Summer is in full swing and soon enough the boys of Fall will be back on the fields at universities around the nation. EA Sports is geared up for another season of Football action with both of their franchises. Up first is NCAA Football 14. The team at EA Tiburon dug in over the last year and have truly refined the football experienced that they created a year ago. While this year doesn’t see the game wide sweeping changes in all areas, the Dynasty overhaul and Infinity Engine 2.0 alone are worth every penny. But the team didn’t stop there, they also for the first time ever bring the highly popular Ultimate Team mode to NCAA Football, allowing gamers to build a team of football all-stars during their college years.
I’m going to jump right into the real meat and potatoes of this year’s game, Dynasty Mode. Dynasty Mode in NCAA Football has always been my favorite mode of the series. Spending countless hours shaping the best possible college team from yearly high school recruits is always a challenge and takes strategy. This year the development team set out to streamline the recruiting process to get you back on the field faster. Gone are the countless hours spent playing the telephone game. This year you get a pool of recruiting points. You allocate these points each week to the recruits you want. As the weeks progress you can remove and/or add points to each recruit as you try to move up on their list of top schools. While recruiting is much more streamlined it’s also a bit more challenging as you only have 5000 points to work with, on top of that each recruit can only have a max 500 points assigned. So you’ll need to carefully balance who gets what points and when. Start adding points to a recruit to late and you might have already lost them.
The other big change to Dynasty Mode which really makes the mode shine is the new Coach XP and Coach Skills system. These systems add a touch of RPG gameplay to the mode. As you play you’ll gain XP for completing tasks each game. As you rank up you’ll gain Coach Skill Points. These points are then spent in RPG styled talent trees. As you spend them you unlock more abilities. There are 4 trees to spend points on, Head Coach Game Management, Head Coach Recruiting, Offensive Coordinator, and Defensive Coordinator. As a head coach you’ll be able to spend your own points plus improve your two coordinators with their own pool of points. The abilities you unlock range in what they can do. For instance when on the road does the shaking of routes and vibrating controller hamper your game? Then invest in the Road Warrior ability, which prevents the crowd from rattling your QB. Or if your game is fine on the field but you want some more help in recruiting you might want to invest to get the ability Letter of Intent which give you more recruiting points in the off-season and the chance to steal a prospect from another school. Those are just two of the many abilities you can unlock with your Coach Skill Points. I really liked this new RPG style of play, it not only gives players a helping hand at areas they might lack in but it also creates an evolution of improvement in your coach as he progress down his career.
Before we jump into the on the field action there is one other mode addition to NCAA Football 14, the very popular Ultimate Team is making it’s first appearance ever in the franchise. Gamers can build a team of NFL all-stars during their college years. Within Ultimate team there are two modes of play besides the normal online and vs cpu modes, Head to Head Season mode where you play against others in a 10 game “season” trying to make it to the play-offs. The other mode is Solo Challenges where you can not only earn coins but also unlock special cards along the way. EA Sports fans have loved Ultimate Team in all the other games so it’s no surprise to see it in NCAA, the only problem is it’s pretty much a tweaked version of Madden Ultimate Team, as you are using NFL stars just in college school colors. But I’m sure fans of the Ultimate Team mode will spend tons of time going through the Solo Challenges and playing Seasons with friends.
Ok now to the gameday action. The big on field changes come in two parts, Infinity Engine 2.0 and the much improved AI. Anyone who played Madden NFL last year knows how amazing Infinity Engine is, adding real-time physics to player movement which creates an amazing experience on the screen. Seeing big a running back lower a shoulder and bulldoze a safety never gets old, plus all the amazing tackles you’ll see will give you a reason to enjoy the replays. But it’s not just about impact, Infinity Engine also alters how your players move as you’ll be able to cut and juke naturally as your momentum is taken into account. You’ll also be able to stumble and recover, or even shake off defenders. Infinity Engine 2.0 really makes the game shine and has been greatly improved since Madden NFL 13 to act much more natural. A lot of the post play funky movements have been removed or greatly toned down.
On top of the look of movement on the screen the way the AI moves is much smarter than ever. To me the biggest changes come on or around the line of scrimmage. Finally your teammates will pick-up the right blocks and not just move on their planned path. You really see this when running the option. Seeing the running back pick-up the block and allowing the quarterback to break free is awesome. You’ll also notice the linemen on both sides of the ball acting in much more natural ways. There seems to be a lot more up and down field movement after the snap on the line. A big d-line can easily push the offensive line back collapsing the pocket on a quarterback. Overall on both sides of the ball the AI is much smarter and more natural then in years past.
Visuals haven’t changed much if any over last year. But the broadcast aspect of the game has. Each game starts with a little pre-game show of cut scenes ending with a unique opening for each game. ESPN is back with all the standard onscreen tickers, stats and replay wipes. If you are playing a special game such as a rivalry game the broadcast graphics will reflect that. The only thing that takes you out of the real world broadcast feel is the virtual replay camera, instead of using known tv camera angles most replays are from low angle on the field cameras. The replays put you right in the action but they breakdown the wall of realism. The other visual change is the new cameras, coordinator view is really neat. You’ll get the view from the booth and look down on the action. I thought it would be tough to play with being so far away but seeing the entire play unfold actually improved my game. It’s also a unique experience seeing the game from that angle.
The team at Tiburon wasn’t messing around this year with NCAA Football 14. Gamers will get a thrilling and some times shock and awe football experience. The revamp of Dynasty Mode and the inclusion of the Infinity Engine alone make this a must buy for fans of the series. But they didn’t stop there, bringing Ultimate Team is a bit out-of-place but the mode has a ton of fans and just adds more gameplay options. Also some of the smaller changes like the new camera angles and the ability to tweak offense and defense difficulty independently are the icing on this cake. NCAA Football 14 is a must have for football fans.
A copy of NCAA Football 14 for Xbox 360 was provided to us for the review