Reviewed: July 23, 2008
Released: July 15, 2008
Its football season once again! The students are coming back to campus and the air is a buzz with college football fever. Everyone from the band to the hotdog vendors are anticipating another exciting year. Another sign of the season is EA’s annual release of NCAA Football. EA has continued to improve this exclusive licensed title so everyone is expecting big things for NCAA Football 09.
When you first start the game you are introduced to NCAA Football 09 with a new features video which points out the many improvements over last years game. The improvements are many, but the most noticeable are the graphics and player animations. Both are simply stunning. One you pick your favorite team, you are greeted with themed menus and band songs authentic to your school.
There are the usual game modes including Play Now, Dynasty (take control of one team throughout a season), Campus Legend (create a player and use him throughout high school all the way up to Heisman Trophy contention). There are also several mini-games which actually are a good way to practice. The Tug of War and Bowling mini-games are useful and fun.
The number of “sponsors” has increased. Functionally, only The Weather Channel is of any use. NCAA Football 09 will use the internet to get the actual current weather conditions of the home field for you to play. Other sponsors are in name only, such as the red offensive zone and other features which from a marketing standpoint is brilliant, but it’s annoying for the players. Maybe they should include a live link with the actual student/athletes GPA to put a little more realism in the game.
Xbox Live options now include the Dynasty mode as well as the usual features of Leaderboards and ESPN video download. Probably the best feature is the EA Locker – which is a file storage area on EA’s server. The reason it is the best; downloading rosters with the actual player names. You can do this by finding the best rosters and open up your EA Locker to transfer actual named rosters. This is also the source of a lot of money trading hands.
Due to NCAA regulations, EA cannot include actual player names with the correct schools. To get around this annoyance, EA made a database of first and last names which you can pick and assign to your players. It is tedious work, but you are rewarded by seeing the correct names on the jerseys and the announcers will occasionally say the player names. If you don’t want to go through the hassle, you can just have the game assign names randomly to all the players.
Once again with NCAA Football 09, there are some easy ways to get the actual rosters and names without going to all the trouble. Except this year EA is actually doing something to help! If you have an Xbox Live account you can download actual rosters from various sources FREE! So anyone who is selling or buying rosters is getting ripped off. Just do a google search for “free NCAA 09 rosters” and you’ll find a list of EA Lockers to download. This game would be a lot less fun if we continued to have players just addressed by number.
ESPN functionality is also included; however it isn’t quite up to par with other EA Sports titles. In NCAA Football 09, you cannot customize the sports ticker. For those of you new to the game, there is a live sports score ticker at the bottom of the screen. EA Sports games use the Xbox Live connection to get real time sports scores which adds to the realism of the game. Some games such as FIFA Soccer allow you to pick the specific leagues you want on your ticker. I loved this function because I couldn’t care less about NBA or MLB scores, but I do want to see NFL, FIFA and other news. I really hate it when developers take useful functions away.
Those of you finally upgrading to a “next-gen” console still might be a little disappointed with NCAA Football 09. The original XBOX and PS2 versions had a wealth of classic teams and game scenarios to play and other features. Unfortunately it seems like their next-gen counterparts still have some catching up to do.
The actual gameplay has improved greatly, and it is distinct enough to really get close to actual NCAA football versus Madden NFL with a college face. There are more fumbles, a lot more kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns and the general college atmosphere that the NFL can’t touch. The biggest improvement is in the graphics department. If you are struggling between buying the discounted 08 instead of full-priced 09, trust me, you’ll be amazed by how much better 09 shows off the 360’s capabilities.
Many of the 120 Division I schools in the game also have their mascot. When you score a touchdown there are special animations available when you go celebrate with the mascot. There are some notable omissions – one of which is Zippy the Kangaroo of the Akron Zips. A handful of teams also have special touchdown celebrations which can be activated once in the end zone.
There are nice improvements; however NCAA Football 09 has more than the usual number of bugs. The most flagrant foul is a much publicized complete lockup of the game when attempting to edit a roster. This and many other bugs are reportedly to be fixed in an upcoming patch – which if we are lucky will be available for download by the time you read this review. I’ve come to expect a few bugs in these increasingly complicated games. However in NCAA’s case, there are some bugs that never should have made it out of testing.
NCAA Football 09 is a big jump from last year. The 2008 version was pretty nice, but this year the 60 fps graphics at 1080p really look amazing. Nearly all graphical assets have been upgraded, from the turf to the mascots. Most stadiums look authentic to the real deal.
It seems that NCAA Football and Madden NFL Football tend to leapfrog each other in the graphics department. Last year it seemed to be NCAA’s turn to have the best graphics, and sticking with the trend, this years version has greatly improved, but Madden 09 just has that little bit of extra shading that makes it better.
The same crew of announcers are here from last year and that is a good thing. The commentary seems to have expanded slightly and is entertaining but not over the top.
Stadium noise has been amped up and now really shakes the house if you have a decent surround sound system. You can even use your players to motion the crowd to yell or quiet down. This is the way a college game should sound.
Music is the usual mix of school themes played by marching bands. Once you have picked your favorite school, their theme will play more often during the menu selection screens. This year you can even make custom sounds and assign them to specific events during the game. This is a welcome addition (and an achievement for your Xbox profile).
NCAA Football 09 once again improves on the previous year. There are plenty of things to do, from Dynasty mode to mini-games. However I was disappointed to again find not a single classic team. The 120 NCAA Division I schools included are current and will satisfy most casual gamers, but any die-hard college football fan would love to have some previous NCAA Champion teams to compare to the current crop.
There are a whopping 49 achievements available. Ten of those are easy to get during the course of playing the game; others are more deliberate or downright impossible. The majority – such as celebrating with specific team mascots – will have to be specifically targeted.
After spending several weeks playing NCAA Football 09, I continue to be amazed by the graphical improvements. NCAA Football is another sports title with an unfortunate exclusive license. With no competition, one has to wonder how much better this game could have been, but EA still does a pretty amazing job bringing the college football atmosphere to the Xbox 360.