Unlike any review previously done here on PlayStation Universe, I feel that this review will need to be divided into several parts. The first part will handle the bulk of the title including Dynasty mode, Campus Legend mode, gameplay elements and mini-games. However, the second part of the review will focus completely on the human vs. human aspect by covering the various gameplay elements tackled in this style of play. I understand this may seem odd, but NCAA Football 2009 plays like two completely different titles depending on the situation.
As a lot of you know, I covered NCAA 2009 at a press event in New York City earlier this year. The impressions I received from the trip were positive and created a lot of anticipation for the retail release of the title. Now all that was left to find out was if EA Sports was able to fix up the issues and deliver a product worthy of the $60 purchase price come July 15. I’ve included below my thoughts and impressions on this final build and you’ll have to decide for yourself if the game warrants the price tag.
Dynasty Mode has always been the backbone of the NCAA franchise, offering users the opportunity to lead a college program to national dominance. The mode gives the player the responsibilities of red-shirting players, creating recruitment boards, setting depth charts, customizing your schedule and even inviting future prospects to watch your team play. One thing EA Sports has always done is provide this experience at the highest quality possible, and fortunately NCAA 2009 is no exception to this. The studio has added a handful of new features to the mode that make it that much better than previous installments.
One of the coolest new additions in Dynasty Mode is the ability to search for recruits to your own specifications. Are you looking for a wide receiver that is 6’4 and 230 lbs? Then put in the information and the game will pull up a list of available recruits that meet your criteria. This simple addition has made finding the right candidates for your program that much easier. EA Sports didn’t stop there in improving the recruiting process however as they’ve also added in the ability to Quick Call recruits.
If you’re a fan of Dynasty you’ll be aware of the tedious amount of time it usually took in order to call each recruit to find out what they’re looking for and things of that nature; however, with Quick Call, you can pick an allotted amount of time, call the recruit, and the game will give you details as to what the recruit is looking for. This can range from a great fan base to academic prestige to even early playing time. Knowing these details allows you to pitch your school to these plays at your strongest points in order to convince them to committing to your program. EA Sports has also added in recruitment strategy sliders that allow you to set how important certain positions are during recruiting and what type of player you’d like at that position whether it is a hard-hitting free safety, a coverage safety or perhaps a balance of the two.
Outside of the new recruitment features, the developers have added in NCAA News and Campus newspapers to the Dynasty mode. These cool little rotating papers allow you to know what the mood around campus feels like and how the national media thinks of what is going on this season in college football. This component adds to the overall authenticity of the title and definitely works to immerse the user into the college atmosphere that much more.
All of these new additions combine with the Dynasty of old to provide a great experience that will enthrall and engulf users for many months to come post-release.
Have you always wanted to be a wide receiver but your 5’4 vertical frame made that incredibly unlikely? That exact situation is why Campus Legend was such a brilliant addition to the franchise in the past, and EA has continued to build on that success by improving it even further this year. For those of you unaware of what Campus Legend is, it allows you to create-a-player or utilize an existing one in order to play that one and only position. It’s kind of like the 5 vs 5 mode in FIFA, except you’re able to progress through an entire collegiate career as that one player.
The mode starts you off going through your local High School state tournament in hopes of turning the heads of certain scouts and landing a great scholarship opportunity at the University of your choosing. The stats you compile during this tournament not only affect your overall attributes, but they will also play a large role into what place on the depth chart you’ll be offered. If you want to start right away, you may have to go to a lower ranked team, while if you want to just play for your favorite school, you’ll probably have to work your way up the roster.
In order to work your way up to the starting role, you’ll be given the chance to partake in daily practices that will allow you to earn points in order to climb the ladder. Once you’ve earned the required point total, you’ll move up to the next spot in the depth chart. Not only will practice give you the ability to do this, but it will also allow you to gain permanent attribute increases to your player. If practice isn’t your thing, you can participate in many night events in order to gain temporary increases in attributes. These night events will range from hitting the library, working out at the gym, studying your playbook and visiting your training. Don’t ever forget though that if you allow your GPA to hit below a 2.0 (C average), you’ll be suspended from athletic participation, so be sure to hit the library whenever needed to gain a boost in GPA. One of the problems that arose from this was it seemed way too easy to have your stats boost and maintain a healthy GPA. These boosts come into play at an alarmingly unrealistic rate.
From this point, you’ll play through games just like your default Dynasty Mode and earn legendary status throughout your campus depending on how well your player plays. Hopefully you have a successful enough collegiate career that you’ll be drafted in the NFL someday and start making the real virtual dollars that matter.
The mini-games section has also received some new implementations that will help you hone your skills a bit quicker. These two new additions are Horse and Special Teams Challenge.
