Review: NCAA Football 2005 (Microsoft Xbox)

The first NCAA football game I can remember playing was on my roommateâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s Sega Genesis in college. He got the copy of whatever EA was calling their college football game back then the year after K-Stateâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s first bowl bid of the Snyder era, and I was in heaven. I was also dropping my grades significantly, but being able to run the Wishbone and the Full House backfield over the evil empires of Nebraska and Oklahoma was worth it. Anyway, I ended up graduating and getting a great job where I can write flight simulators during the day and write about football games at night. Cool, huh?

NCAA Football 2005
Developer/Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: July 15
Number of restarts before I could finally beat Ohio State: 7

Modes

Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve always been a little peeved at the decision to remove the â┚¬Å”Exhibitionâ┚¬Â from the game modes list and instead make it â┚¬Å”Play Nowâ┚¬Â on the main menu. Part of me knows why they did it, and Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m sure Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m the last person to even notice, but itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s still a bit â┚¬Â¦ awkward. Maybe thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s the German side of my genetic code coming out.

Anyway, we have pretty much â┚¬Â¦ exactly the same set of gameplay options as last yearâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s NCAA title. And the year before that. And the year before THAT. For those completely new to the experience, you have the single-game/Exhibition/Play Now option, The multi-year Dynasty mode, Pontiac College Classics, Rivalry Games, Mascot Games (for unlocked mascot teams), Practice mode, and the big news of this season, online play on Xbox Live (now that Microsoft and EA have finally kissed and made up).

Oh, it sounds like a lot more, but letâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s be honest; the College Classics and Rivalry Games are glorified Exhibition games with preset teams. Sure, you get trophies to display in your Trophy Room, but is that worth playing Oklahoma or Texas â┚¬Â¦ EVER â┚¬Â¦ just to check that box on your to-do list?

As for the Dynasty mode, it is competent at what it does without bogging you down. In fact, I could have used a few more things to tweak as a coach. Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m a big simulation buff, so I only play through a season myself when I have some sort of emotional attachment to the outcome of that season â┚¬Â¦ or Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m trying to pump up somebodyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s stats so they win the Heisman. Same dif. One thing I especially liked was having to deal with discipline problems during the year. The best one was when my punter got busted for a game because he wasnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t following his proscribed meal plan. My PUNTER.

One bad trend and one good trend Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve noticed in EA Sports games of late: Theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve moved towards training movies to familiarize users with the new features and away from the interactive training modes they had in the past. However, the quality of these movies are improving with each new game.

So, with some cosmetic changes, pretty much more of the same, and maintaining the status quo isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t necessarily a bad thing, but it isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t a good thing either. Finally enabling online play on Xbox Live IS a good thing, however; as is the Dynasty mode and the new Stadium Noise effects (more on that later).

Modes Score: 6.0/10

Graphics

EA keeps tweaking the graphics for its football games a little every year. This year theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve improved close up figure shots significantly; a necessity with the new celebration controls. But theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve also done some weird things to the wide shots. In their quest to make things look more realistic, it seems as though theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re using more fog/haze effects this year to make the environment look more authentic. While I appreciate the effort, I have to say that most of the time all it did for me was make me think I needed to adjust the contrast on my TV.

The other graphical innovation this season is part of the new Stadium Noise model. You see, when youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re playing defense at home, youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve been able to pump up the crowd for a few years now. Now it actually does something. Allegedly (and I never saw a real cut-and-dried case of this working, so take it with a grain of salt) the more noise that you generate (a little level bar appears in the corner of the screen to help quantify this), the more difficult running the play becomes for your opponent, especially if they have to try and audible. The graphical part of this is that if you get the level high enough, the controller starts vibrating and the view starts shaking, ever so slightly as if the stadium noise was so loud that the vibrations were affecting the TV cameras. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a small addition that I really dug.

Graphics Score: 7.0/10

Sound

Nessler, Corso, and Herbstreit are back for another year of some of the best running commentary in sports games although with each passing year it becomes obvious that they only add a few new phrases to the existing songbook. Guys, youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re already dinged in public opinion by looking like youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re releasing the same game every year; why add fuel by rehashing the exact same commentary for four straight years?

â┚¬Å”Excellent awareness of the defender to know where the ball is and to get his hands on it.â┚¬Â

See? Anybody whoâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s played the game this millennium has heard that line. And itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s not like itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s Corsoâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s catchphrase or anything, they were just too lazy to script a whole new commentary bank.

Crowd noise HAS improved considerably, both as part of the Stadium Noise model and just in general. I noticed more chants during the games, and the sound at the higher crowd noise levels is far more natural sounding than in previous versions. You know, when you could hear the volume step up in discrete units? That always annoyed me. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s far smoother now.

While there werenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t any Earth-shattering changes this year, the excellence of the commentary engine and the increase in quality of the ambient crowd noise (â┚¬Å”O-ver-RAY-ted!!â┚¬Â) make this a consistently great-sounding game.

