NCAA Football 09 Review (Xbox 360)
With every summer comes the anticipation of sports games as gamers prepare for the new season of interactive entertainment. Soon we will be bombarded with great titles and have to make decisions on which games to pick up and which games to pass on. Now the sports gamers new year has finally arrived with the release of NCAA Football 09. The new year does not start off with a bang, but it definitely has started off with a quality title.
When playing the first thing you are going to notice is NCAA Football 09 is a visually improved game. The player models have been tweaked and improved from last year, and we also see a prettier field surface which comes much closer to resembling grass. Unfortunately, the field surface stays a little too pretty throughout the game as we don’t see any wear or tear of the grass during games. The lack of field damage is a bit disappointing since we’ve seen it in previous generation games, but overall the game does look much better in comparison to last season, especially in HD.
Some of the most hyped additions to the game have been the inclusion of cheerleaders, celebrations with mascots after touchdowns, and the ability to play as the mascots in the game. Other than celebrating with the mascot these things have all been in previous versions of the game, so welcome back, and as for the mascot games, I didn’t even know you’d been gone.
NCAA Football is back!
One of the additions to the gameplay I am most in love with is in the passing game where you can put much more loft on the ball. I do not think love is too strong of a word in this case since so many times in past games I would want to throw the ball to a receiver but would have a pesky Linebacker in coverage between me and my man. Now you’ll be able to just put some touch on the ball and most times have success in lofting the ball over that zone defender who was standing in your way.
Another great example of a situation where you need to put touch on the ball is when you have seen defenders able to blindly raise their hands to swat down passes on fly routes or posts. You’ll now be able to put a little more air under the ball so you can have more success if your WR or TE has a man beat down field. Unfortunately sometimes bad has to accompany the good, which is the case with the lofting of the ball. Having the ability to lob the ball up also means you have more time to switch to the receiver to be able to go get the ball.
In cases against the AI this is a fantastic change as in past years I always struggled to throw deep against the AI. Online or head to head against human opponents this might create even more of an edge for the offense. Players will be able to use their big 6’5” receivers to go up and get the ball over their smaller defensive backs. I’ve found some plays to be nearly unstoppable when lofting the ball up against the AI, and online you are able to stop them, but if you’re playing against a team with very high rated receivers it will be quite the task for you. Overall I’ll definitely take the good over the bad, and the new high ark on lob passes is a great addition to the game.
The running game saw a serious overhaul this year. You’re really going to want to take some time to practice because it is different from past years.
Another new addition to the gameplay is the ability to dive over the top with your HB at the goal line. You will need to hold the X button down when you’re ready to dive over the top of the pile, most of the time once you get into the air you’re going to be able to successfully jump for that extra yard to put the ball into the end zone. The fact I was so successful at jumping over the top had me worried it would be a problem with the game and would be yet another huge advantage for the offense. However, after playing tons of games I am convinced EA did a good job limiting this new animation.
First off you’ll only be able to run this near the end zone, so if you’ve got 4th and 1 at midfield you are not going to get a gimme jump over the pile to pick up that yard, so it’s not something defenders will have to be worried about at midfield. Second, it’s not a gimme. I’ve made some jumps where I timed it wrong and didn’t end up going far enough to get into the end zone. I’ve also had defenders get into the backfield to stop me before I could get into the air to make that big leap for the end zone. Diving over the pile is a welcome addition to the game which is definitely going to be a weapon you’re going to want to master for your goal line sets.
The running game saw a serious overhaul this year. You’re really going to want to take some time to practice because it is different from past years. When you take the ball as a running back it’s not all about just grabbing the ball and sprinting up the middle or which ever direction which the play called you to go. Now you’re going to want to take a second when you’re handed the ball to really look at your running lanes.
Most of the time you are going to want to follow the direction you thought you were going to go when you called the play, but in this years game the cutback lanes are especially evident, so you really want to analyze where the best lane for you to run the ball is before you take off sprinting. Also sprinting through the line might not be the best option once you find the lane you want to hit. This year more than ever before it really feels as if being patient and waiting for your blocks to develop can end up paying off with big rewards. Personally I do not think the run blocking is at the level of the 2K Sports games, but it’s improving.
