NCAA Football 2005 Review (Xbox)
The release of “NCAA 2005” by EA Sports marks the commencement of the 2004 football gaming season. In recent years, this game has been so good and market dominant, all of its competition has conceded defeat. Will the lack of competition turn to apathy for this series or will the game continue to move forward?
“NCAA 2005” offers many modes of play for even the average college football fan. When you first launch “NCAA 2005” it asks you for your favorite team. By default, when you enter the first game play mode (quick game); it chooses this team and your rival. Quick game is nothing more than an exhibition game of college football. In this mode, you can choose any team you want and whatever stadium you wish to play in. You also have the option to choose from a number of alternate uniforms (for teams that have them).
The next gameplay mode is Dynasty Mode. This is the meat and potatoes of “NCAA 2005.” This mode consists of taking a college football program and guiding them through season after season. Dynasty Mode will be discussed in detail later on in the review.
Practice Mode is a game mode that I all but ignored in past versions of NCAA. In previous years, gameplay was easy and could be learned in a matter of a couple of games. After that, you could “own” the Artificial Intelligence and basically do what you wanted to do with a good team. This year, the game play is so different and more difficult than in years past, I find myself entering Practice Mode almost as much as Dynasty Mode. In Practice Mode you can run random plays with random defenses or you can just go offense only. The game play in Practice Mode on the Xbox seems significantly faster than the other modes of play. Practice Mode feels like hyper drive, its just too darn fast. The reason for this might be due to the sidelines lacking any 2D or 3D models.
One of the things that makes college football so great is the school bands. Just hearing a few notes of your favorite team’s fight song can spark feelings of team loyalty and pride. “NCAA 2005” has a lot of fight songs that sound darn good. However, some schools are missing some of their fight songs due to licensing issues.
The stadium atmosphere does not end with the school band. This year the fans are louder than ever when and where they should be. Places like Death Valley and The Swamp get very loud for road teams trying to advance the ball. On offense the crowd will quiet down which is typical for a college football game.
The crowd noises in “NCAA 2005” tie into gameplay this year. Electronic Arts Tiburon managed to merge player ratings with the level of crowd intensity. This year, if a crowd is super loud and rowdy, a player on defense (home) might gain a few rating points. Likewise, the offensive players might start to struggle. If this happens, the noise will continue and player ratings can continue to be effected until they make a play or two. If a player’s dynamic rating drops, expect him to miss assignments, drop balls or get smoked for a bomb. Home Field Advantage really adds to the sound and atmosphere of “NCAA 2005.”
The hitting sounds in “NCAA 2005” are not great but they are not bad either. They are on the level of being good enough for you to not notice them being bad.
The only downside to the sound in “NCAA 2005” is an infrequent, annoying squeal. I have my Xbox hooked up to my stereo through digital optical. On occasion, it would seem like the audio would pause, the speakers would then emit a muffled yet annoying sound. I do have a Thompson drive in my Xbox so this could be one of the problems. Nonetheless, it does not happen often or for long.
The user interface system in “NCAA 2005” is very similar to “Madden 2004.” The pop-up menus seem to be blocky and clunky. However, navigation in general is the same as last year’s game. Finding what you need is not hard and the overall unattractive user interface does not detract from the quality of the game.
The in-game graphics seem to be slightly improved in “NCAA 2005”. The fans look like the fans of your typical football game. They are just 2D images sitting in the stadium. However, this year the Xbox version includes some real 3D characters on the sideline. These characters are nicely done from their 3D frames to their skins.
I am not a huge fan of “details” when it comes to visuals. I would much rather have a great football game than a good game with tons of pretty graphical “perks.” However, it was very cool when I was playing the game for the first time and I noticed the football said “Nike 3005” in gold leaf.
There are also some nice touches this year to the uniforms in “NCAA 2005.” When you are playing outside this year, the uniforms will progressively get dirty. This means, when you start a game your uniform will be clean. As the game progresses, your shirt and pants will get dirtier and dirtier. This is a very nice graphical touch. My only complaint is with the way this is implemented. If you pay close attention between plays, you can actually see the skin change sometimes as the game progresses.
Field textures also seem to be redone this year. The grass seems to be brighter and more detailed. As the game wears on, the field in between the hashes becomes dull and brown. This obviously is showing the wear and tear done during the game. It is very nice to look at from a far camera angle. It actually looks real.
