NCAA Football 2005 Review

NCAA Football 2005 has finally come out. Given my reviews for the football games last year (NCAA Football 2004, Madden 2004 and ESPN NFL Football 2K4) it was obvious that I felt NCAA Football 2004 was the cream of the crop because of its all-around ability. I’ve always found college football games to be more exciting than their NFL counterparts. The thrill of the dynasty mode, doing your scouting and being able to send your seniors to Madden once you got the correct pressing of that game.

Now EA Sports brings the next year of football and sports games to us. NCAA Football 2005 has some additions to it. The key ones are the match up stick (used via the right analog stick), the Hit button (white button) and the Home Field Advantage (from now on HFA) ability (also via the white button). They’ve also refined a lot of things from last year, but they’ve also left in a lot of things from last year, but we’ll get to that in the upcoming sections. This will be an easy pickup for anyone that wants the new iteration of the game, but I have a feeling many may not pick this game up because of what it recycles from last year. Let’s get to it.

The graphics are very much like NCAA Football 2004. Yes, there are new tackling animations, new camera tricks (like HFA that I’ll get into later), new stadium and weather effects, etc. However it seems Tiburon has only refined the graphics from last year and not as much care has been given to this as they do with the Madden series where they either update the whole engine or you see noticeable improvement.

There is a problem with slowdown depending on how you perceive the speed. If you go to any football forums you’ll see tons of people with different setups (HDTV vs. regular TV, dome stadium vs. outside stadium, large stadium with weather vs. small stadium with weather, NCAA camera vs. other camera, etc.) that are having vastly different feelings on the speed issue. I’ve played quite a few games now and I do see slowdown, but only in the usual places for an EA Sports football game: up the middle and around the end zone.

Does this mean other people aren’t having other slowdown issues? No. That is just what I have seen. I don’t have an HDTV, but I did try some other tests talked about above. A large stadium with weather may run the game a bit slower than a small stadium or dome stadium. However, this could also be because of the HFA being in effect. Those large stadiums get rather large and the HFA affects the screen by shaking it when the crowd gets loud. I don’t have the PS2 version, so I can’t say if they see similar slowdown in these situations. The PS2 version is less graphically intensive though given IGN’s head-to-head from last year.

Overall I give the graphics a lower score than last year because I don’t see much “new” in the graphics department. They’ve refined it, but in some ways it should get a graphical upgrade like Madden sometimes does.

The sound is unbelievable this year. I used to bitch and moan about how EA had the habit of recycling the same stadium sounds every year. With the inclusion of HFA things are a whole lot different. My first game I tried out was the #1 toughest stadium to play in rated by the game, The Swamp in Florida. I played the Gators and I could really pump up the crowd and the Dolby Digital sound was simply amazing. I believe my walls shook when the crowd was at its most loud. That’s how amazing it is this year.

My second game I took my beloved Minnesota Golden Gophers, who I am surprised are rated #21 in the country in the Play Now section…wow. Anyway, we play in the Big Inflatable Toilet called the Metrodome. Even with the crowd at its loudest it was not even close to comparable as The Swamp at that level. It was loud, but not eardrum shattering loud.

Many of the stadiums also have crowd specific noises to them, like Florida State’s chant for example. The sounds of the tackling and more specifically the tackling while using the hit button make me cringe because they are some powerful sounds. It is obvious that Tiburon spent a good bit of time on the sound landscape of this game and I have to say this is one of the best sports games I’ve ever heard.

The number gets dropped down a bit because of a lot of recycling of the commentary. I’ve always felt the commentary in this series was the best of any football game and I still hold onto that opinion. However, NCAA is beginning to mirror Madden in its use of recycled sound bites. Tiburon and EA should really think about fixing this in both games.

Control is as tight as it ever was. The big inclusions in the control are the Hit button (white button…you basically either hit hard or miss the player, good for fumbles), the Match Up stick (right analog stick) and the HFA (white button before play to raise or lower the sound if you’re the home team). I’ll hone in on the Match Up stick in this section because it is a great addition to the game.

Each of the four ways on the right analog stick will bring up matchup bars. There’s one for Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line, Wide Receivers vs. Defensive Backs and Running Backs vs. Linebackers. There is also one to check your whole team for their composure. See, one of the new things in this game is that each player has a composure circle. The more filled in the circle, the more composure your player has. You can also look for mismatches while on offense to throw it to a WR that has a weak DB on him. Of course you have to be quick with the Match Up Stick on defense, but that can help you as well. As the game goes on each player’s composure goes up or down depending on how rattled they get and if they’re on the road and the crowd gets to them…watch out!

