Reviewed: July 9, 2010
Released: July 13, 2010
Living in Big Ten (really Big 11-soon-to-be-Big 12) cities most of my life has been a lot of fun over the years. I've been to a sporting event at almost all the schools in the conference and have even traveled to the west coast to see a game. NCAA Division I sports is certainly a big step up from my playing days in Division III. |
Since I live in a Big Ten city I get to see some big time talent and some potential national champions come through town... a few of them even make it to the pros. Once in awhile those pros make it to the top – and one of them was in town today. Drew Brees is on a nationwide tour promoting Madden 11 (he's on the cover) and his new book. I got to see him play at Purdue and even met him a couple times. It's always good to see a nice guy succeed on the national stage – especially when I used to play as him in NCAA Football ten years ago on the PlayStation.
Being in a college town always makes for some special times when EA's NCAA Football and Basketball games hit the shelves each year. Late night games and tournaments are the standard along with arguments into the wee hours of the morning about this year’s game being better or worse than last year.
I always am amazed at how EA and other sports game publishers can come out with a new version of a game every year. EA could really phone it in and still make money with this game – just update the rosters and most college campus' will still be flooded with late night NCAA Football marathons. Instead EA has chosen to really pour it on with expanded graphics and new social network additions that push the limits of creativity with this franchise.
This year your game day experience is taken to a new level with an all-new running mechanics engine called “Locomotion”. Similar to what they did with FIFA soccer a few years ago, this engine now adds a level of real physics to the players so they explode off the line, stop and balance in a more natural way. It's not quite perfected yet but is certainly a big step forward in this series.
Each of the 120 NCAA teams included now has their own unique style. You can pick from “no-huddle” spread, triple option, wishbone, air raid or pistol offenses with variations for each school. You can really dictate the tempo of the game by running the spread. There are also huge changes in the AI. The effectiveness of running plays has gone up dramatically with the changes in the way the offensive linemen select their blocks. The CPU is much better at running the ball so it's certainly not as easy to contain their running game just by picking a blitz all the time.
Online play and features has dramatically improved also. Most games have the usual ranked and unranked matches, but EA is moving way beyond others. More and more sports games are moving toward tighter integration with online content. The jury is still out on if that is a good thing, but for those of us with broadband Internet and an Xbox Live account it certainly is good!
EA is linking more stats and other features into their website so you can actually tinker around with things while you are away from home. Currently you can visit dynasty.easports.com and play Dynasty mode anywhere. You can recruit; check out online conference standings, game recaps, and other stats. I bet it won't be long before we see interoperability with the iPhone version of NCAA Football.
The move toward more integration with social networking sites is also on EA's front burner. With the Dynasty Wire you play the part of a journalist as you tell your side of your online dynasty. You can create stories for your game recap including in-game photos and video highlights using the new Story Builder. The really neat feature is you can then post your story on Facebook and Twitter so everyone can see how you lead Purdue to beat #1 ranked Ohio State.
TeamBuilder has also been greatly improved. You can now play online head-to-head with TeamBuilder created teams. You can import the teams you made last year. Additionally this season you can now add custom text across the front of the jersey and you have access to all the new uniforms, stadiums and mascots. So let your creative juices flow and build your high school team or conference all-star teams.
The shortcomings of NCAA Football 11 are few. Most gamers will be thrilled with this game, however the hardcore people who spend hours playing every game mode and using every option will find some annoying limitations. You are allowed to make custom conferences, however you can't increase or decrease the number of teams. For example, the Big Ten must always have 11 schools. It's unfortunate you can't play a 2012 fantasy Big Ten by moving Nebraska into the Big Ten conference.
EA has really stepped things up a notch with their NCAA presentation. Leaning more toward the dramatic, NCAA Football 11 now includes unique game play and transitions for all 120 schools. Everything from walking out of the tunnel with locked arms to touching unique good luck charms is portrayed with amazing accuracy. For example Ohio State locks arms as they enter the field and Clemson touches Howard's Rock.