The NCAA series arguably has the best presentation and commentary of the big three. Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstriet and Brad Nessler are back for another year of football gaming action. Over the past couple of years, they have not added a ton of new commentary but they have built on what was already there. This has lead to a nice variety of game play commentary. It is not possible to say if something in the commentary department has been removed, as I might just not have heard it yet. However, its obvious what is new since I am sure I heard everything last year ten times over. My favorite new “Corsosism” in the game is, “beep beep beep,” after you make a penalty. Lee Corso then admits this is the sound of the offense going backwards.
Another addition in the presentation department is the signing of corporate sponsor Pontiac. Pontiac now sponsors the drive summary made after a score. The logo around the drive summary box is well placed and noninvasive. The way it is used adds to the realism of the game as it makes it seem like you are watching the game on your television rather than playing it on your console.
The Pontiac sponsorship is not the only sponsor this year. The Old Spice Red Zone is back for another year. I can’t tell any difference in how this is done over last year. It is still nice and again adds to the realism of the presentation.
My only problem with these sponsors is it seems as the game makes us watch them for a second or two. A few times I have pounded my controller trying to get the game to fast forward to the play call screen so I could select my kickoff formation. Again, I have no problem with the sponsors in general and they are done quite well. I just don’t like having to wait to continue playing the game I paid for so the sponsors can get their airtime.
“NCAA 2005” does sport some new celebrations. The new celebrations range from mild to excessive and can involve players, fans or your mascot. One of my favorite new celebrations is a fight scene where two players get into a shoving match until walking away. The celebrations can be random (for some of them) or manually instigated by the user hitting a trigger and a button. One trigger calls for a mild celebration while the other calls for a more excessive celebration. The excessive celebrations seem to randomly draw the attention of the officials and a fifteen-yard unsportsmanlike like conduct penalty.
This year many fans have had their wishes answered by EA Tiburon. Finally, after a big win or a big comeback, the players douse their coach with the Gatorade bucket. This is not overly done or brilliantly done. However, it does add to the realism and overall quality of presentation.
The first thing you realize when you play “NCAA 2005” for the first time is that it plays nothing like the 2004 version. The running game has been tweaked and the passing game seems to be completely redone.
In the previous version of NCAA Football the only thing you could count on when running a counter play was a loss of yardage. This is no longer true. In fact, I have found the counter plays to be some of the most effective running plays in this year’s version. On sweeps and traps the guards and tackles seem to pull properly which opens up the outside running game.
Running up the middle has been tweaked slightly but nothing major. You can still run up the middle but not every time. I am enjoying the running game a lot this year as I have in the previous versions. The major problem I still see in the running game is famously known as “Mario” running. This is when the running back attempts to run forward but his offensive line is in the way. His legs continue to churn but he does not go anywhere. Although EA did not fix this worst part of the running game from 2002, 2003 and 2004, the running game is still good in 2005.
The part of the gameplay that has seen the most improvements is the passing game. In last year’s version, you could pick who you wanted to throw the ball to before the snap and he would make the catch more times than not if he was good enough. That is gone this year. No longer can you walk to the line and decide who is getting the ball before the snap. You can make some presnap fine reads and see what looks good and what looks bad. For example if your number one receiver has a corner on top of him and you see the safety creeping up, it is highly likely you will have single coverage on your best receiver. These are things that can’t be overlooked if you want to be successful in 2005.
Timing and touch are also very important when throwing the ball in “NCAA 2005.” During my early game play on All American with default sliders, my guys would routinely drop passes when they were wide open. I found this to be extremely annoying as I was not playing well and my completion percentage was hovering around the 25% mark. I then took a break from playing the game and went into Practice Mode.
After practicing for a few hours total, I started playing again and my completion percentage went up at least 20% almost instantly. The wide-open drops all but disappeared, however they still occur on occasion. Likewise, my passing numbers and productivity went up drastically. Now, I am finding when I don’t complete a pass more likely than not it is my fault; I made a bad read or hit the wrong button.
Home Field Advantage and composure also plays a big factor in ratings and game play this year. You do not want a freshman quarterback to travel to The Swamp and start. You would much rather have seasoned veterans. Younger players are more likely to get rattled and have their ratings plummet.