They get another point for both having “Shockers” as a team name in the sound bank and still having K-Stateâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s â┚¬Å”Wabash Cannonball.â┚¬Â

Sound Score: 7.5/10

Control

If youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve played an EA football game in the last four years, you know all of the controls that matter, save for one significant change: The white button is now the â┚¬Å”big hitâ┚¬Â button, which is preferable to the dive button for stopping people because A: it makes your player perform a better tackle by hitting them upright and wrapping them up, and B: if you miss, youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re still out of the play, but youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re not lying on your stomach looking like a jackass 20 yards downfield. It takes a bit to get used to, but itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a minor reprogramming at worst.

Otherwise, runs, passes, options, theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re all handled in the same way. A particularly useful new feature is the ability to set audibles from the play select screen, instead of having to pause the game and get into some cumbersome set of screens that give away what youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re trying to do to your opponent anyway. The mechanics of selecting the audible are only slightly different than calling a normal play, so it can be done quickly and easily, just be careful not to actually call the play in question when youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re trying to store it as an audible.

The other â┚¬Å”bigâ┚¬Â innovation this year (other than the Stadium Noise) is the much-ballyhooed â┚¬Å”Match-up Stick,â┚¬Â which translates into moving the Right Thumbstick around to see how freaked out your players are in any given situation. As you line up for a play you move the stick in different directions and little bars and circles pop up showing you the relative abilities of the players to their primary defensive counterparts (receivers vs. secondary, running backs vs. linebackers, o-line to d-line) and how â┚¬Å”composedâ┚¬Â each player seems to be.

The idea of this was supposed to go along with the Stadium Noise model. The louder and rowdier the home crowd, the more likely that the visiting players would â┚¬Å”freak outâ┚¬Â and not perform as well (I havenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t seen any of them pull a â┚¬Å”Last Boy Scoutâ┚¬Â onscreen yet, so Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m guessing that all that happens is a temporary loss of skill points). The problem is that I havenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t seen any situations where this actually amounts to anything. Maybe itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s just that pervasive and insidious, but Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve had situations where my running back had picked up 200 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half of a game and neither his composure nor his ability meter ever improved above abysmal.

That aside, the controls are familiar and positive, and you even seem to have a little more ability to shape the trajectory of the ball with the left thumbstick this year.

Oh, and this year you can do celebrations. Of differing intensities (upon pain of drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty). Using players. Or mascots. Or FANS. And you can make custom signs for your fans in the stands. My favorite is: â┚¬Å”Widro Fears The Kliq.â┚¬Â

Control Score: 7.0/10

Replayability

This is where writing an EA sports review starts to get tedious.

You see, EA has a HUGE share of the Sports market. Thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s good for them, but a bit lousy for us because they have no real incentive (until ESPN starts really kicking their ass) to make the game have a broader appeal than the hardcore NCAA football fans. As such, the replayability of the game is based solely on the fanaticism of the fans. The Dynasty Mode is good, but I donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t see it being that much of a driving force to get people playing it over and over and over again. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s suitably average.

Replayability Score: 5.0/10

Balance

Again, weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re dealing with the same difficulty settings seen since 1999 and before, but itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s nice to see that EA has finally found a happy medium between run and pass effectiveness on offense. Even though, if you play through a season and actually play the games, youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll almost always lead the NCAA in run yardage defense; unless you change the quarter lengths.

What makes this better than average? Good training videos and fewer â┚¬Å”no freakinâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ wayâ┚¬Â plays by the CPU than in previous versions (although catching a CPU receiver from behind is still verboten.

Balance Score: 6.0/10

Originality

When you have such an embedded franchise, the only thing that can help the originality is the quality of the new features.

The Stadium Noise feature is a fine thing in and of itself.

The Match-Up Stick? Worthless, but since it technically doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t take anything away from gameplay, we canâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t fault the game for it.

Originality Score: 5.5/10

Appeal Factor

Unlike some â┚¬Â¦ okay, one of the new football games this season, this game really doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t even try to break into new audiences. I mean it REALLY doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t try to break new audiences. Other than a trailer or two in the Features section, there is nothing â┚¬Â¦.

â┚¬Â¦ actually, thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s not true. They included more Division IAA and II teams this year. Still, all theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve done was give more incentive for small school football fans to buy. They havenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t done much to tweak the Create-A-School mode, but itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s still sufficiently deep for me, so that doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t bug me too much.

Appeal Factor Score: 5.5/10

Addictiveness

See also: Replayability. If youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re not a hardcore college football junkie, youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re not going to spend four hours a day in front of this game â┚¬Â¦ unless class really IS that boring.

Addictiveness Score: 5.0/10

Miscellaneous

For as much as I rant on EA Sportsâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ lack of innovation, I also have to respect the philosophy of not messing with a good thing. Their football games are good things, and theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve evolved to their current state and have kept the best features from over the years. Create-A-Player. Create-A-School, Dynasty Mode, they were all innovations back in the day. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s not entirely fair to judge a game on the principle of â┚¬Å”what have you done for me lately,â┚¬Â but itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s also not entirely fair for a video game company to release basically the same game every year with roster updates and charge $50 for it each time. Double that for taking away online support for previous versions.

Still the pros outweigh the cons for this game franchise, as they do for most of EA Sportsâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ product line. Just when I think I should really hammer EA Sports for something, the same thing reminds me of how well they actually do their jobs: My copy of 989 Sportsâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ Final Four 2003. *shudder*

Miscellaneous Score: 7.0/10

Overall: 6.0