Horse is a field goal kicking competition that allows you to place the ball at any point on the field and attempt the kick. If successful, your opponent must match your attempt. However, if your opponent misses, he will be given a letter. It's the Horse you know and love.
As for the Special Teams Challenge, it works much like Tug-of-War except utilizing the punt teams instead. Users must gain better field advantage through their returns in hopes of reaching field goal range or returning a kick all the way to the house. Once either of those goals is achieved, the winner is decided and the game ends. The mini-games section still offers up the classic Option Dash, Tug-of-War and Bowling for the veterans of the franchise.
This is where the game seemed to have the potential to not only shine but also separate itself from the game released last year. For some odd reason the game plays extremely differently when you compare playing against the computer to playing against an actual human opponent. NCAA 2009 has been revamped with an entirely new engine of play and level of responsiveness, but it doesn't necessarily show as much as it should.
Some of the newer features provided are Ice the Kicker and QB Composure Quiz. Both of these add a nice element of play to the title and definitely can make things interesting. Calling a timeout in a key situation during a field goal attempt will enact the Ice the Kicker scenario. This will create a low-angle camera view that makes it difficult to aim the kick. On top of this, the kicking meter will appear iced over and be much harder to read in terms of power and accuracy. This adds an entirely new challenge to the kicking game, but can also be turned off in the options menu should you prefer.
As for the QB Composure Quiz, this little game pops up every time you throw an interception. After throwing the INT, a screen pops up offering you the choice of three different defensive assignments to choose from. If you choose correctly as to which defense your opponent was running, your QB’s composure will increase a bit and he won’t become rattled, however, if you pick incorrectly, his composure drops and you may see an increase in errant throws and perhaps another pick on your next trip out. This feature, like Ice the Kicker, can also be turned off inside the options menu.
This brings us to the meat of the title - the actual gameplay. While there can be many criticisms for the past installments of the NCAA series, 2009 leaves a lot less desired in comparison to those before it. While the new pivot-foot technology allows for more realistic and authentic cuts up field, it also created a rather responsive “shimmy” maneuver that unfortunately will cause the AI in the game to act somewhat ridiculous. An example of this: I ran a dive play out of an I-Form offense and when I got to the second level of defenders, I gave a shimmy and instead of attacking me and making the tackle, they ran beside me up the field for 10 yards until I pulled away for six. This can also be used when running near the sidelines to create a bit more room between you and the defender.
Problems such as the one above hinder the overall experience and create a problem for the user to fully enjoy the game. Another issue that the gameplay seems to throw up is the fact that yellow defensive zones seem to be completely useless. Your AI defender will never cover his yellow zone appropriately, almost forcing you to take control of a LB every play. This also takes away from the great game that NCAA 2009 had shown signs of potential to be. On a positive note, when playing against the computer, both you and the computer will be able to establish a realistic pass rush. This is a huge upside and it helps make the game more “tolerable” in terms of enjoyment. However, it doesn't get much better than that, as the offense is truly lopsided in comparison to the defense. I understand the concern for wide-open gameplay, but when you have the ability to run a slip screen play and you hot route your WR's on the screen side of the field to streaks, you pretty much create an unstoppable play that the computer AI has no answer for.
As far as the nagging problems regarding the CPU throwing 11 interceptions a game for touchdowns, that has been toned down significantly and made into a better representation of the college play style. The defensive AI, outside of the shimmy problem, is also a lot better than in past years and isn’t as easy to fool. In the end though, the fact that the yellow zones are broken and make going over the middle almost unstoppable, NCAA 2009 seems to have taken a couple of steps forward and then a few steps back since my time with it in New York.
Player vs Player:
Sadly, this is where the game cripples and removes itself from possibly contending for Sports Game of the Year. NCAA 2009 is always best when played amongst competitive people in order to spread that competitive growth, however NCAA 2009 fails almost instantly in this department. Although this may sound harsh, it is from my experience that this game took a serious decline in respectability in comparison to the enjoyment I had playing it months ago in New York City.
One of the first issues is that the pass rush in human-oriented games is almost non-existent and lacks any realistic feel. On top of this, with the yellow defensive zones broken, it allows for both users to just take advantage of the middle of the field repeatedly. Indeed, while these may sound like only minor discrepancies, the fact is they almost completely deteriorate the inter-human experience.
From what I hear, it is unclear whether EA Sports will attempt to patch both of these staggering problems or if users will be forced to just deal with it. The bottom line for me personally, is that neither of these issues should have made it into the final build of the game. They weren’t a problem in the alpha build and the fact that this situation seems to have been exacerbated between then and the retail version is something no developer should be proud of. Instead of giving their users an experience that may have actually been unrivaled by any other sports title to date, EA Sports has let them down by producing a product that only offers a decent amount of fun when you’re playing against the computer.
