I got to spend about 90 minutes with both Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of both Madden NFL 25 and NCAA Football 14.
First: NCAA. The improvements to the visuals is immediately noticeable. The game is bright and crisp, with colors that pop off the screen. It doesn’t look cartoony, but it definitely looks slightly exaggerated. The gameplay, even on a non-final build, was solid and definitely better than last year’s. I played a couple of quarters against random teams before taking the Miami Hurricanes into Autzen to face the Ducks of Oregon. Oregon ran their patented uptempo option attack with precision, gashing me with runs (to the tune of 300 yards rushing) and occasionally hitting the big pass play on me after forcing me to bring my defenders up to help out. Running backs like D’Anthony Thomas and Duke Johnson felt dangerous whenever they touched the ball, as the improved running logic helps them find the best holes to run through and the improved line play helps get the plays off the ground. For the first time in an EA football game, I had to make a concerted effort to stop the run by loading 8 or 9 players into the box. It opens up the strategic planning for the AI as they were then able to take advantage of my aggression and fear.
There have also been improvements to the option game, and a spin with the new training feature helped teach me the ropes. The trainer first explains a concept to the player (in this case, the new “shovel option” plays) then allows them to utilize it in situations designed to teach the player the situations best suited for certain decisions. For example, the trainer started by having me learn when to shovel the ball, so the defense was pre-programmed to attack both the QB and the pitch man, forcing me to make the only decision I could. Once I did a few reps of that, I was then shown when to pitch the ball back. After that, I learned when to keep the ball and take off. The game then puts you in a live situation where you are graded on your decision making. It’s clever stuff presented right in the game’s improved front-end for players to dive into.
There have also been additions in the form of composure and home-field advantage, as well as a return and enhancement of the “matchup stick.” Holding R2/RT and flicking the stick in different directions gives you an easy-to-understand overview of the matchups on the field, as well as each player’s composure.
Additionally, players are able to hold a receiver’s corresponding button and find out how that specific receiver matches up with the defender across from him. Finding out that the defender matched up one-on-one across from your star receiver is 12 points slower and 3 inches shorter gives you the green light to attack downfield.
I was enthused by NCAA after playing it. Other additions such as the new camera angles and improved introductions round out and refine the experience in ways that make it feel like this generation of NCAA is going out with a bang.
I had less time with Madden NFL 25 due to time restrictions, but I got a chance to play against the Redskins and see Robert Griffin III in action. The team has built in the read-option game for the Redskins, and the way they run it is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. It’s missing some of the small-but-cool features from NCAA such as the matchup stick and “all-22″ camera but the action felt even more refined and balanced than last year. The other thing that stuck out was the overlays, which looked really slick and well-animated.
This isn’t the last year on the Xbox 360 and PS3 for either Madden or NCAA, but this is the last year of real relevance for both. They don’t appear to want to disappoint.