Review: NCAA Football 09 (360/PS3)

NCAA Football 09
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: July 15th, 2008

In the middle of August every year, the hype machine gets buzzing and people across America line up at midnight to purchase an annual video game icon, that of course being the latest installment of Madden NFL Football. But for some, the countdown comes much earlier, in mid-July to feed their football fix.

From Columbus, Ohio to Lincoln, Nebraska, to Eugene, Oregon, people lined up at midnight for a chance to get their hands on the college game. NCAA Football 09 is the summer salvation for college football fans coast-to-coast, a preview of the season to come – and a chance to represent their team against rivals across the country, take them down, and take home the BCS Championship.

Traditionally, to WIN the BCS Championship on NCAA Football 09, you’d be stuck taking it to the offline field, but in a cool new feature this season – the online dynasty, you and your online friends can battle against each other both on the field, and by recruiting off the field, over the years, to see who can not only win the championship, but maintain a program and build it into a true dynasty against real competition.

You have the ability switch back and forth from an “online” to an “offline” dynasty if you decide keeping it online isn’t worth the headache. Playing against people you know can be a lot of fun, but as you can imagine trying to organize a league against random opponents can be a scheduling nightmare. If one guy decides he isn’t up for playing, or just isn’t around at all it can really slow up the progress of the dynasty. If you can work around it, or have reliable friends this has the potential to really keep fans playing all season long.

If you’re into more variety playing solo, the Campus Legend returns for another season. You build your player from the ground up, where all future five stars are born – the high school level, playing high school games against weaker opponents with the opportunity to bring home a state football championship. From there, you can pick from your scholarship offers to pack up and move to the University of your choosing. From there, you can work your way up to the top of the depth chart and maybe even on to a player of the week or the granddaddy of them all – The Heisman Trophy.

Campus Legend is a great option for people who are tired of playing traditional seasons/dynasties and want to focus on a certain aspect of a team rather than just playing game after game, and the depth of this mode is very solid. Personally, I’m more into the dynasty mode just because I love building my team, picking up five star recruits, and developing the real life versions of actual college athletes – which has taken a HUGE step forward this season with the introduction of the EA Locker.

Due to NCAA rules and regulations, college games are NOT allowed to use actual names of the athletes. Every year, EA just has likenesses of the college teams, where clearly it’s the player, from the numbers to the positions to the attributes – just no official names. Die hard fans and stat geeks everywhere had to take the time to manually input every player’s name into the system – or use fake “generated” names.

While this may still technically be the case, with EA locker you can download rosters from other users online. Trust me, by the time you read this review there are downloadable rosters that will give you the actual real life names of every player in college football this season – and they’re amazingly accurate. It’s a lot more fun seeing who’s on top for the Heisman trophy and seeing actual names. It’s a quick, easy step and just adds to the overall value of the game..and makes for some great trash talk for even the most casual fan.

Visually, the game has taken another step forward this season – albeit not a big one. The stadiums are perfectly rendered with everything from the student sections to the band in the correct locations, the players are accurate, and the game looks beautiful in high definition. My only real complaint is that some of the stadium video boards are lacking real detail. Most of them are black with just a logo in the middle, and even in past versions on older systems they replicated the action on the field with the video boards. Obviously this doesn’t make or break the game, but quite honestly it’s the only complaint I can find about the graphics, they look great and add to the unbelievable realism of the game.

The announcing team of Nessler, Corso, and Herbstreit returns for yet another season, and still the crew manages to say virtually the exact same things they have since the 2002 version of the game. It was once the best announce team in any sports game as far as I’m concerned, but as a long time fan of the series, I know what Lee Corso is going to say before he even says it and it’s definitely time to bring them back in the booth for a new voice session. For those who aren’t long time fans of the series – you’ll actually love it, the commentary is fluid and entertaining – if you’ve never heard it before! The rest of us though could sure use some new dialogue.

One great new audio feature is the custom stadium soundtrack. You can use your music library to have stadium speakers play a certain song during a certain situation – and the feature is extremely customizable. How about a little Rolling Stones “Start Me Up” on kickoffs, and Kanye West’s “Stronger” during a timeout? Or a specific 3rd down or 4th down song – or a specific song to kick of the crucial 4th quarter? The options are endless, and the songs play like they’re coming through the stadium speakers without any skipping or glitches. If you like your games with unbelievable realism, or you just have your own personal “Psych Up” songs for any given situation you can make it happen with the custom soundtrack.

Now as for the gameplay itself, the controls have improved significantly over last year thanks to the ability to combo your moves. Complaints in seasons past have been that the person with the ball could get “trapped” in an animation. In other words, wants you hit the “spin” button you were stuck spinning all the way through whether a juke or a dive was more necessary at the moment or not. Now you can mix it up, and the animations are fluid and easier to navigate, although they still take some practice to truly master which adds to the addictiveness of the game. These moves work on both offense and defense, and if you can master them, you’re going to have a serious advantage over a more casual gamer.

If you’re more of a grinder who likes to just run the ball/pass the ball and hope for the best, you’ll also do just fine – it’s still possible to cut corners and outrun the defenders and passing is still as simple as just hitting the corresponding button with the receiver. In this season’s version I’ve noticed an increase in interceptions, whether I’m the Quarterback or the DB – long passes get picked more times than they’re caught.

When you’re on defense, selecting a defensive back when a quarterback is pressured to throw a “duck” you basically have to wait for it to get near you, tap the catch button and its off to the races in the opposite direction. On the other hand, I’ve had wide open receivers all alone when suddenly a safety will come out of nowhere, lightning fast and pick it off, even at the lower difficulty levels.

If you do throw a pick (and you WILL throw a pick at some point), you do have an immediate chance at a little redemption. You’ll get a “coaches cam” look at the last play, with an option of three different defenses. If you can figure out what defense the other team just threw at you, and you guess it right, no harm done your quarterback will bounce back just fine the next time you go out on offense. Select wrong, and the quarterback will be rattled, lose some of his attributes, and be in position to throw yet another pick the next time you take the field on offense. This is yet another quality added feature to this year’s game, and gives you a little “Football 101″ education in the middle of action.

Passing is completely a risk/reward proposition, throwing shorter passes to the Running Back or Tight End are usually very easy to complete, but may be a minimal gain. Oftentimes in a pass play the running back is supposed to run towards the sidelines, but a glitch will sometimes run him right out of bounds after the catch – even with no defender within 10 yards – causing a huge loss on the play. Despite problems like these, the controls have still taken a solid step forward – although a little polish in the offseason will definitely help for the next year’s game.

The NCAA Football franchise as a whole has been an outstanding series ever since its Playstation 2 debut back in 2001, and every season since then has either been as good – and some year’s significantly better than the previous version. This year’s version has added so many new details that on the surface may seem minor, but overall add up to add the most realistic experience you can get out of a college sports game.As far as features are concerned, they’ve got just about everything you could ask for – and I think if each one of them can add just a little more polish, its entirely possible this game could be close to perfection for a college football title.

The Scores
Story (Modes): Classic
Graphics: Great
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Very Good

Short Attention Span Summary
NCAA Football 09 was already a great series, and all the new features this year really add up to make this a must buy for any college football fan. From the multiple – and unique modes, to the ability to play the modes either offline or with friends, to the cool little additions like EA locker and custom soundtrack, the depth of the game will keep fans playing well through this year’s bowl season.

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