NCAA Football 10 Review

David Creech

NCAA Football ’10 is one of the few annual franchises that I look forward to throughout the year. It's essentially a roster update with some incremental changes for which EA charges full price, however it does throw in a new feature or two each year to keep fans wanting more. The big new features for ’10 are Team Builder and Season Showdown, both of which are addressed below, and frankly, are both quite cool. But are they worth the price of admission?

The Season Showdown extends the replayability factor immensely!

Visually, the game looks largely identical to last year but seen through a grainy filter - essentially a dirtier version of Madden. All the colors are a bit muted which is disappointing. Going to DKR Texas Memorial Stadium and watching the Longhorns should bring an explosion of orange and white to the screen, but instead brings a drab color palette along with it. The pre-game shows are a step up from last year and some of the body animations are markedly more fluid. The only area that seemed to take a step backward is animations involving passes - the quarterback’s and receiver’s arms can come across as a bit jerky - however, on the other hand, the kicking animation has been vastly improved, and that was long overdue. If it wasn’t for the grainy appearance, I would say this was a solid step forward for the franchise.

There is a new camera lock on mode which is tied to some achievements in an attempt to make the game somewhat more third person rather than the standard sky camera view. This can be chosen prior to the snap on any given down by merely clicking the left thumbstick, but it is not as playable and I would tend to recommend against it. You can see some gaps better, but lose the ability to see the big picture, and it is quite easy to run in the wrong direction when you think you are just glancing to one side.

The commentators Corso, Nessler and Herbstreit rturn again, along with many of the same lines. It does seem that there are more dialogue options for them, but they still talk about things that don’t actually happen on the field. Also, if you interrupt an animation or replay, it doesn’t interrupt the dialogue, which can lead to some amusing comments when applied to the next play. The game ships with fight songs for every school, but they do tend to get old pretty quickly, especially if you tend to play primarily with one team as you are encouraged to do with the Season Showdown feature. It took me exactly three games before I connected to the Media Center and started up Metallica. On the plus side, if you ever need to play a game with no sound so as not to disturb someone, this is a great choice because the audio is purely for the atmosphere and does not impact gameplay at all.

Outta my way!

The players cover a wider variety of skill sets than those found in Madden, and with 120 schools to choose from, fans of the sport are likely to have multiple teams they like. This helps ensure the game appeals to a huge potential fan base and will keep the online community alive far longer than is the norm for many games. But what if you went to a small school like I did that is not represented in the game? This year there is finally a solution which was already hugely popular before the title even launched: Team Builder! This is a great web-based part of the game that lets you create a team on EA’s website and import it into the game, with custom players, logos, uniforms, etc. Are you a huge fan of the Cotton Bowl, perhaps? You can recreate the very first one by creating and importing the 1937 Texas Christian and Marquette teams and play the game as either (or both) sides. Of course the rules have changed a bit since then, but the concept is still there, and Team Builder lets you do it. You can download teams created by others as well in case you lack the time/imagination/patience to create a whole team on your own - with 100,000+ available even before the game launched. A caveat however is that you have a limited number of Team Builder slots that are available to you, and once you use those, you will have to pay EA some MS Points to get more. This also means that people who rent the game won’t generally be able to participate in this aspect without paying points up front.

The other big addition this year is Season Showdown, which is a feature that rates how well your favorite team does under your stewardship, as well as across all players on Xbox Live and PSN. There are leaderboards that track the combined ratings of all players who select that team, and while the popular universities will likely dominate because of the bandwagon effect, you can still contribute to your alma mater, watch the leaderboards change and trade jabs with your friends about their pathetic schools. An important note is that once you choose your school, you can never change it! So don’t make a choice as a joke with a friend and then expect to change it to your favorite down the road. Points are earned for your school in a variety of categories, including sportsmanship, skills, strategy, underdog, etc. There are specific actions you can take that impact each of these areas, such as taking a knee in the fourth quarter when you are ahead - rather than piling on yet another touchdown - which would give you sportsmanship points.

