Publisher: EA SPORTS™
Developer: EA Tiburon
N Amer - 07/17/2007
NCAA Football 08 Review
You have got to give props to EA Sports when it comes to the look of NCAA Football 08 on the PS3 … it is amazing. Crisp, bright, lush, with terrific tackle animations, this is definitely the best-looking iteration of the franchise.
Then why does the game itself feel a bit hollow? Let’s just say that the artificial intelligence running the game in the Campus Legends mode is more than suspect, as is the AI-driven players you will be playing with. But more on that in a moment …
NCAA Football 08 is making its debut on the PS3 system. Yep, that’s right – this is the first time that EA Sports has developed the game for the platform. Sporting that great BSU cover, the game has some bells and whistles, mostly tied to the terrific graphics engine. You can capture video, or take screens of key plays, all stored via the post-game game wrap up. Want to preserve that breakaway run from scrimmage that resulted in an 80-yard game-winning moment. Easy enough to do with the controls built into the engine. But EA has made other changes to the game as well.
The Momentum meter is gone and replaced by a Motivation system. Essentially, what happens is if you make enough key plays with a specific selected player, you will see a fire blast radiate from him, indication his Motivation is maxed out – as in, his skills are maxed and the next time he gets a chance to make a play, he could break it.
The game features several game modes, including Dynasty, Campus Legend and three Mini-Games. The latter trio of games are option dash (a two-minute drill while running the option), tug of war (you start at midfield and alternate plays with your opponent until one team scores – basically a field tug of war by moving the ball) and bowling (start at the 10 yard line and get 10 reps – one for each frame – and you try to score as many points as possible).
Dynasty is the total overview of building a winning collegiate program, from the recruiting to setting the roster depth to scheduling. You can create a player, and then recruit him for your team. The upside is that if successful you will land a blue-chipper. The downside that if you are not successful, you will create a monster player that may hurt you later if he goes to a conference rival. But alas, one of the thrills of the game, create-a-school, is not in this iteration.
Since the PS3 has Blu-ray capabilities, including this feature would have been possible in terms of space allocation on the disk. However, no use crying over spilled milk – it’s not here. EA has spiced up the recruiting process though, allowing players to call prospects and engage in a multi-topic conversation to try to pique their interest. And the game has a search engine that will allow the coach to really define search parameters for prospects. It looks great and works well.
The meat of the single-player game is the Campus Legend mode. The mode has good points and bad points. You begin as a high-school senior, completing the playoff bracket for the state championship. For obvious reasons (like – it’s where I live), Idaho was chosen. The bracket is four games to the championship, but a loss along the way means you are done. Scouts are there to watch you and your rankings go up depending on performance. A four-to-five star rating, and most of the colleges in the country will come a’knocking. The championship game is held in the Kibbie Dome, on the campus of the University of Idaho, under a cloud-strewn evening sky … screech!!! Wait a moment … how can you tell what the sky looks like, it’s a dome, hence the name? hmm, been there, and yes, it was totally enclosed because U of I plays all of its basketball games in there … let’s check online to see if something has changed … nope, still shows it as an enclosed domed facility. Ok, that’s wrong. But moving on … hmm, who gave the coaching staff lobotomies. Why, in the name of ‘Bear’ Bryant, are they running the same play over and over and over? In one instance, the same play was called four times in a row – and it was not always successful. But it gets worse.
Clock management seems to be an issue at odd times for the AI-driven coaches. Down by a field goal with one and a half minutes to go in the game and 70 yards to glory, they run a dive play against a stacked defensive front? Yes, you can audible, but by the time your team adjusts, the game seems to give the defense ample time to reset as well before you can snap the ball. This seems to be a common ailment.
Or, the team you are playing is quick on the outside. Every time you try to run the ball around the ends, they are waiting there in groups of three or more, resulting in loss of yards. The coaching AI may view that as a challenge, because it keeps calling a run to the outside, right into the teeth of the defense.
