Yearly titles, especially the sports genre, need to step up their game these last few months before the next generation of consoles are released. We can expect better graphics, better A.I., better physics, better online functionality, and better gameplay with next-gen titles. But these last few yearly installment games on current-gen systems need to offer something a little extra than usual, something to keep us perfectly happy while we wait for the real show next year. Sadly that's not the case with NCAA Football 14, a series that's always been solid but lacking the power of its professional Madden big brother. This year's installment fails to break new ground and if "2014" wasn't on the box, you may not notice any major differences to last year's version.
NCAA Football 14 is plagued by the same problem as many other EA Sports games. Without competition from other developers and publishers, there's little need to push the limits each year. This year is no different for NCAA Football 14. While it borrows the physics engine from last year's Madden, Infinity Engine 2, it feels only slightly fresher than last year's installment and player collisions are mixed--think a mixture of solid physics-based collisions coupled with players occasionally bouncing off each other like paper balls. The engine is definitely a step in the right direction, but there are still plenty of times tight ends randomly crumble against a defensive line.
If you are a fan of the NCAA Football series, you are probably one of the few people who will want to pick up this year's version. Or, if you are a casual fan and haven't owned an installment in a while, 14 is a fine purchase. The good news is the game is still a blast, mostly, on the field--that's really where it counts. I happen to despise the trend towards RPG-style extensive micromanagement in newer sports games, so my focus is always on the actual gameplay. NCAA Football 14's gameplay is definitely better than last year's entry and fans of the "option" run will be rewarded.
Your controls are the same as in recent years, and luckily they are tight in NCAA Football 14. These tight controls make the running game the highlight as your right analog stick gives you tons of subtle offensive options, like jukes, cuts, and dives. Your offensive line can open up solid holes for your running backs, and thanks to the new physics engine, a little tap won't knock you on your butt. Instead, players usually roll off each other unless there's a solid hit. But there were plenty of times my player would just crumble like a dried leaf accidentally hitting the side of a defender.
On the defensive side, you are really left up to the ability of your A.I., as is the case in all these football games. It's all about picking the right plays, making last minute tweaks, and switching to the right defender on the fly. Not much feels different on the defensive side this year, but the new physics engine again adds some much needed realism to the play.
The Nike Training Camp mode serves as a solid tutorial for newcomers and veterans looking to learn some of the new tweaks this year. If you can get past EA Sports' clear use of advertising from Nike, and other in-game commercials, despite charging you the same darn price for the game, well then you are a step ahead of me. But look past the extensive Nike logos and you'll find some fun skill-style challenges that teach you a few new tricks. These challenges are typically simple, think basics like running the ball a few yards, but they are tweaked as you progress to add some more difficulty and teach you even more new things. But there are times the game is holding your hand a bit too tight and doesn't give you any flexibility in how you achieve said challenge. Frustrating, yes, but it makes sense that EA is trying to drill you with a bunch of basics before handing over your sovereignty.
NCAA Football 14 returns with plenty of content to keep college football fans happy. There are the basics like Season, Franchise, and Road to Glory, and EA Tiburon made some decent tweaks to Dynasty by ditching the phone call recruiting system and instead opting for a points-based system. This is where the games turns too RPG for my liking (I love RPGs, just not in my sports games). You earn points on the field by scoring, forcing a turnover, or other things like that, then you get to spend those points on perks to help your players. It is easy enough to blow past this part of the game, and perhaps there are those out there that dig this points system, but, for me, it just doesn't mesh well with the rest of the game.
You can play Ultimate Team in NCAA Football 14. This is EA's signature fantasy sports game that allows you to collect trading cards to unlock players, build the very best team, and take them online against your friends. The fantasy sport thing is not my cup of tea, but it was actually fun to try and get the best player and build the strongest team--that's a bit of a contradiction to my distaste for RPG elements in sports game, right?
The improvements on field and slight adjustments in modes aren't nearly enough to make this year's transition to next-gen a worthwhile purchase. The presentation alone reminds me that this is very much a PlayStation 3 game but I still appreciate the attempt to make it feel like we are watching an actual college game on ESPN.
Commentary is still sharp and great at pulling up stats for fictional players, but I found a number of errors in their words. For example, I was pummeling Penn State playing as Syracuse but the announcers said something about how the "Nittany Lions are looking to upset the visitors today." Thing is, that's just wrong. First, the Orange were up by 21 in the fourth quarter and we were considered the underdogs. Second, the game was played on neutral territory in New Jersey. I don't really remember playing another sports game that got this kind of information wrong in the commentary, but I suppose there's a first for everything.
NCAA Football 14 is still a fun experience and there's plenty of content to gobble up for college ball fanatics. While there are no glaring problems, mediocre A.I., fair graphics, and generic gameplay and modes keep this from being a standout final entry for this generation. I had a blast running the ball, especially the read option plays, and the physics engine finally puts some weight behind the ball. It's also worth noting that the game is still plagued with small glitches and incredibly annoying load screens and occasional crashes. Get past those little annoyances and you are left with a not-too-shabby sports game, but it's a poor farewell to its current generation. Hopefully, the switch to next-gen results in more than just a tweak to the physics engine and some mild changes to game modes. Hopefully the move to next-gen makes next year's game feel better than NCAA Football 14.5.
-The Final Word-
A decent final entry in this generation, NCAA Football 14 sports a better physics engine, more refined gameplay and mild tweaks to some game modes. We have higher hopes, however, that we see more substantial changes as this franchise makes its way to next-gen consoles.