The 2005 season of sports gaming has officially kicked off, and the first game out of the gate is EA Sports’ NCAA Football 2005. With a host of new features added to enhance the experience, is it enough for fans to warrant another purchase? Well, in one word, yes.
Home Field Advantage: Fear It or Feast on It
One of the main features added to NCAA Football 2005 is the new Home Field Advantage factor. Taking into account a team’s popularity, along with their rabid fans and atmosphere, certain teams have the advantage of playing with the ?12th man’ to give them the edge when facing their opponents. When the crowd becomes rowdy enough, the camera will actually shake to simulate the feeling of a packed stadium and, believe me, it’s a great feature; certainly one this writer has become a fan of. Another thing that has been added is player composure, which takes into account your team’s emotion and their ability to handle it in game situations. If you’re playing with Troy State and head down to ?The Swamp’ to take on the Florida Gators, expect your underclassmen to get rattled and lose their composure during the game. Using the new Match-Up Stick, you’ll be able to tell when they get rattled enough, and their ratings will eventually begin to rise or fall on the fly according to how they’re doing in the game. This is a nice touch of realism that’s good to see in a sports game; there are many times in real life situations where a more talented player will have to sit young in his career to the veteran with more experience. While the onus is certainly on you to make the decisions here, it’s a wonderful thing to actually have them to make. On the field, other things have changed as well, such as much tighter AI on defense, and the ability to run the ball more proficiently thanks to the new Agile Running System. This is when your better runners won’t instantly tumble to the turf when hit, but use their hands and arms to provide balance instead (seeing it in motion reminded me of the running in Syphon Filter, but it’s still cool).
Support Teething Trouble
Even with all this goodness, NCAA still has its faults, though. In particular, the Xbox version seems to have some evidence of slowdown, which is noticeable when there are a lot of players bunched together, or when the screen becomes cluttered by the HFA and Match-Up Stick features. They’re certainly not game killing faults, but to some ?hardcore’ football fans they may be. NCAA Football 2005 also has the pleasure of being the first EA game available with full Xbox Live support. However, the online aspect hasn’t been going so smoothly thus far. Since NCAA’s release, gamers have encountered initial problems with connection issues and getting kicked off. This shouldn’t be a problem for too long, though, because EA is known to have some of the more reliable online games on the market.
Improved Graphics And Menus
The overall look of the game has received a welcome shot in the arm too. All your favorite stars appear as sharp as they can be, thanks to the updated player models, and the crowds look even more involved in the game due to actual 3D fans in the stands. The in-game weather is one of the more noticeable improvements; it looks beautiful through the excellent use of lighting and effects, achieving the very real feeling of playing in that Saturday night game. Thanks to the new Create-a-Sign feature, gamers have even more customization options at their disposal by being able to make their own placards and banners to provide support for their favorite team. Menu layouts feature a very sleek design that makes it easy to navigate too. For those folks out there who like to name their own rosters, the option is now available to edit the Division I-A and I-AA rosters, as well as Historic and All-American teams. You still can’t change the class of the player, though, so there’s still some editing needed when it comes to that.
Dynasty Mode Gets Even Better
As always, NCAA 2005 comes through with a fantastic Dynasty mode that addresses just about every complaint fans leveled at it last year (although there weren’t that many). Back for another year is the Sports Illustrated magazine feature, which chronicles the weekly events of your particular dynasty. Everything from the Top25 polls to the latest Heisman hopefuls is there, along with standings and an archive of covers for that season. Now, with that out of the way, let’s get to the defining element that makes the Dynasty mode one of the best things about NCAA Football 2005: Program Integrity. As anybody who has ever heard of Maurice Clarrett will know, programs can potentially get into some big problems with the NCAA if proper actions aren’t taken in-house, and that has now been implemented into the game. In addition to simply playing the game and managing players’ composure, it is now your job to make sure that your players are doing what they’re supposed to. Having a problem with that star player who thinks he’s too good to attend practice? Suspend him for a few quarters. Got someone who isn’t going to study hall? Take care of it. Throughout your dynasty, all of these decisions are yours to make now. Of course, you can choose to ignore your players, but remember the NCAA is watching to ensure you don’t slip; continue to ignore the problems and they’ll abruptly step in, take scholarships, and put you on probation. If you really want to be lapse and let your team run wild, the NCAA can even go so far as to issue the infamous ?death penalty’ (if you don’t know what that is, ask a Southern Methodist University fan).
Off The Scale Off-Season
When the season’s over, you can check to see if anyone on your team was impressive enough to become an All-American, and now, for the first time, All-Conference teams are in the game as well. Going into the off-season, you’ll also now have to deal with players that are restless at the school and wish to transfer. This can be for a host of reasons, such as lack of playing time, or simply not being happy. When you’re done here, you can save your draft class for Madden NFL 2005 and move on to recruiting, which has increased in difficulty thanks to reduced amounts of five star recruits and the addition of ?athletes’ that can play multiple positions. After you’re done building for the future, you can also adjust the present; you can change players’ positions to better accommodate the needs of your team. Also, thanks to the increased 70-man roster size, redshirting actually serves a purpose and you won’t have to unnecessarily cut anyone. Add in the rotating conference schedules for upcoming seasons and you have yourself a complete dynasty that will never get old. Keep in mind that the conferences don’t realign in year two, but that would be a crazy reason not to get the game considering all of its excellent features and additions.
If It’s In The Game, It’s In The Game
NCAA Football 2005 is the prime example of a game that was good to begin with and simply gets better every year. Things that fans would never even have thought to add have been implemented, and the always-solid gameplay shines through. With ESPN NFL 2K5 coming out soon and Madden soon after that, there’s never been a better time to be a football fan. Throw in the fact that NCAA is the only college football game in town, and this is a must buy.