Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
NCAA Football 10
Score: 92%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1, 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Football)/ Sports

Graphics & Sound:
It's that time of year again, the time when the lights shine a little brighter, the smells are a little crisper and the food tastes just a little better. Yes, for those of us avid (some may say rabid) fans of that greatest of collegiate sports, the few weeks prior to the opening college football game are filled with anxious arm-chair quarterbacking and a feeling of exuberant exhilaration. EA Sports smartly tapped into this frenzy when it released Bill Walsh College Football back in 1993. Now, 16 years later, NCAA Football 10, the 17th release in the series, has taken center stage for those chomping at the bit to see how their favorite teams are going to measure up in the virtual sports world.

Over the years, EA Sports has done an impressive job with the graphical elements of their sports games. Owing a large debt to the professional counterpart and big brother, the John Madden NFL series, the graphics are becoming increasingly more life-like and fluid. NCAA Football 10 looks better than ever, both in character animation and in atmosphere. There are still the occasional skips when running and the gait can sometime look funny, but these moments are easy to ignore when the scope of the project is taken into account. Stadiums are beautifully recreated, with more detail than ever, including billowing flags and field goal nets. Atmospheric conditions have also received some graphical upgrades. While rain still looks like gray streaks across the sky, the falling snow has a nice effect, building up on the field and showing the players' footprints as they move around. The foggy breath of the players is also visible during the colder games.

As any fan of football will tell you, the enjoyment of watching a game is not just in the visual appeal. Sound makes all the difference. Fans in the upper decks of stadiums across the country will swear that they could hear the bone-crunching impact that took place hundreds of feet below and in front of them, across the noise of thousands of cheering fans. NCAA Football 10 captures these moments and players can, in fact, now hear and feel those jarring impacts. New stadium chants, better audibles and improved school-specific soundtracks are also featured. The "witty" commentary of Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso are still present, this area seeing the least addition or improvement.

There are several gameplay modes featured in NCAA Football 10. The ever-present Play Now is still the topmost option on the main Menu, but just below is Dynasty Mode, which is undoubtedly the most popular mode. In Dynasty Mode, the player controls all facets of the game for the university of your choice. This includes a highly interactive recruiting scheme, game management and team management. The overall achievement of your program carries over from year to year, so recruiting, red-shirting, win/loss record and performance all factor into the long-term success. For those that choose to do so, there is also an Online Dynasty Mode, which allows players to build their own team and play against friends or join existing leagues.

Another fun mode is the revamped Road to Glory. In this mode, players choose a single player to control. Beginning in the state high school finals, your actions are chronicled (by ESPN's Erin Andrews) and everything, from your collegiate recruitment to your graduation, is highlighted via photographs and video replays. This is somewhat faster play, as you only directly control the one player and the games progress quicker when you are not on the field.

There are also several mini-games included, all of which have made appearances in previous iterations of the game. A new feature, which I have mixed feelings about, is the Season Showdown. With this mode enabled, players will be asked to choose their favorite team. Pick carefully, because you cannot change this once it is set. Once done, all games versus the CPU or online opponents will accumulate points toward that school's total. These points are tracked via an online server and schools are ranked real-world based upon these point totals. While interesting in concept, I found a few flaws in the system. Teams can receive negative points in the sportsmanship category if they are perceived to be running up the score. Unfortunately, where that boundary is remains a bit unclear. Also, the penalty seems abnormally stiff. While I might receive 5 points for kneeling at the end of the game or 10 points for kicking on fourth down, I might receive -100 points if I am leading by whatever the magical margin is and I throw a pass (even if I do not score). What makes it worse is that the A.I. sometimes mistakes an option or a pitch as a pass, meaning that even if a player is intentionally trying to avoid running up the score via a pass, an errant pitch will still result in a big penalty. Still, it is an interesting facet of the game and it is fun to look on the leaderboards to see your school and maybe even your Gamertag are there.

As with many sports games, difficulty is extremely variable in NCAA Football 10. In the default mode, most experienced players will have no real problems defeating the CPU-controlled teams, although there has been some improvement in the overall A.I. In the higher difficulty ranges, the A.I. has been drastically ramped up, making it difficult to score easily and providing a good challenge for the returning gamer. Within any of the difficulties, slider bars that control individual variables add to the player's ability to control the game performance. If you feel that the refs are calling a holding penalty a bit too often, turn down the frequency. Can't run the ball at all against the CPU defense? Tweak the running ability of your players or the run-stopping ability of the CPU. Almost any variable imagined can be tuned to the player's desired level.

One very nice improvement over early versions of the game is made in the control a player has on the field. Before the both halves of a game and during time-outs, players can adjust how their defense or offense plays as a unit. For the hard-hitting, risk/reward players, they can choose to have their players blitz more aggressively, attempt to strip the ball or go for the interception rather than the deflection. Of course, all of these come with the possibility of giving up a big play. A more conservative approach is also available, going for the sure tackle or containment at the expense of a few big plays. There is also a balanced version. As with the difficulty variables, players can pick and choose from several options here as well, for instance having the linebackers go for the big hits while having the corners play more conservatively. On-field control is also improved, with line shifts and audibles much easier to call on both offense and defense.

Game Mechanics:
For those familiar with the series, the gameplay changes in NCAA Football 10 will be welcome without providing a burdensome learning curve. In fact, I did not even have to open the manual to jump right into the game, instantly feeling right at home. The in-game control scheme remains virtually unchanged from last year's edition, and in this case, that is a good thing. Off the field, recruiting has received an overhaul, being much more forthcoming with useful data to evaluate when looking over the recruits. Saving changes is still a simple click of the left thumbstick, something I wish more games would incorporate (one-click saving ftw!)

Of course, EA Sports cannot pass up the opportunity to make extra money in its recent releases, and this trend continues in NCAA Football 10. For a price, players can download individual dynastic enhancements. These range from adding a new pipeline state to recruit advisers and player boosts. These extra enhancements can be bought individually or as a whole. While the price is not exorbitant (less than $15 for all of them), it still leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Of course, while they might provide some benefit, I did not suffer from not having these improvements in my initial season, still achieving the #1 recruiting class in the nation without the purchased advise or scouting reports.

While NCAA Football 10 does not reinvent the wheel in regards to the game, it really did not need to. The improvements, while nothing breathtaking, are all well-founded and add to the enjoyment of the game. Overall gameplay is slightly better, while the look and feel are definitely improved. The only real drawbacks I found (besides EA's bid for extra monies) were the lack of real improvement to the commentary soundtrack and the scaling problem with points in the Season Showdown mode. Other than that, this is another great edition in a great series and my playtime has left me in anxious anticipation of opening day. Where's my tailgating simulator EA? Maybe next year.

-The Mung Bard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Buddy Ethridge

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.