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Game Review: NCAA Football 10 (Xbox 360)
I don't have time to lay out every individual problem or improvement in order, so I will just go in with the things that irked me the most, as well as the things that surprised me or showed some promise:
As you can see from the title, my main gripe with this game is the fact that on the hardest difficulty, Heisman, this game plays no differently than an arcade game. Surprisingly, problems that were gone in years past have actually returned in this year's game. Like when the CPU QB is passing a ball on a late down (3rd or 4th) near the end zone, or for a deep throw downfield, even if the receiver is nowhere near the pass, he will magically "zoom" to the ball and make a toe-dragging catch. I remember this from back in 07 and 08, but it didn't expect it to rear its ugly head in the 2010 version. Last year's Heisman mode rewarded skill, while this year's version seems to try and keep the match-up as close as possible, no matter which 2 teams are playing the game. For instance, if I am up by 10 or more points at halftime, the CPU will put a choke hold on my offense and score XX of points to either tie the game or take the lead, EVERY SINGLE GAME!!! I understand they want to keep the "upsets can happen anytime" mantra, but they sure as hell don't happen every game. It's literally a struggle to beat even the weakest teams.
Gameplay is seriously messed up. I like all the new animations they added (apparently 1000 or so), but even these feel canned and duplicated within mere minutes of a contest. When a runner gets stacked up close to the first down line, you just KNOW he won't make it past because the animation dictates he won't. The same thing happens every time. He just falls backwards a few feet short of the line. Apparently, this year we are allowed to choose how aggressively we can pursue the ball. That all sounds nice at first, until you realize that pushing the aggressiveness up results in a penalty for your team on every other play from scrimmage, with seldom a turnover as a reward for your aggressive play. This normally wouldn't bother me, except for the fact that the CPU can play as aggressively as they want, and never have a penalty called against them. I seriously think that even when I am playing "Balanced" and the CPU is playing "Aggressive", I probably get about 90% of the penalties called against me. I can't tell you how many times I've had a huge run called back because of a "clipping" (never seen that called outside of a punt or kickoff return, but for some reason it happens to me in the middle of a drive) or cheap holding call. Even turning penalties down for me in the Gameplay AI does absolutely nothing to quell the situation. And on the off-chance that a penalty actually IS called against the computer (for instance, holding on a kickoff) they will be rewarded with a nice 90-yard touchdown run on the ensuing play. Also, if I am driving down the field late in the game to tie the score or take the lead, the CPU will make sure that I, somehow, fumble the ball or throw the most unlikely of picks (often caught at the shoestrings of the opponent) to lose the game. Occasionally, the opponent will fumble deep in my territory, but a vast majority of the time, I will be the one to lose the ball, usually inside their 5-yard line, of all places. The running game, as mentioned by others, has improved a bit, with a good runner able to break a few tackles, but all too often, the infamous “suction tackling” will occur, where if you are even remotely close to a D-lineman, he will instantly break off of his blocker and latch onto you and bring you down, killing possible huge runs downfield. Another problem is the CPU QB on certain plays will have an infinite length of time to throw the ball downfield for a big play, while the AI defenders simply stand there and watch him. None of my blockers ever manage to get to him in time for a sack, and this problem seems to have long overstayed its welcome, yet it still highly prevalent.
Talking a bit about the outside experience little has changed, and for what HAS changed, it is hardly an improvement over last year’s game. The crowd attendance has again improved. If two awful teams are playing each other, the place is nearly empty, as it should be, or if a powerhouse is playing a cupcake, not as many people are showing up as there would be for a big game. This setting is finally about as good as it can be in that regard. I also love how if a team misses a late 4th down to tie or win the game, the AI is keen enough to have the fans leave, almost sensing that the game is over, as they would in real life. Aside from that, not much of the environment has improved or changed at all for the better. Sidelines still are almost lifeless, and players standing there look as bad as they do in 07. Nothing going on, no shots of the coaches, no players talking or exercising or kickers warming up, just the same hideous, emotionless renderings from years past. After a touchdown, the same cheerleaders jumping around and doing flips on the sidelines, etc. etc. lather, rinse, repeat since 2007. The crowd still looks terrible, the same 3 fan renderings jumping up and down (all wearing the exact same things, with the exact same colors) after a big play. The “field goal nets” must be some kind of sick joke. It is the exact same thing as last year, except instead of bouncing off an invisible wall, they bounce off of some poorly-constructed net circa “Gamebreaker:2001”. Someone literally couldn’t have spent more than 5 minutes working those into the game, and if they did, they ought to be ashamed of themselves. The wind socks aren’t bad, but that’s about the only thing worth noting there. I also notice that for some reason the cheers sound loud as if I am inside of some enclosed gym area no matter where I am on the field. Kudos for adding team-specific chants, but they often lag and the sound quality is so bad, I have no clue where to begin. The old “D-FENSE” chant from previous games at least sounded as if it came from a stadium full of people rather than a few fans placed precariously close to a microphone in the crowd somewhere. One thing I do like is there is now a multitude of alternate jersey and helmets players can use to customize their players before a game. The helmets are almost where they need to be, with many team’s helmet designs spot on, though they still do not render very well in night games, and teams that have golden helmets look incredibly pale or off-color, and lack any kind of shine whatsoever in the lights.
With regards to other game modes and features, nothing here has really changed, either. Dynasty is the same as usual, with some minor recruiting improvement. They added a “Recruit Against” feature, although I have a hard time using this, since the recruit would get pissed off at me much quicker, and I am not sure if I am hurting the opponent or helping my school, so I just end up leaving it alone. I like that there is a meter now to gauge how well a call is going with a recruit, as before it was almost complete “guess and check” in that regard. “Road To Glory” mode is basically last year’s mode with Erin Andrews…not much else to say about it, and “Teambuilder” is intriguing and very deep, though I never found Create-A-School modes very interesting, so it doesn’t really matter to me all that much. Meanwhile, we are still patiently waiting for the inclusion of the FCS schools. This should have been EA’s first issue to address, but instead they decided to add their own modes instead of getting the college football experience itself taken care of first. Somehow, we have gone through 4 versions of this game without even so much as headway into solving this problem. We aren’t asking for a brand new stadium model for each FCS team, just the names and a generic stadium ALONE would be enough to convince a new wave of buyers to give this game a try. You can only complete against “Southeast Lizards” so many times before you being to wonder “Why haven’t they improved this yet?” C’mon EA, don’t be scared to tap into the unlimited potential that is the next-gen game consoles.
This year’s game seems like EA tried to take too many new steps forward, and in turn ended up messing up the most important thing, the gameplay, in the process. Spend more time on making this an ACTUAL college football simulation, with actual teams first, and THEN get into the fancy Create-A-School modes. People sure would have a whole lot less to complain about if the authenticity was there. After that is out of the way, then worry about how you are going to “arcade it up”.