EA Sports got around to implementing one of the coolest features this time around for NCAA - Custom Stadium Events and Sounds. What this means is you can import any .mp3 file from your HDD and make it play during certain scenarios within a game. There are over 20 events in total and they include things such as converting a fourth down, scoring a touchdown and creating a turnover. This feature will allow the diehard fans to install authentic chants and songs that their real-life team utilizes and make the overall collegiate experience that much better.
They’ve also added in roster sharing so users can exchanged fully detailed roster files instead of always having to take the field with a team full of numbers instead of names. On top of this, they’ve included the ability to upload highlight reels to EA Sports World to show off to their friends or just for use on their profile.
Some of the gameplay features that were added were the ability to return missed field goals; unfortunately kickers are over-powered and make returning a field goal almost impossible. They also added in bluff play art to fool your opponent on what play you’ve called and continuous play. Continuous play will allow your players to keep going past the whistle on a supposed fumble, interception opportunity, etc., in order to make it more identical to the real thing.
The most important thing for any college football game, in my opinion, is the atmosphere in which the game is set. Anyone who watches the real sport will tell you that the actual experience is unlike anything else on earth and to replicate it is truly difficult. Despite this, I feel that EA Sports has done a great job in instituting the atmosphere for NCAA 2009. From the custom stadium sounds to the high attention to detail for each stadium, NCAA 2009 surely delivers on that portion of the experience unlike any before it.
Not only does the atmosphere feel right, but also the look and feel of the field and crowd is incredible. No longer do all of the players on the sidelines move like mindless drones and cameramen always seem like they’re doing nothing at all. NCAA 2009 has done everything right in terms of properly populating the sidelines with players and having cameramen take realistic movements in order to capture the game in digital format.
Outside of that, the sound of the crowd truly draws you in and you start to take notice of the home field advantage. The newly designed player models are also brilliant along with the fact that the lighting is tremendous as well. Let’s also not forget that NCAA 2009 is running at a smooth 60 FPS and provides everything a college fanatic could desire in his surroundings.
This is probably the biggest addition to a sports game since the implementation of the original Dynasty. While a lot of people may have wanted other things added in, I think EA Sports came through and delivered something magical with this feature. Online Dynasty features practically everything its offline counterpart has to offer. Commissioners will be able to invite people from their friend’s list to join the Dynasty as well as set sliders in order to make the game play in a more realistic fashion.
On top of that, the commissioner will have the ability to customize schedules for each user-controlled team. This is good for creating equal schedule strengths or lining up bitter rivals up against one another. Out of all of these features, I think the best part about it is the fact that if you and a buddy are in an online dynasty and he comes over, you can choose to play your game offline in a lag free environment.
Owners will then be required to fulfill their pre-season tasks and set their teams to “Ready to Advance” in order to help move the league along. If you happen to get stuck with a straggler, you’ll be able to set him straight by either removing him or forcing him to continue via the simulation option. Another cool aspect to this mode is the ability to voice-chat with any owner who is currently browsing the league page. This can make for some fun trash talk and make it easier to set up times to get together and play your league game.
I’m sure the question is in your mind by now in regards to how the game plays in the online department. I’ll dive into that section right now.
Online play offers up pretty much the same modes as it did last year with the exception of the Online Dynasty previously mentioned. Ranked games will be the expected five-minute quarters on the All-American difficulty setting and will carry much of the same issues that I have previously laid out within the player vs player discussion.
For those of you wondering if lag is a problem, I’d have to say for now, no. The servers are exponentially better than last year’s offering and the game runs smooth for the most part. There may be a slight delay between instances that are just common amongst online sports gaming, but overall the experience should be very enjoyable. I’d like to point out that this online testing was performed with only three total users online and I therefore cannot make a judgment call on how the server will be once 4,000 people have logged on and started playing.
Even if this leads to a minor bog down in terms of connection smoothness, the game will undoubtedly offer up a better online atmosphere than that of NCAA 2008. EA Sports has definitely taken a step in the proper direction for straightening out their past online server issues and I look forward to these minor nuisances, such as the slight delay, being fixed.
In the end, NCAA 2009 is an amazing improvement over NCAA 2008. As a sports gamer, that’s all I can truly ask for in a yearly edition. Though the game does feel as though it possibly faltered from the alpha build I had the chance to check out in New York, it is still a respectable representation of collegiate football. While some may find the kinks to render the game unplayable, I feel the vast majority of users will appreciate what the game has to offer and enjoy those aspects the most.
-The Final Word-
NCAA 2009 is a step above its previous installment and shows EA Sports is dedicated to improving the brand name theyâ€™ve created.