Overall the control is the same as it ever was with some newly added things to do.

Let’s start off talking about the Dynasty mode. A few things have changed since last year, but much of it stays the same (which is a good thing since it was so good last year). Now instead of sending different coaches on different recruiting visits it is a more streamlined system, which may or may not piss some people off. After your year is done you have to decide how much budget can be spent on recruiting and how much can be spent on getting the current kids ready for the next year of the dynasty.

Also added this year are some discipline things, although they aren’t as robust as they probably could be. You have to keep your kids in line and not let them go off and get in possible NCAA trouble. Yes, the NCAA can drop sanctions on you in this game, so it’s important to keep a tab on your players and bench them when appropriate. Your team’s reputation is also on the line during the Dynasty, although so far I haven’t seen much deviation for Prestige on the big powerhouse schools. This is something Tiburon will probably work on more for next year.

Outside of that, Dynasty plays very much the same as it did last year from my perspective. Once again I say that isn’t a bad thing as they already had a pretty robust system in last year’s iteration. Dynasty is where I spend most of my time in this game anyway and I’m waiting for the full roster download to come out, the usual guy that does this is about half done at the moment.

The other modes of play include: Pontiac College Classics, Rivalry Game, Mascot Game and the first ever EA Sports Xbox Live online portion. The Pontiac College Classics puts you in situations from some of the most famous games in the past. Rivalry Game and Mascot Game are self explanatory because they were in last year’s game. Then we have the Xbox Live portion of the game, a godsend to any sports player on the Xbox.

Currently EA’s servers are having problems that will supposedly be fixed soon. They probably didn’t bank on people having the game on Monday, although I was able to get on that day. Setting it up is pretty seamless as long as the servers are up. You login via your Xbox Gamertag and then you login to EA’s server. The first time through you’ll have to do the old “I Accept” thing on a couple screens and then you’re into EA’s server. Once you do this another time the connection will be seamless. You’ll log into Xbox Live and the EA connection will automatically start and log you into there.

You will be able to have online tournaments with up to 8 players, but not a league unfortunately. I have also heard that you will be able to use your rosters that you load in online games, so that’s pretty exciting for those of us that like to have the real names on our rosters. I’m not a huge fan of the Optimatch section of this game. I figured it was much like other games where you put in certain filters and it finds games for you. Instead, you pick the filters and it actually connects you to someone right away instead of letting me choose. On subsequent times online I’ve noticed Optimatch is still doing the same thing, so your best bet to find people you want to play will be the Online lobbies.

The Online lobbies are divided by geographical locations and skill level (some have certain ranks you have to be at in order to get into) and you can easily add another room where your friends can come and play.   You can even put a password on the room as well.  Online play itself seemed pretty seamless, much like NFL Fever 2004 and ESPN NFL Football from last year, so that’s a good thing. There was a bit of lag here and there, especially when the teams are near the end zone.  For the most part it moved very smoothly though and all the sounds are still there…including the HFA.  Obviously this is a big plus on Xbox for any player with Live. I no longer have to just play by myself or invite people over, I can play NCAA Football 2005 with anyone.

The other thing I will talk about on the engine level is the Home Field Advantage system. It may seem like a gimmick, but it can also be very good strategically, especially in online games. Your controller will rattle when the crowd gets loud and the screen will shake. If you have to call an audible the other players may not hear it over the crowd. It’s great when you’re at home, but man it can become scary when on the road. The crowd can also rattle your players to the point where they’ll drop balls, fumble more often, etc. It’s really a nice system.

Now for the mildly annoying part of the Gameplay section. This game plays far too much like last year’s game. The key problem I have noticed is that there isn’t much deviation in playbooks outside of formations with the teams.  NCAA isn’t Madden in this regard where you can choose from diverse playbooks (every team has their own).  Run defense is an absolute joke when playing the computer. Your team will be a Top 10 run defender unless you do nothing with them. The defensive backs seem to have taken some jumping pills though. They’re pretty good at swatting passes away. Even a DB that has half the ability of the wide receiver has a good chance at knocking a pass down at any difficulty level. Everything else feels much the same, with the same types of plays here as in year’s past. I love the NCAA series, but we need some evolutionary or even revolutionary steps. This game sells a lot because some people like college football over NFL football and Tiburon should give this game some more love like they do with Madden.

As I say in other sports game reviews, your interest in online play and the franchise modes will determine the value of this game. I personally have spent more time on NCAA the past two years than I have with Madden or Sega’s NFL games. I’m not sure if the same can be true this year though. I love the college game and I will play this quite a bit.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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