When the college football season starts at the end of August, you can go in and play against your team’s real life opponent via the CPU or a human opponent, and the points there go towards the leaderboard for your school. Quitters cost their school points, so if you are losing, don’t quit to the dashboard and think it will save you the loss on your record because it won't. All of the Season Showdown statistics are stored on EA servers, so if you quit they remember and the next time you do something that adds points to your school, the server cuts the points in half. At the end of the regular season, there will be a Season Showdown single elimination tournament featuring the top 32 teams based on leaderboard positioning, with the results each week based on the points earned in online games. For those fans who take pride in their schools – and there are a LOT of them – this is a solid reason to keep the game and play online all year.

Campus legend is renamed to Road to Glory, and now ESPN’s Erin Andrews is your commentator from high school state championship to senior year in college, but doesn’t offer anything new over last year’s Campus Legend mode. What was bad then, is still bad now. If you play as a QB you can get through it reasonably well, but try playing as any other position and it is a painful experience. Throw in the fact that Erin (and occasionally Herbstreit) doesn’t really add anything of value to the game mode, and it is an easily forgotten choice on the menu. Mascot Mashup is still available, along with various other mini games that are fun exactly one time (and that time was last year).

You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!

A new addition to the game this year from a gameplay perspective is the option to use family controls, which are good if you are playing with young children or the uncoordinated adult. Instead of managing every aspect of the game, routes chosen, hit stick, etc; you choose the play and press A. Then you choose the next play and press A again. This actually makes it much more like watching the game on television than playing a game, so once gamers get the achievement for this I doubt many will enable the mode again.

Online game choices are pretty simple; quick match and lobbies. The Online Dynasty makes a return, and that is definitely where you want to spend your time if you have friends to play with. However it does help if the servers are up and unfortunately they have had persistent capacity issues since the game was released. However, EA has a history of being willing to throw money at server issues, so I would not expect this to be a long-term concern. Online Dynasty lets up to 12 players compete across multiple seasons, including recruiting, training camp, and of course playing games. If you have a solid group of friends who are fans, this can definitely keep you occupied until NCAA Football ’11 comes out.

The achievements are not hugely different from last year, which is not necessarily a bad thing. There are achievements related to each game type, getting a win in bowl games, successfully performing various plays in the game, and generally having good games overall. For instance, if you get a safety, you earn an achievement. If you win the Heisman Trophy, you get an achievement. For those who are looking for quick points, 700-800 can be achieved within a few hours quite reasonably. The full 1000 is definitely going to take longer, with the Season Showdown related achievements requiring 40-60 games played (not simmed), depending upon your gaming style. Also, some of the achievements may require meeting the requirements several times before the pop, such as Red Zone Perfection and Give Him 5 Minutes.

Overall, this is solid EA sports title, with a passionate online community. Despite the upcoming competition from Madden, expect to see significant online activity throughout the college football season as a result of the Season Showdown feature. Frankly, it is one of the more worthwhile purchases fans can make, as opposed to some prior years where the value proposition was not as high. Tiburon clearly put some thought into combating the rental market and has created a solid argument towards long term ownership.

The fight songs are definitely well done, but since each school really only has one, and the comments from the announcers quickly get stale, there is not a lot to distinguish the audio. It is not horrible, just mainly lacking in variety. Feel free to play on mute.

The animations are generally very well done, despite some awkwardness with some arm movements. The details on the stadiums for each team once again are impressive and up to date, but the overall grainy look just doesn’t cut it in football anymore. ESPN HD is what we watch, and that is how it should look when we play the game.

This is an incredibly well done game from a mechanics perspective. With customization available on every aspect of gameplay, and the new family mode makes it completely accessible - this game really defines “playability.” There are some minor annoyances with the camera in player lock mode, but that is the only bad thing that can be said. Worth playing and replaying for months? Definitely!

The menus are crisp and somewhat simplified from last year, and they load faster than last year’s too. Online games are fast and easy to get into, and the controls on the menu are consistent throughout which has not always been the case. There is a bit of noticeable lag when cheerleaders are in the background, but I am tempted to think the programmers did that on purpose so that you would notice the lovely ladies.

A very good, if not particularly original, achievement list. There is a good spread of easy versus time consuming achievements, and they cover the more “expected” achievements like returning a kickoff for a touchdown, to the ones that highlight new game features such as get a level 10 skill rating in Season Showdown. It would be nice if they all popped the first time you met the requirements, however.

Overall, Team Builder and Season Showdown really make the game worth the money. Yes, it is a roster update. Yes, the mechanics appear to be 95% identical to ’09. But yes, it is worth the price if you are a fan of college football.

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