NCAA Football 2005
The Swamp. The Sea of Red. Death Valley. The Autzen Zoo. In the world of college football, these stadiums are famous for their absolutely crazy game time atmospheres that consist of thousands of thunderous, insult-spewing fans. These are places that force opposing coaches to hold practice the week before with loud rock music playing at ear-shattering decibels over facility loudspeakers. These are places that turn talented high school stars into weak-need puddles of mush on game day. These are places that have direct influence on the outcome of games, whether it’s through the infusion of energy and confidence into the home team or the constant channeling of a will-breaking vehement hatred towards the visiting team. Oddly enough, this important reality of college football was always glossed over by video game versions of the sport, as it never really felt imposing walking into massive, hostile places like Happy Valley and the Rose Bowl and knocking off the home club. Until now, that is.
EA’s NCAA Football 2005 finally addresses this issue with the inclusion of a fantastic new feature accurately dubbed, Home Field Advantage. Now, when you play in places like Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon or Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington, home field advantage actually has a perceivable effect on gameplay just like it would in real life. For starters, the game now sports a meter that tracks the Crowd Pulse (i.e. the intensity of the crowd) of the stadium. When on defense, you can repeatedly tap the “Pump up the crowd button” to fire up the home crowd, with the result being a screen that shakes violently under the thunderous cheering and stomping of the fans, a constant controller rumble during two player match-ups and a deafening din that makes it near impossible for the opposing offense to call audibles at the line of scrimmage. It’s quite satisfying to see the visiting team’s quarterback bark out a play change while behind center, only to have his wide outs step over, tap their helmets and shake their heads in frustration as if saying, “I can’t hear a damn thing you are saying!”
Also new this year, and along the same lines as Home Field Advantage, is the Match-up Stick. Essentially, this is the ability to use the right analog stick to view the composure and overall rating of both offensive and defensive players. This is useful because players’ composure and rating numbers will dynamically change as the game goes on. For example, say a particular defensive end breaks loose and gets a sack on the first play of the game. In that case, the player will be fired up and confident, and his overall rating and composure will get a boost. Of course, negative changes can also occur, like when a defensive back gets burned a few times by a wide receiver, thus losing precious confidence.
A player’s experience also has a big impact on his composure rating, with seniors being generally much more composed when playing before hostile crowds and freshman being much more easily rattled. On one occasion, I was playing as #1 ranked, and reigning National Champions, USC (kiss my ass LSU fans) at home against an AA team with a freshman quarterback (what can I say, I was feeling sinister). As the 95,000 fans at the game shook the stadium with their fervent cheering, the opposing team’s frosh QB stood up and walked to the right a bit while trying unsuccessfully to call an audible to his receivers. When he hurried back to snap the ball, he actually mistakenly lined up behind the tackle instead of the center! That pretty much wraps up how much detail EA put into the awesome new composure and Home Field Advantage features.
On top of Home Field Advantage, a smattering of other upgrades have also been added to this year’s game. For starters, the Dynasty Mode has been given even more depth with the inclusion of a nifty player discipline system. During the course of a season players will occasionally make bonehead mistakes that hurt the credibility of the school (like getting slapped with a DUI) and it’s up to you decide what type of disciplinary action to take. If you let your players get away with too much, you risk getting fined by the NCAA or even suspended from postseason play. AI has also been beefed up considerably; especially in the passing game. Now, you really have to be aware of receiver routes, throw timing and QB position in order to pass effectively on the harder difficulty levels. EA also threw in the option to create your own signs for fans to display in the crowd, but this feature seems rushed because you only have one artificial-looking font to choose from (think word processor circa 1986).
Of course, as Microsoft trumpeted proudly during this year’s E3, Electronic Arts has finally jumped onboard Xbox Live and NCAA Football 2005 is the first title to use the service. For the most part the long wait has been worth it, as the game provides plenty of valuable online features, like detailed user stat tracking, live tickers that keep track of what your friends are doing and actual sporting event scores, online tournaments and much more. EA’s online setup for the PS2 version of the game is comparable to what they offer via Xbox Live, so Sony loyalists can expect some very robust online options that are a decent step up from last year’s game. As expected, online gaming is not possible with the GameCube version of NCAA Football 2005.
Visually, it seems that EA was a tad complacent, because this year’s game is only a modest upgrade from NCAA 2004. Most of the player models, stadiums and animations have barely been touched, if it all, which is fairly disappointing considering the significant improvements that were made from 2003 to 2004. However, if you have played last year’s title to death and have a keen eye, you will notice several subtle graphical additions, such as: better lighting during dusk games, new helmet styles, improved cheerleader models and a handful of wicked-looking tackle animations. Entirely new crowd cutscenes have also been added and, unlike last year’s ESPN Football, there are enough of them in the game so you don’t end up watching the same few fans celebrating over and over.
All three console versions of NCAA Football 2005 look extremely similar to each other, but, as expected, the Xbox version does feature sharper textures, farther draw distance and the fastest load times. Thankfully, the framerate inconsistencies that marred the Cube iteration of NCAA 2004 have been all but eliminated, with slowdown only occurring on rare instances (usually during bad weather games). The PS2 version chops up a bit too frequently near the endzones for my liking, but it doesn’t negatively effect gameplay enough to be a serious issue.
EA’s college football titles have featured the best sports videogame play-by-play and color commentary for the past several years now, and NCAA 2005 keeps this trend going strong. The unique energy that Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso both bring to actual televised football matches is captured perfectly here, and the witty banter tossed back and forth between these two (which includes plenty of new lines of dialogue) always feels authentic and is tied flawlessly to the on-screen action. To help accentuate the new Home Field Advantage feature, the crowd is now dynamically fused to the action on the field in a way that eerily (in a good way) mimics the ebb and flow of a real college football game. Fantastic stuff overall.
NCAA Football 2005 is definitely a notable improvement over last year’s offering and the new Home Field Advantage feature is marvelous, but the recycled visuals and mere handful of other additions may deter those who already own 2004 from purchasing the game. Newcomers to the series would certainly do well pick this game up, however, as this is the best videogame rendition of college football to be released yet. As Lee Corso would say, “Yo…to all other football games out there, it’s good night sweetheart time!”
Nine out of ten