NCAA Football was the first football game I ever bought and, while the rest of the football gaming world goes gah-gah over the latest iteration of Madden every year, I always find myself finding the same sense of satisfaction with NCAA Football. NCAA Football 2008 is the series' first true “next-gen” push. Though last year’s 360 version was generally met with accolades, it felt like an incomplete game, something that this year’s version looks to eliminate.
Similar to Madden 08, NCAA 08 features a new branching animation system that determines the best transitional animations to use in any given situation. Players can break out of an animation at any time, which should speed up the pacing and result in fewer unnatural “stops” between animations. The new set of animations gives the game a new sense of life and is perfect for the new highlight replay system.
At any time, you can pause the game and choose any previous play. Once selected, you can choose an angle and watch the play as many times as you like. If there is a play you are particularly proud of, you can save it in your own personal highlight vault in your team shrine, which doubles as the main title screen. In addition to your personal highlight reels, your team shrine will show your team colors and any trophies you have earned.
Campus Legend is NCAA 08’s main mode and gives you the chance to either create your own player or follow the collegiate career of an already existing player. When creating your own player, you can start them off in college or begin as a high school player. When choosing the latter route, you begin as a member of a local team playing in your home state’s championship playoffs. You begin playing in small stadiums and work your way to the state championship which takes place at the university stadium nearest your hometown. So, for example, if your choose Shreveport, LA as your home town, the state championship game will likely take place at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.
When playing as a high school player, your main focus is getting the attention of recruiters. Rather than playing as the coach, you play as an individual player, so you don’t get to call the shots as far as which play is called or even who is a part of certain play packages. It is even possible to have the coach call you out of the game if you aren’t doing well or your team is dominating.
Once your high school career is over, several schools will offer you a slot. You can choose to go to a smaller school and contribute immediately or go to a major school and risk sitting out games as a backup, but you’ll also gain greater prestige and be in a better position to earn a national championship or even a Heisman. How far down the depth chart you land at a major school depends on your position and your player’s skill rating. In order to move up, you need to perform well in practice and earn points. Once you have a rating equal or greater than the next guy up, you move up in the depth chart.
Another feature NCAA 08 shares with Madden 08 is the new defensive hit stick. When tackling the ball carrier, you can hit up or down on the right analog stick to send the hit high or low. Bigger opponents, like power backs, can be taken down with a low block to the legs, while a high hit could send a speedier back down in a hurry or at least knock the ball loose. Of course, backs won’t be completely at the mercy of the hit stick. The hurdle button has returned, giving them a way to escape ill-placed or ill-timed tackles. Of course, a player can always anticipate the jump, go high and introduce your back’s well… back to the field really quick.
If the role of player isn’t something you are particularly jazzed about, you can also take on the role of head coach in Dynasty Mode. The mechanics behind the mode have been changed to make it a little easier to navigate. You have more options when it comes to trying to recruit players and feedback isn’t as vague.
Once in the mode, you begin by determining your team’s needs and sifting through a national database of players for recruits that fit your needs. You can base your search on a number of parameters and the search tool will respond back with a list of players that meet your criteria or come close enough. Once you have your players, you can place them on your recruiting board and go about trying to get them to commit to your school by inviting him to campus or using other tactics. What tactics you can use on players is dependant on where they rank on your big board.
In order to get a player interested, you can use a variety of options such as using your school’s prestige or by making promises such as playing time or a shot at a national title. Depending on which school you are coaching, you will have different pitches that you can throw at recruits. Which you use are dependant on what your team can reasonably achieve and what that recruit is looking for. In other words, if a recruit is looking to play for a national title, you probably won’t be able to recruit him if you are the head coach at Duke.
One of the other new features unique to NCAA 08 is motivation. Each player has a color-coded meter that shows their drive or intensity during the game. Several factors will influence how motivated an individual player is and once they reach a certain peak, it will rub off on the rest of the team, giving them modest, yet noticeable stat boosts.
NCAA Football 08 is slated for a mid-July release on the PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360.