Other things also cause a player to become rattled. This year if your quarterback or wide receiver is taking hard licks, they will lose some composure. A quarterback might lose some accuracy and awareness points while your wide receiver will suddenly get alligator arms. It is very rewarding this year to protect your passer and hit some underneath routes early and often to ensure your players stay composed.
The composure also carries over to the defensive side of the ball. If you have a freshman cornerback going against an All American receiver, you will get burned without some safety help. Once this happens, your defensive player will lose rating points just like the offensive players.
When playing the computer, straight out of the box the computer seems to have some trouble moving the ball. A good player can strafe, break blocks and get into position to shutdown almost any running play. However, after adjusting the sliders in favor of the computer running game, I have found the game to be more difficult and realistic. After doing this, I gave up my first 100-yard game to Michigan in the Outback Bowl. It was painful but nice to see the play calling and success of the running game for the computer.
Computer passing on the other hand is a problem I have not yet solved. The AI passing numbers seem to be very low (9 for 28). I have given the computer some advantage with sliders but they are still suffering from batted balls, drops and just plain bad throws.
Unlike years past, teams seem to have play calling that match their style. For example, Georgia Southern ran the ball 36 times against me in a 28 minute game while only throwing 12 times. This is much improved over the pass happy teams of previous years. I have run into pass heavy teams like Clemson and balanced teams like Tennessee. Their entire play calling seems to match their real life tendencies. It is nice the computer also knows when to fold. Numerous times it was obvious the computer had given up and was just trying to run the clock out to keep things respectable. This is how Tiburon is trying to keep things close without the robo-qb (yes Mr. Robo QB is gone).
Special teams have been revamped in 2005 as well. I have played quite a few games and I have not come close to returning a punt or a kickoff for a score. It seems as if the kicking special teams AI this year “stays home” better than in years past. Hard cutbacks do not work as well either.
The kicking game is no cakewalk in 2005 either. I have missed 3 extra points already with my kicker rated a 48. Add this to the composure effects of 2005 and a potential game winning 30-yard field goal is no longer automatic.
“NCAA 2005” is the first Electronic Arts game to be on Xbox Live. Out of the gate, there were tons of problems. Users could not connect, they were getting dropped and their friends list would not work. It took EA about five days to get past the launch crunch and get their server load up to par. Over the past few days, I have not had any connectivity problems.
One would think the game play on Xbox live would be considerable better than the out the box Playstation II network game play. However, this is not the case. The actual network for Xbox live is fine, as I have only been dropped one time and I have not seen any lag. The problem with the online play on the Xbox is the game speed. At times the game seems to literally crawl. It appears this is a graphical, CPU horsepower issue and not a network issue as the overall game play is slow online as well. This being said, the game is still a lot of fun online.
EA Online offers a few methods of online play including, tournaments, even teams and a custom game where you can invite a friend or a random guy in a lobby room. Even teams is where you can pick any team you want and it will be closely matched to the team the other guy picks. This is so you can be your favorite team and still have a fair game no matter whom you are playing.
One of the coolest new features about online games is the statistics sent by email. After a game this year you can have the option to have the stats from the game sent to your email account. The stats that are included in the email are general team stats like passing attempts. Individual stats are not included in the email but it is still a very nice feature.
I have not tried the online tournament feature so I can’t comment on how this is or how it works.
Dynasty Mode is the heart and soul of the NCAA Football series. This is where you can lead your team from a .500 season all the way to a national title.
I would argue that the most pure love of a sports fan is their love for their college team. Sure people are passionate about their favorite NFL or NBA team, but the college level, in this case football, just seems more pure. You don’t love a player…you love a team. The names change on the back of the uniform, but the front stays the same. That’s the beauty of college football. And when you build a Dynasty, like they have in Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame, you’re reminded of everything that is great about college football.
This year’s Dynasty Mode in “NCAA 2005” brings you even closer to real drama that is played out every fall on campuses across the country. The gameplay, the Home Field Advantage and all the other things that make a great title are in there.
Whether you start with a powerhouse like Michigan, a mid-major like Memphis, or an upstart program like Florida International, you are the man in charge of everything that is right and wrong in your program. Open your first season by Red-Shirting those youngsters that aren’t quite ready to see the field. Then customize your schedule to your liking. Add a cupcake or plan an early season visit to “The Swamp.” Pick your poison. Conference schedules are locked and can’t be edited and, unlike previous versions, conference schedules now rotate in future years of the Dynasty.