The running game has seen some big improvements this year.
Ultimately it’s still going to be very difficult to run on those monster defenses like Ohio State, but it can be done especially when you open up the running game with the pass. Playing as a lower ranked team against Ohio State I really struggled to run the ball early on in the game. After coming out in the shotgun a few times and to make them worry about my passing and the possibility of my QB scrambling for yards, I really noticed their tactics changed and it was more likely for me to start picking up some yards on the ground with my HB.
Big runs to the outside have been limited. Now you will see DE’s slide off their blocks and come out to tackle HB’s who are breaking to the outside. It’s not to say you can’t run to the outside, but you do need to be aware when you’re getting close to the DE’s. Even though your linemen are blocking them from driving into the backfield and getting to you, it doesn’t mean they’re not going to shed their blocks and bring you down when you attempt to get to the outside.
The option game has been improved all around this year. The defenses tend to play smarter at stopping the option, and there are less crazy option pitches. Unfortunately though, I tended to see AI runners go out of bounds at times when they could have continued to push forward and pick up extra yardage. It was something which I didn’t see all the time, but it did occasionally happen when they could have picked up another five to ten yards.
The passing game is easier this year, all you’ll need is your receiver to have one step on their defender and you’ll be able to hit them with a perfectly placed pass. When you are passing on anything lower than Heisman you’ll see your QB’s able to seamlessly pass on the run, hitting receivers in stride even while throwing across their body. This does lead to a big advantage for the offense in this year’s game. At the Heisman level sometimes QB’s on the run will go into an animation to plant their feet before they throw, other times their passes will be arrant. I didn’t like the fact I couldn’t get a sense for which it was going to be. However, either way you should plant your feet when you throw so if it’s a terrible pass you get what you deserve at the Heisman level.
The formation specific audibles unfortunately weren’t as I had imagined them.
On defense the zones have now become a more effective way to play defense. They have been improved from last year, but man coverage seems to have taken a hit. If you’re someone who only plays man coverage this will lead to the AI shredding you apart with their dink and dunk short passing game.
Also on defense the tacklers do tend to wrap ball carriers up more, so that is a plus. In previous years it seemed as if so many tackles were just one player running and colliding into another player. Now you’ll see more guys wrap up as they’re making a tackle.
When picking plays it will now be easier to confuse an opponent because the playbooks have the plays organized more intelligently. Plays which will look similar to defenses, will be grouped together. This will be especially helpful to people who like to run that tricky spread offense.
The formation specific audibles unfortunately weren’t as I had imagined them. Formation specific do not mean you get to choose whatever plays you want for a formation, it means it has a pre-picked run, pass, or play action pass ready for you to run out of that formation. This means you can audible into another play in the same formation that might be better against a particular defense, it’s just not going to be one which you had personally previously selected. Don’t worry though, your regular audible choices are there too, just as they’ve always been.
Something which hasn’t been touched from last year is the fact the AI really doesn’t like to throw the ball deep. If you leave a man wide open down field, they’ll hit him, and occasionally they’ll throw a post for 12 yards or so, but for the most part the AI doesn’t ever try to stretch the field and throw long. QB’s are so accurate it can become quite annoying to get nickled and dimed all the way down the field by the AI as they pick up their yards and move the ball on their short passing routes.
The passing game seems overpowering at times.
Another issue in the game is the number of interceptions. Playing on All-American there are games where you will see a high number of interceptions. Most of them seem to come from user controlled picks, so if you feel like you’re getting too many interceptions be sure not to switch defenders once the AI has thrown the ball. This can dramatically cut down on the interceptions. Playing on Heisman level does help to decrease the number of intercepted balls thrown by the AI, and you do also have the option to use the slider to lower the number of interceptions made by your defense. However, even if the slider is dropped all the way to 0 it is still possible to get in there and make the interceptions by taking over manually. Once a CB does make a play on the ball, you will frequently see him take it back for six. This speed at the CB position helps raise the overall scores in the game.
