Thank you Boise State. If it wasn't for your Statue of Liberty play and upset of Oklahoma, I'd have to see Chris Leak on the cover of NCAA Football 08. While I can't do anything about the way my Ohio State Buckeyes played last year against Florida, I can take them to this year's National Championship game with EA's NCAA Football 08. I used to religiously pick up a copy each year but because of the small updates to each version I've been skipping every other year. EA was kind enough to send us a copy of this year's version so let's take a look at what's new for NCAA Football 08.
Presentation wise, EA has done a few things to spice up the menus and what you can do to customize your menu. NCAA Football 08 now gives you more control over highlights and the ability to showcase them on the game and on the web. You can save a five videos and ten pictures of your favorite moments of any game. Choose your view of where you want the video to be played from and watch it on the big screen in a rotunda as you are navigating through the menus. I do think that the camera options for replays are a little limited and I would've rather had a free floating camera and the ability to place it where I want to during certain parts of the replay. If you really want to show off to the world, you can even upload them to http://easportsworld.com. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to utilize this feature as there's been issues with the Madden and NCAA Football sections of the website. Let's hope they can sort this out quickly but it's been a three weeks since I got the game and it hasn't been up the entire time. I really like the social aspect EA has added to the game and once the website is fixed, I can show the video of a big play to all my friends rather than describing what happened.
The ESPN branding is everywhere you turn. For the page on happenings such as Top 25, Heisman race, or headlines of other games you'll see it all wrapped around ESPN's style. You have the same three team doing the play by play with Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, and Brad Nessler who are all ESPN personalities. Like the NBA game of a year ago, you'll get updates from the happenings from real sports via an automatic download of the ESPN sports update. If you are playing during some other action going like say a few baseball games, you'll get live updates on anything newsworthy. None of this happens in game though as these updates only come to you when you are browsing the menus.
The game plays close to last years with some improvements. Passing does seem a little harder this year as I've experienced more picks than usual. I can't be as reckless in my passing this year which I like. Conversely, the improved passing defense has led to my guys returning a lot more interceptions for a touchdown. One of my first few games, I ran back three picks for a touchdown which is something that didn't happen too often in previous versions. But, I am more cautious in trying to thread the needle and throw into certain types of coverages now so that's good. The way defenders get in front of the ball seems a little unnatural though as they do a super quick slide sometimes to get into position for the interception. There will be times you think your receiver has a step on the defender only to see a superhuman move to knock the ball out of the way or take it from you. In that sense, it's something I'm not too high on but the better defense on better teams is easily noticeable as you won't be able to thread passes in as much.
For those that only want to concentrate on one part of the game, you can opt to simulate the offense, defense, or each play. I really like this feature when I want to get some quick games in and want to practice on a certain aspect of the game. You can also interrupt a sim if you think the computer is doing horrible and you want to take over. It doesn't take too long to finish a few games now and it's nice to get a a couple games in in a relatively short amount of time if you are in a hurry.
The AI still does some really stupid thing though. I've experienced a lot of plays with the opposition down by a score or two in the final few minutes and seeing the QB passing to a wide receiver quickly only to have the player run out of bounds for a loss on the play. The computer still doesn't have a good handle on the urgency of the game when time's running out and they are only down by a score or two.
Campus Legend finally comes to the Xbox 360 as the feature was omitted from last year's version. In the same vein as MLB 07 The Show, you get to create a player and try to take them through four years of college and become a legendary player. First of fall, you start out in the high school playoffs and try to take your team to the state championships. As you go through each game you'll be viewed by scouts from various schools. When you are eliminated or win the championship, you'll get offered a scholarship from various schools with your position on the depth chart displayed. You'll go through each day going to class, practicing, and attending an evening event. If you are not the starter during practice, the amount of points you need to earn to move up on the depth chart will be displayed. You get 10 reps to show off your stuff and various acts will earn you X number of points. For example, a QB can earn eight points for throwing a TD , 2 points for throwing for a first down, and 3 points for running for a first down. If you are the started you use the practice sessions to stay sharp and show your coach you should still be a starter.
Besides practices, you can increase or decrease your character's attributes. Each day will also hold an evening event and some events will give you the option of one of three choices. One choice might make you more popular but will cost you in strength and agility. You have to work these trade-offs throughout the season to minimize any negative scenarios and increase your player's abilities at a good rate. After you become a starter though, you can pretty much stop practicing and have it be simulated. I went through a whole season after being named the starter for game 2 and never participated in a practice again.
What I like about game days in Campus Legend mode is that you only have to play the plays you are in. So if you are a QB, you can skip all the defense plays and just participate in the offense. For the times when I can only get a quick game in this is a good way to go. You won't have to sit through anything that you don't have control over.
The game does look pretty good and there are some nice little touches I like. For instance, when a player breaks away he'll sneak a peak around him to see if anyone's coming up on him. The gang tackling doesn't look too bad as well with some very impressive hits motion captured into the game. There were a few tackles that were cringe worthy especially if you use the hit stick to take it to the player. The players come in all sorts of shape and sizes and move well on the field. There's still the occurrences of clipping between models happening more often then it should these days and considering how long the game's been using a 3D engine the programmers still don't have that fixed. Something that was a minor annoyance with the graphics is that the players on the sideline are all the same. They looked like a bunch of clones out there so a little variety would've been nice.
Something new to the series is real time weather effects. The game will go out and get the current weather at the stadium and mimic the same weather in the game. It's not the first game to have this feature but it's a nice little feature to have. If it's down pouring at the place you're playing, expect it in the game as well. The weather can affect the way you play as I tend to run the ball more with windy or bad conditions.
With the power of the 360, I still experience some stuttering and slow downs. I would really experience these between plays and when animations of statistical items were displayed. Sometimes a panning of the playing field would also produce a stuttering of the graphics. Luckily I didn't experience any problems during gameplay so at least that's not affected. While it doesn't affect gameplay, the stuttering is noticeable enough to be a bit annoying.
I'm still disappointed in the lack of an online dynasty mode when other games have online leagues in place for a few years now. It's just the same basic online head to head mode for NCAA Football 08 so here's an area that EA keeps lagging behind in. Other things missing include create a school and creating a playbook. While I can understand the create a school feature being dropped, the playbook feature should've been left in. I know more than a few folks that like to customize a playbook to suite their style of play.
I also ran into a few share of bugs as well. I had lockups happen while the game was doing a pan around the stadium during the beginning of the game. Another bug I ran into was during a call of an audible, the players would move into position but I was never able to hike the ball. The game clock kept counting down so the game wasn't locked up and the only course of action was to call a timeout. Luckily, it happened in the first half and the timeout used wasn't crucial.
For this year's version of NCAA Football 08, EA has included some features that they shouldn't have omitted from last year's version. The graphics haven't taken a great leap but it's been polished up a little more. The campus legend mode isn't to bad and I do enjoy that you can participate on only defense or offense if you so desire. Once the video sharing works, I'll definitely be taking advantage of it and I hope more games from EA down the line feature a more robust editing and sharing capabilities.
More On:NCAA Football 08
It's an improvement over last year's version but there were things missing in last year's version that should've been in there. Nevertheless, NCAA Football 08 offers some good college football action.