Having completed my first full season on dynasty mode, I now feel comfortable giving my official review of NCAA 08 for the PS 3. Enjoy!
Graphics - A. The animations are pretty vanilla, but everything looks very crisp. My only complaint is that the football disappears on field goal kicks because there’s not enough contrast between the football and the background. Still, gang tackling looks very solid and the hits look like they hurt (something I cannot say for Madden 08). The players look fine; they’re essentially carbon copies, but then, there are way too many players in the game to model to have too many different looks. I played a game in the snow; it was horrendously awesome. The snow was so thick you couldn’t see the endzone; it took a couple of minutes to realize which way I was going. All the other weather effects are terrific. The stat presentations are wonderful; I’ve been pining for hurries and pressures in a video football game and I’ve got them now. Take a cue, Madden!
Sound – B. The fight songs are all excellent and easily recognizable. There are nice touches in the actual crowd sounds, too, like hearing “O-H! I-O!” at OSU. The crowds actually sound different; in my dynasty season, I’m the Akron Zips, and it’s much quieter than, say, OSU-Michigan. A very nice touch. Why a B rating then? Well, if your game isn’t televised, you get the PA announcer. This is nice but boring; all the big teams have all the games televised, so you’ll never notice unless you choose a smaller school. My big problem is with the commentary if your game IS televised. Kirk Herbstreit is all right, and the guy who isn’t Herbstreit or Corso is unobtrusive. Lee Corso is hideously annoying though. I hate his stupid sound effects and how cheery he is all the time. When you’re losing, he’s very easy to loathe because he rubs it in. I know he’s part of the team, and I like him on TV, but it’s very irritating in the game to have him say “What a dumb move by the QB!” as you get picked off. I do like how the announcers interact; I know it isn’t the Madden style, but John and Al never seemed to interact nearly as much in the games as they do on TV.
The in game sound effects are excellent. It sounds like a game of football, and the fight songs are always present. My only minor complaint? As a former marching band member, I know that schools play lots of shorter songs during the games that aren’t the fight song. I’d like to hear the home team play some more songs. Some of this is probably copyright issues (like “Crazy Train”), but it would be nice to hear “Hey Baby!”
Gameplay - This will be broken into three categories; Legend, Dynasty, and the actual football itself.
Legend - A+. You can read my thoughts on Legend mode here; I won’t repeat anything about this here. It’s an absolute blast, even better than MLB: The Show’s career mode.
Dynasty - A-. Dynasty is the Franchise mode for NCAA. First off, I LOVE the new recruiting system. It’s really in-depth and gives you something to do besides play the games. For fans of the Madden off season (like Kevin and I), it’s like having the off season and the regular season at the same time. The in-game video helps a little bit, but it’s not immediately intuitive. After your first season, you should have a handle on things. Essentially, you call the recruit and make pitches on a variety of areas. The game tells you the pitch (“Championship Contender” or “Proximity to Home”, for example) and how you’re rated. Some of these change over time; some of them don’t. You have two options for the first pitch, “Find pitch” and “Hard sell pitch.” The first lets you gauge the recruit’s interest, the second pitches your program to the recruit. You can hard sell first, but you run the risk of alienating the recruit by pushing something he doesn’t care about. You also get a third option, “Sway pitch,” once you know the recruit’s opinion. If it’s low, you can try to adjust it. By making pitches, you increase a recruit’s interest. Some will be interested from the start, others won’t give you the time of day. You can offer scholarships (you have 25), schedule campus visits, and in the off season, visit recruits. It’s very complex, but satisfying.
There are obviously hundreds of possibly recruits; there’s a robust search feature to narrow them down. You can add 35 to your recruiting board, but you won’t get to them all in a week. You have only 10 hours to talk to recruits per week, and some take longer. You know some basics (things like bench press, 40 time, and squats), the caliber of a player (1-5 stars) and his position (including “Athlete,” who are good at a few things; you can select a position if you sign them). You also know hometown, which is crucial; it’s basically your best pitch if you have a small school, until you get better and win games.
Some recruits will sign in season, but most don’t. At the end of a season, you can make promises to recruits (No red shirt, a national championship) that can influence recruits to come to your school. Meet promises and your integrity goes up; break them and it goes down. If you have high enough integrity, you can offer the more influential promises. You don’t have to promise anybody anything to sign them; most will sign without them, but it can help you draw a 5 star player to your school). The initial interest of a recruit in you is based on a number of factors, but for smaller schools, don’t expect a five star player to care. You can theoretically make any recruit interested, but some won’t sign. They generally stick closer to home, but it’s not a given; I made it into the top 3 of a 5 star athlete from Texas (who turned me down to play for the Longhorns).
Other features of dynasty mode include school prestige (which draws recruits; if you win a lot you can even go into other conferences and increase prestige), your coaching prestige (you can leave your school and go to another school; you can also be fired if you stink. There are usually a few goals each year), redshirting players, rivalries, and the ability to make your own schedule. It’s ridiculously addictive and great fun. My only complaint is that recruiting is so complex but so poorly explained; the video helps, but the manual is very sparse. Poor recruiting, especially for small schools, cripples you. The BCS is also rigged, but that’s just the game being true to reality, not a fault of the game. (11-1 and I get stuck in the Motor City Bowl against Arkansas State with a 6-6 record…)
Football: B -. Now, there are some differences between college and pro football; college is faster paced with more big plays. This is not where I penalize NCAA 08. It plays a fairly solid game of football, for the most part. There are lots of plays to choose from, about 700 for Akron, with them split about evenly between offense and defense (bigger schools might have more or less; I’m not sure). I love the play calling system; you can call plays by formation, type, player, or ask Lee (who gives you 16 choices. Some schools have specialized plays, like Boise State, who has the Hook and Ladder and Statue of Liberty. You can customize packages pretty efficiently. Audibles are less involved in this game than in Madden; this could be intentional, because most schools don’t rely on audibles, or not. It’s kind of disappointing, but not a serious blow.
Big plays abound, both run and pass. Defense is a little harder than in Madden; the AI will use trick plays and mixes things up pretty well. The biggest and most frustrating problem in NCAA 08? TURNOVERS. There are way, WAY too many of them. Fumbles and interceptions are really common, to the order of about 10 or so a game (total, not per side). Bad QBs are REALLY bad. They will overshoot wide open receivers and invariably get intercepted. In one game, I had three consecutive drives end with fumbles.
It is nearly impossible to stage really big upsets. Appalachian State (not in the game, by the way) would never get within a TD of Michigan. As Akron, I’ve been blown out by OSU by more than four TDs. A small school can beat a slightly larger school; I beat Texas A&M pretty easily.
One nice feature is that for bowl games and championship games, the AI is slightly better and games are more exciting. However, the games get more lopsided as they get longer; defenses seem to fall asleep during the fourth quarter. The whole game is slightly pro-offense; hail marys work fairly often.
Overall: 8.5/10 (to randomly change scoring systems). It’s a really deep and addictive game, and it’s the best game of football on PS 3. The actual game play needs some tweaks, and Lee Corso is annoying as hell, but it’s overall probably my second favorite PS 3 game behind Assassin’s Creed.