Dynasty mode and Campus Legend mode are back this year and are very similar to years past. The statistics all seemed to continue to be accurate when simming through years. There were no numbers which looked way over the top or unrealistic when advancing through future seasons of the game. For the most part major college football powers were the ones you would see in the top 25. You would see other schools break in here and there, but most frequently on a year in and year out basis you’d see the top programs of the nation staying near the top.
The custom sound track feature was something that when I first heard about I wasn’t excited, but after playing with the feature it does add a nice touch to the game.
The best way to describe the sound in NCAA Football 09 is if you have been a fan in the past, you will not be disappointed this year. The sound is pretty much the same. The fans reacts to big plays on the field and do get hyped up for big game situations.
You’ll also once again get Corso, Herbstreit, and Fowler back in the booth. This is both good and bad. Good being it is much better than what we’ve heard from EA’s other football game in the past. Bad being their commentary doesn’t seem too be much different from what we’ve heard in past years of NCAA Football. At some point EA is going to have to look at overhauling their play by play for this franchise.
On the positive, this year EA’s sound department is giving you a bonus. You’ll have the ability to create a custom soundtrack for your stadium. The custom sound track feature was something that when I first heard about I wasn’t excited, but after playing with the feature it does add a nice touch to the game. Songs can be triggered from twenty different situations which occur in the game, including: a touchdown, a sack or loss of yardage, or 3rd down just to name a few. It did add a special feeling to the game to have a song of your choice played to motivate you to pick up that big stop on 3rd down to bring out the opposing teams punter. With this feature you’ll be able to customize the soundtracks for each of the teams home games. You can even generalize it so only the music for the home team is played. I don’t recommend the latter because it’s just not cool to have your music played against you when you take your dynasty team and travel on the road.
NCAA Football 09 looks much prettier than its predeccesors.
If you have Xbox Live and enjoy college football then this is a must own game for you. The experience online so far has been the best I’ve had with any NCAA game. In past years NCAA’s online game didn’t feel smooth nor natural. It felt like my players were reacting a second or so after I was pushing the buttons on the controller. This year it feels much improved. It isn’t quite like sitting in the living room playing against someone on the same console, but it is the smoothest game I’ve ever experienced on EA’s servers.
Thanks to EA's new locker feature the hassle is now taken out of trying to obtain rosters online. Getting the rosters from someone's EA locker is as simple as you could possibly want it to be. You can either select a friend off your Xbox Live friends list who has uploaded their rosters, and then you simply confirm you want to download their rosters and about five seconds later they are on your console. From there you just need to load the rosters, and you are ready to play. Uploading the rosters for friends is just as easy. All you have to do is go to your locker, select the file you want to upload and seconds later you are hosting the file for all your friends.
To accompany the smoother online play and the ability to share rosters EA has given us Online Dynasty mode this year. When going into a dynasty online it is important to make sure you have a good commissioner as everything will be run through him. The commissioner will have to send out the invites to people and when doing so he will be the one to assign the team to a gamertag. The commissioner will also be the person who advances the weeks and sends notices out to the members of the dynasty via Xbox Live. It is unfortunate EA didn’t add the option to go online with a regular web based site to look at all the stats and dynasty information. However, at least with the online dynasty addition things are really heading in the right direction.
The improvements which were made do warrant a quality rating for NCAA Football 09.
The ranked games are set to All-American which means QB’s are able to throw the ball down field accurately on the run. You also will not be able to create ranked friend only matches, but there is always the option to change the difficulty and create friend invite only games in unranked games.
All in all, between the deep as always offline dynasty, the campus legend mode and the addition of online dynasty, there is enough to NCAA Football 09 to keep you playing it until next year.
Choosing a rating for this game was the hardest part of writing the review, since the game did see some big changes. However, at the same time some things which should have been addressed (like the AI not throwing the ball deep) were still in the game at release. The improvements which were made do warrant a quality rating for NCAA Football 09. Ultimately, it’s your opinion which matters most about the game, so if you are any kind of sports fan at least rent the game if you are on the fence. Personally, this game is definitely worth the $60 purchase price.