The transition to a new console generation can be an interesting struggle for sports games. EA Sports would be the first to admit the company struggled to find a balance between current and next generation consoles when the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 debuted. As a result, versions of their sports titles for both console generations suffered.
This time around, EA is better preparing its sports franchises to make the leap to next gen while also pushing current gen consoles to their limit. While games like Madden 25 and FIFA 14 are being developed separately for each console generation, NCAA Football 14 appears to be skipping the first year of Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Instead of producing a rushed product with a next-gen port, developer EA Tiburon has poured a ton of time into making NCAA Football 14 for Xbox 360 the best college football experience ever on the console.
This year’s version of NCAA Football is more immersive than ever. Impressive crowd sounds and new camera angles make players feel closer to the action. Schools continue to add fresh pieces to their uniforms so NCAA Football 14 includes hundreds of new uniform pieces and accessories to mix and match into different full uniform sets.
College football fans know there is nothing like experiencing a game live in person. EA Tiburon went to great lengths to virtually recreate that experience. Actual crowd sounds recorded from live college football games are seamlessly integrated into the game. In addition to time honored, team-specific fight songs, crowds rock to stadium favorite tracks Seven Nation Army and Kernkraft 400. The result is an accurate sound that brings stadiums to life.
If crowd noises are kept to a minimum, on-field player chatter can be heard for the first time in the franchise. Quarterbacks bark out orders, offensive linemen will call out their assignments and the defense can be heard shouting out adjustments. Combined with the crowd sounds, player chatter provides gamers with the most immersive sounds in a football game to date.
ESPN, the top network for college football, has a heavy influence in NCAA Football 14. Games feature entertaining stat and highlight overlays mimicking a real-life matchup. Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit handle play-by-play duties. Unfortunately, players will quickly want to shut off commentary as the duo fails to provide an accurate description of what happens during the game. However, a new halftime show hosted by ESPN personalities Rece Davis and David Pollack picks up the slack for the painful in-game commentary.
The game features three new camera angles to appease all types of play. The Wide camera angle is similar to the standard view but it keeps all players in the frame at all times, even after the ball is handed off. The Zoom camera stays close to the field, giving gamers an idea of what it’s like for a quarterback or running back behind the line of scrimmage. The Coordinator camera gives players an above-the-field view before the play, then dynamically zooms into the action.
Ultimate Team is making its first appearance in the NCAA Football franchise. The game mode allows players to collect trading cards of former college stars, stadiums and items for use in building a dynamic franchise. Ultimate Team encourages online multiplayer but does have a single-player component, although it is mostly tedious and delivers little reward. In fact, players will need to spend some real-life currency in order to acquire better players or card packs.
Hardcore college football fans will love the new features in Dynasty mode, which puts players in the role of head coach or coordinator working on taking their team to the next level. Coaches will be able to upgrade their abilities using the new Coach Skills system. The skill tree consists of 18 skills spread across two skill trees with more for offensive and defensive coordinators. The skill tree system translates well to the sports world and is a fun draw for players who do not normally bother with football sims.
While still appeasing the most meticulous players, Dynasty mode is much more accessible this season. The new Power Recruiting feature gives gamers a pool of 5,000 points to use for targeting recruits throughout the season. Scouting, recruiting and offering scholarships all come from the same pool of points, forcing players to be frugal and spend their points wisely. While this makes recruiting more understandable for casual players, it also allows gamers to focus on their most wanted recruits.
Of course, each iteration of NCAA Football is updated with fresh, accurate playbooks. With former Michigan star Denard Robinson on the cover of the game, it should be no surprise the Spread offense and Read Option are major factors during gameplay. Option plays run smooth this season as linemen find their assignments to open up running lanes and the decision to hand off or run with the quarterback is made easier.
Running backs benefit most from the upgraded Infinity Engine 2. A.I. blockers provide much smarter support for ball carriers and this extends beyond the line of scrimmage. When blockers do miss an assignment, cuts and juke moves are easy to execute and extremely smooth. Players will also be able to quickly recover when knocked off balance, keeping the rush alive.
NCAA Football 14 is one of the best football titles of the current generation of consoles. The introduction of realistic player physics advances the franchise to a level normally reserved for Madden. Adding Ultimate Team to an already healthy mix of gameplay options gives players tons of replay value. Crowd sounds, player chatter, team-specific intros and music and closeup camera angles make gamers feel like they are in on the action, allowing players to forgive the poor commentary. If EA Sports decides to shift their focus to next-gen titles, NCAA Football 14 will be remembered as an extremely fond farewell to football gaming on Xbox 360 and a shining example of how developers increasingly push the hardware to its limits.