Once you’re into the season, be sure to pick up your weekly issue of Sports Illustrated. That’s right, SI is back for year two. While it is mostly the same as last year, a couple nice additions have been added to the pre-season issue including “Toughest Places to Play” and “All Americans By Conference.” I’m not a sucker for the eye candy, but this feature never gets old for me. Making the cover of SI, even in a loss, is a treat that just adds to the replay value.
Probably the most talked about addition to Dynasty Mode takes place during the season. And, while I am shocked that the NCAA allowed it into the game, you are now in charge of the discipline and overall program prestige that you are building. If players start skipping practices or shirk their academic responsibilities, you’re going to here about it. Using what the game calls Discipline Action Points, you have to decide whether to suspend your player or simply let it slide. Suspensions range anywhere from one quarter to an entire season! It may seem like fluff, but be careful, overlook that star CB’s constant class cutting and the NCAA may penalize you. If it’s in the game, right?
After your season comes to a close and you’ve hopefully laid a resounding smack down on your New Year’s Day Bowl opponent, there is no time for a vacation, coach. While the recruiting process stays basically the same from 2004, there are a few very notable additions. First, the team at EA has added Transfers. If that Blue Chip Freshman QB of yours is sick of riding the bench, he may pack it up and move on to greener pastures somewhere else. The beauty of this addition, besides the added realism of the goings on of the NCAA, the AI is actually correct and it forces transfers to sit out one season before they can play for their new team.
The major improvement that I see in recruiting is the reduced number of blue chippers out there. I ran a few simulated seasons and the most Blue Chips I saw in any given off-season were 56. That is far more realistic than we have seen in years past. It’s still a little high, but it’s progress. If I had one complaint, it is still a little too easy to recruit great athletes to small schools after just one good season.
I received my copy of “NCAA 2005” on a Tuesday. That Monday I was still playing a Dynasty on NCAA 2004. My coaching career had taken me from Eastern Michigan to BYU to Arizona State to Colorado to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. This mode is unsurpassed in replay factor among any (yes I said ANY) other console sports title on the market. And the best got better this year.
If you have enjoyed this game in the past, its highly unlikely your feeling for this iteration will be any different. EA Tiburon has added depth to the series with the addition of Home Field Advantage, composure and Xbox Live. Despite a few pit falls, “NCAA 2005” is a solid rendition of college football.
A quick take from Staff Writer Robert Fetter
If it wasn’t the best game on the market in 2004, NCAA has proven with its previous attempts that it’s only amateur in name and that it could compete with any of the other college or pro football games on the market. This year, EA set their sites on making some big improvements to the college game and finally gives Xbox gamers a chance to compete head to head online against one another.
Unfortunately I’ll start off with what seems to be the only downside to this game over years past. This year the speed of gameplay has taken a turn for the worse; it’s not quite as fast as the 2004 addition. The slowdown is annoying at first, but it’s not bothersome enough that you shouldn’t be able to get over it after a few games.
On a brighter note EA has stepped up the running game for ‘05. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but this year your HBs are better able to squeeze through the holes that you can now see the offensive line create, where as in past years you’d, at times, get stuck behind your massive line with no place to go. The toss plays to the outside also seem much better, they’re not all guaranteed positive yardage, but you will be able to pick up yardage and possibly even be able to break a few for long runs with a couple of key moves. In “NCAA 2005” you’ll also get a much larger dose of momentum, you’ll no longer be able to cut back and forth on a dime in order to confuse and break away from defenders.
The running game is not the only thing that has been improved for this year; NCAA has dramatically improved the D. The AI coverage is much smarter and while you still can find a couple of “money plays” the AI will learn to take them away if you keep going back to them, at least if you’re playing on the more difficult levels. The AI is also much smarter on special teams, as you’ll find the number of kick returns for TDs that are given up by your opponents is greatly reduced. One of the best improvements to the defense are the tackling animations. In the past you’d see a few different animations but this year it seems like you’re seeing a different tackle every time, a few of them may actually make you cringe when your stars get hit. This is the first year in the series that you’ve been given you the opportunity to make a “big hit” by using the white button when attempting to make a tackle, white button or no white button you’ll get your share of big hits in the ‘05 edition.