There is a wealth of new animations both on and off the ball. Everything from sideline catches to celebrations have been improved right down to the mascots. The player’s skin has improved so it doesn't look like a Toy Story character and the sky has been improved to look more realistic.
The addition of the ESPN brand broadcast graphics certainly steps up the realism from on screen wipes to the live sports ticker. The addition of 33 new mascots (including Akron's Zippy the kangaroo) and 8 new stadiums (including Dallas Cowboys stadium, home to the Cotton Bowl and Big 12 Championship) really shows that EA isn't sitting around just updating the rosters every year.
Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit and Erin Andrews return for broadcast duties in NCAA Football 11. Andrews also provides special reports on your “road to glory” persona in that mode. With the addition of the ESPN broadcast package you really can't go wrong. The ESPN package includes a radio sports update every 20 minutes featuring sports news from the real world. The general stadium ambiance is captured with near greatness. The atmosphere of the college game is captured and is considerable different from their NFL counterpart.
The only real shortcoming is in the roster area. If you input or download full named rosters, the stadium announcer and the broadcast commentators almost completely ignore even simple names. There are only a handful of times a real last name is used when I play. I have to wonder if this is a reaction to recent lawsuits from players for using their likeness and stats.
NCAA Football 11 has 50 Achievements available for up to 1,000 Gamerscore points. Achievements range from winning the high school championship to winning all dynasty games in a season by over 21 points. I don't have that kind of time, but I'm sure many of you will go for it. NCAA Football 11 packs a lot of great features and improvements over last year’s game. So many that its nearly impossible to write a review and touch on them all. So you can rest assured, you do get a lot for your $60. This isn't Madden with NCAA rosters anymore.
Unfortunately NCAA Football 11 also has some annoying limitations. The most annoying limitation is in the number of TeamBuilder teams allowed on your system. Out of the box you can save only 12 teams and that is only if you use the Online Pass code included in new games. There are a lot of great classic teams on the TeamBuilder site already. Enough that 12 slots isn't going to cover it. If you just want to increase the TeamBuilder teams from 12 to 120, you can buy the “Max TeamBuilder Slots” expansion for 800 Microsoft Points.
So basically for your $60 you get a game with certain areas crippled. What kind of a cheap stunt is that - the moneymaking kind. In another moneymaking scheme designed to curb used game sales, EA now requires you to punch in a code to unlock online play and certain features. The code is included free in new games, however if you buy it used or borrow a friends game, you have to fork over 800 Microsoft Points for an “online pass” that will unlock Online Dynasty Mode, online play, and the TeamBuilder. EA certainly deserves to recoup some money from used sales, but crippling some offline modes is a bit over the line; especially for people who don't have online access.
Additionally EA has an online NCAA Power Pack available for a whopping 2,400 Microsoft Points. The pack allows you to increase your TeamBuilder teams from 12 to 120 (saving used gamers 800 Microsoft Points), it gives you all the Dynasty Time Savers (aka cheats), unlocks all recruiting promises and pipeline state addition, and all Road to Glory positions will be 5 star recruits. It also includes the Online Pass (saving used gamers 800 Microsoft points).
I understand EA's reasons for doing this, but it doesn't mean I like it. It's a hassle for the fans and even penalizes people who don't have an Internet connection. I have worked in marketing for over 20 years, and you just can't nickel and dime customers like that. Eventually they will stop coming back for your product and find other things to do with their money. The only thing EA has going for them, is they have a great product and for the time being no competition... and they know it. I guess that's enough.
It is pretty rare that I recommend an upgrade for owners of the previous season’s game. But NCAA Football 11 warrants an upgrade. The heavy handed costs of expansion packs are certainly a turnoff, but the addition of 120 real college offenses, ESPN broadcast package, new stadiums and mascots, enhanced TeamBuilder and StoryBuilder, and a long list of other improvements will certainly put NCAA Football 11 in the running for sports game of the year.