thing couldn’t be present, but it is, and abundantly at that.

On the other end of the spectrum though, are the completely revamped menus. The entire interface has been overhauled, resulting in a much better layout. Even with so many items to display, it never bogs you down. It’s a great addition that I hope makes its way to Madden this year. It’s definitely a rarity that the in-game visuals are the worst part of the game, but in this instance that’s just the way I see it unfortunately.

NCAA14- 6.1

Don’t get me wrong though, the visuals are still passable, it’s just the fact that even the Madden games look better, so why can’t the NCAA team start using that engine instead? The crowd still looks like a bunch of cardboard cutouts, and the action on the field looks like there’s a huge rainstorm interfering with your Dish receiver. I remember specifically talking last year about the hitches during the action, and saying “I really didn’t notice it.” But I can’t say that this year, and as you can probably tell, I’m frustrated. The game is still very playable, but when these hitches start affecting whether I’ll get that First Down or not, well then it’s time for me to complain. It would be nice if Tiburon would just do a data install to get better read times from teh hard drive than the Blu-ray disk, because I can hear it grinding almost constantly, and I’d bet money that’s where some of these issues are coming from.

Audio:
Sounds are done very well, and this year they’ve pulled a lot of the stops out by including a ton of licensed music that you’d probably hear at the real stadiums. The announcing crew is ok, byt pretty standard fare for a sports game. Reverb in the stadiums adds to the immersion, especially when you’re using surround or a good set of gaming headphones. Sounds on the field are faithfully recreated as well, with bone-jarring crunches and the crack off helmets hitting each other. I just wish the visuals could be as good.

Online/Multiplayer:
Online is available without an online pass (EA recently got rid of the use of online passes in any of their future games.) Unfortunately, as of this writing, I haven’t found a single opponent to try it out. I will attempt to update this review after release, but if you’ve played NCAA online before, I’m pretty confident that it will be a pretty similar experience (which is actually pretty good.)

NCAA14- 1.2

Conclusion:
NCAA Football 14 is that old, comfortable shoe, which can be a good and bad thing. They’ve done a stunning job of updating the interface and beefing some of the modes up, but in the visuals department (especially all of the hitching) have finally pushed me over the edge with this series. Let’s just hope that it’s finally not a problem next year on the next-gen consoles. If you like the NCAA Football series from EA Sports though, you’ll definitely be happy. It’s a solid game, but it definitely needs a new coat of paint.

Score:
7.5

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