EA Sports NCAA 11 Football Review

image from Gamestop.com

This is undoubtedly going to be part one of my reviews of EA Sports’s NCAA 11 Football for the XBox. I got the game on Friday night for my birthday and have had about 6 hours played on it thus far (hey, busy dads have things to do!) and will continue to build on this review as I explore more features, functions and options added to this year’s edition. Yes, there are that many changes to cover and rather than half-ass it I’ll go through them in a methodical, timely manner. So, onto my review:

First impression

Tim Tebow on the cover. Huh. Being a Big Ten guy I’m more interested in someone who’ll actually play in the NFL, but I understand he sells boxes. And jerseys. I do have to point out that EA decided to put a picture of the him in the Florida jersey with the weeds (or wings? fingers? what the hell are those things?) on the cover versus the traditional Gators jersey. That’s the first sign to me that they were taking a risk and that this game’s going to be different.

The game loads with an intro video to the new game. After that you never see it again and get a different video — again, right from the get-go you know this is a different experience. The graphics, imagery, game introductions and gameplay have all been massively upgraded. If you stop reading this post now I hope it’s to run out and buy the game — it’s that good. Here’s the trailer for the game in case you haven’t seen it:

New features

I’ve played the game for about three days and haven’t even come close to scratching the surface of new features. How do I know this? Because all of the new features are labeled as such with the word “NEW” across it. There’s a new dynasty mode that can also be played solo or with folks online, there’s the ability to reorg conferences (I remade the WAC using the top 10 teams from various conferences), there’s a ton of new detail including displaying player numbers on the side of helmets (Roll Tide!) to name a few.

The gameplay is also filled with new features, like acceleration being added to the game engine, team-specific entrances (Michigan players slap the “Go Blue” banner, Notre Dame players do the same “Play Like a Champion Today” sign), gang tackling, on-field referees that get out of the way but are present – and that’s just the beginning from what I’ve seen. Needless to say they took this game to the proverbial next level and made it more realistic than ever.

Graphics

Graphics upgrades were made across the board, especially in the post-play/replay modes. The on-field play, which everyone knows is never shown in the ads, is improved greatly. And you saw the video above — the post-play highlights look real; even the conference logos got a makeover and look terrific. The overall look of the game has changed as well to be identical to ESPN’s coverage of college football; Touchdowns are called out within the in-game scoreboard with ESPN’s TV graphics, the in-game scoreboard looks like ESPN’s College Football coverage. Even the menus and fonts are different but much better.

Because of this it feels like they went back to the drawing board and re-thought the entire experience to make it feel “bigger”.

Commentary

It’s the same cast of characters from NCAA 10 Football sans Lee Corso. Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit return for the play by play and color commentary and Erin Andrews, who for some reason is propped up as being a sex symbol once again (personally I’d rather see Rachel Nichols), does the sideline reporting. I’m actually glad that Corso isn’t in the game as his commentary didn’t add value to NCAA 10. I mean, how many times can you listen to “Yo!” and “Not so fast!” during one game? It would be cool to see them throw in other ESPN personalities like Chris Spielman, Dave Pasch and Mike Tirico for regional or national games but I understand it would cost EA more to do so.

Game play

In a word, I’d say “realistic”. The acceleration engine that’s built in means your kick returners can build up speed as do your running backs when they’re tossed a pitch. The gang tackling feature is also something new and brings a wonderfully realistic dimension to the game. It’s also much more comparable to the real thing when a player may break one tackle but breaking four, as possible in the previous versions, doesn’t happen.

Overall they added in shortcuts and several upgrades. Play calling, for example, is better as you’re able to hop between plays and modes much faster than before; after scoring a touchdown you can press the “Y” button to get right to the special teams plays, which defaults to an extra point kick.

Offensively your wide receiver’s routes are displayed and changing routes happens at a much quicker pace. During hurry up mode, you’re given a visual display of available play calls as well. This goes back to the redesigned user interface mentioned earlier, which makes the game much better to manage.

Defense has also been improved via shortcuts. I’m still learning to use one in particular, which is the ability to hit “B” and point the right stick in a direction to select that player. This is obviously preferred to cycling through each player to get to the one you want to control. I’ve also noticed that making defensive plays, especially on passes, is greatly improved and more realistic; a good corner can easily swat a bad pass and potentially pick it off as well.

Any downsides?

Yes, actually. One is that I can’t seem to connect to the EA servers to save my game. I downloaded the most recent update so I should be good to go, but my victories for Boise State aren’t adding to the online playing totals for some reason. Also, the Coke Zero and Reese’s ads are a bit sickening. Seriously, I just dropped $60 on a game and my reward is to have to watch ads? Please don’t throw that crap in my face every time I make a great play, learn who the player of the game is. I know they’re trying to simulate the TV experience but ads are the one thing I would love to cut out.

Summary (Thus far)

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this game and am already in love with it. It’s a much more realistic experience and as I mentioned above it just feels “bigger”.  I can’t wait to try the customization features when I create my own player and go through the Road to Glory mode, which was carried over from last year’s version. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to buy the game my advice is to run out and get it  – or wait for my next review. 😉

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