But weather that, and get through the high school games, then it is time to pick a school. The colleges come knocking with various offers – Ok, they tell you if you will start, or be relegated to the bench. If you are the second backup, or worse, you can elevate that position and actually vie for the starting role by attending practice and racking up points in the drills. The drills consist of running plays. You are shown how many points it is to the next position on the depth chart. The goal is to get to the starting position and then hold it. Attending class and after-school activities will earn you attribute points. You don’t actually have to do much other than click on the event button and answer a question. You get to gameday, and head out on the green, or blue grass/turf and do the best you can, then repeat the process the next week.
Perform at a high enough level and your stats will rise.
The game’s sound is solid, but at times the play-by-play commentary (and color work) seems a step out of time with the actual game action. Where this game truly shines, though, is the graphics. This is the finest looking NCAA game to date. Sure, the AI controlled players will make too many moves (like the running back that does not turn it upfield, but rather jukes and bounces back a few steps trying to go wide but instead only succeeding in finding the defense and losing yards), but the animations have been vastly improved and some of the hits will have you wondering how the players get up from the pounding.
Adding to the flavor of the game is inclusion of The Weather Channel reports. Weather effects are well handled. The sidelines and crowd need a lot of work, but who cares? The action on the field is first rate … well, aside from some clipping issues. Playing a quarterback, the legend-wannabe dropped back, found his receiver on a 10-yard curl pattern. The defensive back was shielded from the ball, yet managed to clip through the receiver and pick off the pass. Yep, that’s mildly frustrating. And the framerate is lower than Madden on the same platform. The game is also locked in at 720p, not the 1080p that the 360 sports.
ESPN has also been added to the package, but this feels more like an unexplored afterthought than a full-fledged feature. The game does have a solid online component, with ranked and unranked play. No season formats are available here – as of yet.
When it comes to the controls, NCAA 08 is fairly typical of the franchise. Yes, the SIXAXIS controller does get some use, but it is nothing earth shaking. No juke moves or the like, just things like anticipating the snap. But on the downside, if you are moving the left thumbstick forward, get banged and spun 180 degrees, you will be running backwards. Be wary, this can result in losing yards in a hurry.
NCAA Football 08 is a game that looks really good, but has a few other flaws that detract from the overall experience. To present it in a football analogy, the game is like fourth down and inches inside the opponent’s 10-yard line with 35 seconds to go, trailing by five points in a key conference game. Instead of lining up and going for it, the first down or the TD, the AI elects to kick the field goal and try for the onside kick.
Or, in another football analogy, to borrow from the cover team, it’s like lining up to kick the extra point in the first overtime and hope you can hold the Sooners on their next possession (even though they walked into the endzone the first time they touched the ball) or get gutsy (like Bronco head coach Chris Peterson) and go for the two-point conversion and the win-or-lose-it-now scenario. EA Sports kicked the PAT.
Review Scoring Details for NCAA Football 08
Some of the plays that the AI calls borders on sheer stupidity. No wonder why you can find a new coaching job in the dynasty mode. Suspect AI decisions can make for a frustrating experience, though. The controls are fine, but the SIXAXIS is not well used.
The best PlayStation college football game around? Yes, but think how much better it would have been at 60 frames per second (instead of 30) and at 1080p instead of 720p. The animations, though, are vastly improved and make this a visual treat.
At times the announcers feel like they are a step behind the play or watching another game. When they nail it, though, it can feel right. The crowd noise and bands are a very nice touch.
Improved graphics does not make for a conceptually strong game. Some features from past games were dropped, some elements (the whole legend training system, for example) are way too easy, but the dynasty mode’s handling of prospects is well done.
Solid ranked and unranked matchups. Nothing truly special here.
This is a game that could have been much better. It is entertaining, and has great animations, but stumbles in odd places. Football is a game that is tough to really capture, with 22 bodies perform individual actions during a set span of time. NCAA Football 08 is a good title, maybe one of the best in the franchise’s history on the PlayStation platforms, but it could have been much better.
NCAA Football 08 has the graphics, but the game play and AI can be a little suspect
Reviewer: Michael Lafferty
Review Date: 07/24/2007