Jul 27, 2008

NCAA 08 marked the first “real” attempt at improving the gameplay mechanics on the next generation systems, but it did nothing groundbreaking by any means. Sure, the graphics were improved, but the gameplay still felt like NCAA 06 on the PS2. In recent years, fans have begun calling EA lazy and not improving the game as much as they could. That can no longer be said with the release of NCAA 09. This year’s version improves upon everything 08 did in nearly every way and even features more game modes than ever before.

The most apparent change in NCAA 09 is by far the graphics and animations. The players are much more refined and realistic than in previous iterations and the fields they play on look as spectacular as they do. Snow no longer looks like a white sheet copy and pasted on top of the field and the rain no longer makes your player fumble the ball every other play. The player models do look phenomenal, but it appears some things did get overlooked when they were being redesigned. The crowd, while impressive at first, quickly loses their flare and looks more like soulless demons praising all that is holy – football. Are we in Ohio? I kid!

Before I start talking about anything else let me say something…the animations MAKE this game. While the gameplay has been improved none of it would be possible without the new animations system. Players now move and jump around before kick-offs, celebrate with other players and mascots after touchdowns, and just have a much more realistic nature about them. Most importantly, players can now go in and out of animations whenever you so choose. Get halfway through a spin move and decide a juke would be best? Go ahead! This may leave your back open to a big hit and a fumble, but to pull off that Heisman worthy play the risk is sometimes worth the rewards.

Surprisingly, the new animations allow for some pretty spectacular passing plays as well as running plays. Veteran quarterbacks will find themselves doing many things that, until this point, they had only dreamed of. With correct timing it is now very easy to toss the ball over the cornerback’s head and into the hands of your receiver for a touchdown on those goal line plays. Deep passes can now be accomplished, which were nearly impossible in NCAA 08, and I even pulled off a few Hail Mary’s in my time with the game. One thing that did bother me about the new animations, however, was the reaction of the players not only on your bench, but your opponent’s bench. As you race toward the end zone on that game winning touchdown your bench will throw their hands up in the air, nearly simultaneously, in celebration. The odd thing about this is that the player’s on the opposite team will do this too. Who knows? Maybe sportsmanship is something that happens every day on the collegiate level…then again, maybe not.

As mentioned early, the biggest addition to the gameplay is the ability to break in and out of animations, but the improvements don’t stop there. EA has brought back home field advantage and it can have some pretty interesting effects on your players. On third down and fourth down plays the crowd will get louder than ever and mess with the head of your quarterback. It won’t be long before your quarterback forgets what button each receiver is associated with, their routes will become nothing more than shaky lines, and sometimes they can even forget their routes all together. Even the most experienced quarterbacks are susceptible to these moments, let alone a rookie quarterback. Whenever your basket case of a quarterback finally throws an interception you will be presented with five pictures of the defense and three different defensive plays. From this point you must review the pictures in a limited amount of time and choose which play they ran. Guess correctly and your quarterback will gain a valuable piece of his composer back. Guess incorrectly and your quarterback will continue to be a nervous wreck. Also, all of the game mechanics from previous years, such as the pitch, are still there and work tighter than ever thanks to the new animation system.

No presentation is complete, however, without an impressive showing in the sound department. While NCAA 09 may not deserve an A+ it is certainly more than just acceptable. The hits sound as realistic as ever and the 90,000+ fans screaming will rattle you as much as your quarterback. Sadly, EA has decided to bring back the same commentators as last year, and I know what you are about to ask. Yes, they are as bad as they were last year. For some reason, unknown to me, Corso manages to get under my skin in a way no other announcer can. I would rather listen to John Madden than this guy.

EA has also provided plenty of modes to experiment with all the different gameplay tweaks. The fan favorite, Mascot Mash-Up, is back and is as entertaining as ever. There is just something about watching a gator doing a front flip at four in the morning that never loses its pizzazz. Football themed mini-games such as bowling, tug-of-war, and horse all make an appearance and provide nice ways to pass the time if you don’t have enough to play a full game. Superstar mode is back, but not much has changed since NCAA 08. You progress the same way you did in previous titles and whatever positions you couldn’t be in 08 you still can’t be in 09. They did improve the coaching AI though. Coaches will now keep you on the field during fourth down plays when it is too long for a field goal, but too short for a punt. It isn’t much, but it’s a welcome change that should have come two years ago. Pretty much the same can be said for Dynasty mode. The only thing that has really changed is that you can have two players on the same team in this year’s version. Other than that, don’t expect anything different from the Superstar or Dynasty mode. After all, why fix something that’s not broken?

One thing fans have been screaming for since the conception of the franchise is online dynasties and it has finally made its way to this year’s version. Up to twelve friends can compete in a league with each other for an astounding sixty years. The creator of the league instantly becomes the commissioner and will need to get on at least once a day to make sure everything is going as it should. No games being restarted, making sure everyone is ready to advance the week, and informing everyone when the week has advanced. All of the recruiting from Dynasty mode is still intact and brings a new competitiveness to getting that number one prospect.

The thing I was very relieved about was during my two online seasons I had almost little to no lag. The players respond the way they do in single player, and they don’t feel like they are moving a second later than they should. I would have really liked to join a league with someone I didn’t know or some long-time veterans of the franchise, but sadly you are only able to invite and join leagues that you or your friends have made. Also, when the commissioner progresses to the next week a notice is NOT sent out to the other members, so the commissioner must then take it upon himself to inform everyone else of when he has advanced the week. All in all, the online dynasties are great and were my favorite part of the game even when I was the commissioner.

NCAA 09 may have its share of problems, but EA has done an excellent job of improving nearly every aspect of the game and improving just the overall presentation. I’m looking forward to the coming years of the franchise to see what unique directions they take when improving the gameplay. The new animations have already opened a lot of doors, but the potential of it is far from being tapped. At the end of the day, if you’ve never liked football games this one probably won’t change your mind, but if you’re an avid fan or just wanting to get your feet wet with a little football, then this is the best the industry has to offer at the time.



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