On offense WRs will frustrate you at times by dropping balls that should easily be caught. The key to passing is making sure you have your QB put the perfect touch on the ball. Once you get use to adding the right amount of touch to your pass you’ll start to see a lot less drops. There will still be that occasional perfect pass on 3rd and 10 that makes you want to toss your controller through the TV, because your top rated receiver has had his hands magically transformed to stone, but that’s football for you.
It’s not only the offense that has trouble hanging onto the ball at times. Last year one thing I loved about the game is that if a DB got their hands on the ball then you could count on it being a turnover. This year you’ll still see a fair amount of interceptions, but they have been toned down a bit, probably a change for the better in most people’s opinion but personally I can never get enough INTs. Luckily for me the people at EA were kind enough to give gamers sliders to play with so that the game can be adjusted to suit everyone’s preferences for catching the ball on both offense and defense. This year you’ll also see the defenders bat the ball into the air giving everyone a chance to pull it down, in an attempt to get that tipped interception.
The Dynasty mode for the year has been revamped to make recruiting more difficult. Now when recruiting people you are able to decide if you want to use one to fifteen recruiting points towards each instate recruit and out of state recruits will cost more depending on their region. You’ll also be forced to choose how much of your budget you want to spend on recruiting, training, and discipline. With the new system you’ll have to use your recruiting points wisely because it will now be easier to attempt to squander all of them on a particular couple of high rated recruits. This new system makes it more difficult for the smaller schools to have a top rated recruit class, as in ’04 it seemed that my San Diego State Aztecs would have the number one recruiting class almost every year. Now in my best years I’ll be sitting at around thirty and possibly one to two blue chip recruits at most versus the two to three that I was able to bring home every off-season in last year’s game.
Home field advantage finally allows gamers to feel the pressure of playing in front of a hostile crowd. This is one of the more creative ideas that went into the ’05 edition of NCAA. When playing away you’ll have the disadvantage of needing more time to call audible and hot routes because your receivers will be unable to hear you in unfriendly crowd environments due to the noise of the crowd. The hostile crowd will also cause your offensive line to false start more, and force you to play through a shaking screen and vibrating controller. From watching college football you know that not all crowds are alike and the people at EA have taken that into account. If you’re playing at Connecticut the crowd will not be nearly as loud as if you’re going into Miami. Also the crowd will be louder depending on what type of game it is, when two top ranked teams play one another the crowd is more likely to get amped up for the event. When rivals like Michigan and Ohio State play you know you’re going see a rowdy crowd. The crowd is pretty intelligent cheering louder on important third down situations, or in goal line situations. You’ll even see the crowd booing or cheering decisions to go for it on fourth and long or short depending on their thoughts of your decision. However it is always odd when you’re calling your play listening to the crowd chant “Go Go Go Go”, then coming out to the line to go for it on fourth and one only to be greeted at the line by a booing crowd.
There hasn’t been much of an improvement to this year’s player models or the look of the game on the field. The major visual improvements this year have come in the form of additions to the overall presentation of the game. Now after big plays you’ll get cut scenes focusing on the fans reactions to the plays. I’ve been amazed that at this point I’m not yet sick of the fan cut scenes since it seems that in many games most improvements similar to this are good for about two games, then I’m quick to skip through it. There is just enough variance of the signs to continue to keep things somewhat interesting. What really keeps the fans fresh is that in each stadium the fans will have their own somewhat unique look. At least since you’re not playing every game at home you’ll get to go on the road and see fans in different colors and with slightly different gear to match. You’ll also have the opportunity to create your own signs. You’re able to create multiple signs to be shown at different points of the game, for instance you can have one sign for fans to show when you make a big stop and another one for a key first down.
At this point the only thing about the fans that I can come up with to complain about is that, occasionally you’ll see a fan that has face paint on in the shape of a bull’s-eye, no self respecting fan of a team would ever wear this face paint, with the only reasonable excuse being too much tailgating for him.
Another subtle improvement but this year the replays have been slightly improved. I’ve enjoyed some replays of INTs where they’ll show the play from a camera view behind the QB then they’ll show you the play from a different angle showing you the DB’s angle on the play. This is a very tiny detail, but once games get this good it’s the small details that can help clean up rough edges to improve the game.