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NCAA Football 2005
Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: Tiburon
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Sports (Football)

Graphics & Sound:
Fire up the grill, strike up the band and start up the ranking polls -- college football is finally here. Yes, despite its flawed system for figuring out championships, I love college football. Screw Sundays with the puffed-up bling-boys that make up the NFL, give me Saturday nights in the NCAA. As with previous games, NCAA Football 2005 builds on both previous games in the series as well those found in the Madden series. The result is not only one of the best football experiences around, but EA's best college sports experience to date.

NCAA 2005 looks like, well NCAA 2004. While many menus and general interface issues have been cleaned up, the game doesn't look like that much an improvement over its predecessor. This is one of the issues that I feel EA has really needed to address for a few years now. Unlike NFL fans, college football fans are sticklers for detail. If one blade of grass is out of place in their team's stadium, they will notice it. Don't get me wrong, NCAA 2005 does not look like bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but when you compare it to the attention to detail other franchises have received, its really noticeable. While the complaints are mostly from hardcore fans, its the little things that really help to offset the work EA has put into building the college experience. From my personal experience, little things like putting the press box on the correct side of Tiger Stadium or actually having the correct goal posts could go a long way.

One of the new graphical improvements I really liked was the addition of fan-made signs. This really helps to set the college atmosphere in the game since you can go into the Options menu and write your own personalized signs to help make the experience everything you want it to be.

Once again the ESPN Gameday team of Lee Corso, Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit pick up announcing duties. While a few phrases have been added, the overall presentation is pretty much the same as last year. All of the gameday sounds, from stadium announcements and fight songs, are also included. The only really noticeable change I found in the sound department was that fight songs play a little later after a score than in last year's game. While not a big issue, it felt like a downgrade to me since the band playing right after a touchdown (instead of after the extra point) feels a little more like a real game. Again, these are mostly just minor complaints from a fan (as well as several other fans I've talked to), so you know when someone is getting this picky then the rest of the package is hard to dent.


Gameplay:
Headlining the changes to NCAA Football 2005's core gameplay are the additions of Homefield Advantage and the Matchup Stick, the latter of which will be discussed later in the review. A lot has been said about Homefield advantage in both professional and college sports, but nowhere is it more evident than in the NCAA. Every college has its own stories and myths about fans turning the tide in games, such as LSU's infamous "Earthquake Game" against Auburn where the eruption of the crowd in the game's closing minutes registered as an earthquake on the seismograph located in LSUís Geoscience Complex. While EA has tried in the past to create homefield advantage, it never really worked as well as it could have. This year, it appears that EA finally got it right.

When playing in a hostile stadium the crowd will begin roaring to life when your offense approaches the line. The ensuing noise rattle your players as well as help to pump up the home team's defense. This also makes it hard for your Quarterback to call plays, resulting in busted plays and missed opportunity. In some of the rowdier venues, such as Death Valley (at LSU) and The Swamp, the camera and your controller will shake, making things just a little harder to pull off. Pull off a big play and watch the home team's fans quiet a little; screw up and get ready for even more noise. When playing as the home team you can even press a button and have your players wave their hands and try to raise the volume level. This feature has been a long time coming and I was extremely happy with how it was pulled off. There were a few hiccups where the team would begin cheering at the wrong time, but ask anyone who's been to a college game and they'll tell you this is about as authentic as it can get.

Aside from this improvement, NCAA 2005 plays keeps many of the same gameplay mechanics and features from last year. A few animations have been changed and you can now press a button to try and get a big hit (and thus loosen the ball from the opposing player's hands), but changes are minimal. This isn't too big of a disappointment however since the game has never had a problem with delivering a great gameplay experience. Also making a return is last year's Dynasty Mode and Sports Illustrated covers. The Dynasty Mode has been given additional depth this year by allowing you to manage how much money goes into all aspects of your team's facilities as well as having to keep track of player discipline. The more you spend in training facilities and recruiting trips, the better your chances for landing that star recruit. Keeping your players on task and out of trouble will also keep the NCAA off your back.

Other returning options include the Campus Challenge (which unlocks pennants and other things), Classic and Mascot Games and Create-a-School. Also included is Online play, which brings with it leader boards, instant messaging, an "Even Teams" option to allow people to play on an even competitive field and an EA Sports ticker that keeps track of Real-life scoreboards.


Difficulty:
AI seems to have been increased, resulting in a better running game and a much tougher passing game. Blockers are little quicker to pick up their assignments. While this doesn't mean that your backs will break for 20+ yards every time they touch the ball, you will be able to get a few more yards per carry than last year. Receivers take a bit of a hit, mostly due to the composure ratings that all players get because of the Homefield Advantage feature. When a receiver is rattled, it will be harder for him to hang on to the ball. If he manages to catch it, his rating will increase, but don't count on this happening if a receiver is really down on himself, at least without the Quarterback's help in delivering the ball.

Though its still not perfectly balanced, NCAA Football 2005's gameplay is still as good as it gets.


Game Mechanics:
Player composure and the Matchup Stick are the second biggest additions to NCAA Football 2005 and go hand-in-hand with the Homefield Advantage feature. Before the snap, you can use the Right Analog Stick to focus on players on the other side of the ball. This gives you an idea as to how that player is doing composure-wise and will give you an idea of how likely he is to blow a play. This will help you decide which receiver to throw to or which way to run. Composure ratings will affect all of your player's performance levels. Missing assignments will result in lower ratings while doing their job will pump them up. For example, we've all seen games where QBs get that "trout look" in their eyes and seem to give up playing. If your QB misses a series of passes, he'll begin to lose faith in himself, resulting in lower accuracy and inability to throw the long ball. To combat this, he'll have to complete a series of short passes to get his confidence back. If a Quarterback makes enough complete passes, he'll even start to go on a hot streak where he can't miss. In addition to completing plays, you are also given the option (during Time Outs) to coach certain positions and increase their composure ratings.

Picky fans will obviously find little things to complain about in NCAA Football 2005. But, as I said earlier, when you're complaining about the small details, that only means that there's little else to complain about. Overall NCAA 2005 should be enough to satisfy college football fans for awhile, or at least until next year.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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