Sure, it’s missing a few features, but still a solid football title

Perhaps more than any other sport in the United States, The NCAA is built on pure passion. The athletes don’t get multi-million dollar contracts or endorsement deals; instead, they play merely for love of the sport and to make a name for themselves.

            It’s this heart and passion that EA is trying to recreate with NCAA Football 07, the latest in its long running college football franchise, and the first to grace a next generation console.  Was the EA team able to take advantage of the 360’s power, bringing us a more realistic and fun college football experience? In some ways no, but in so many others — emphatically yes.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first, NCAA 07 for the Xbox 360 is missing a lot of gameplay modes and features. The 360 game does not have the new campus legend mode, or the spring games found on PS2 and Xbox. The game’s create a player is also very lacking and awkward. While the absence of these features creates an obvious hole in the game experience, focusing strictly on them takes away from the extremely fun and addicting gameplay.

Under the helmet, NCAA 07 is a mix between last year’s Madden 360 and past NCAA games. While running on the Madden game engine, NCAA manages to keep its college football feel thanks to the new “living stadiums.” EA has taken over 70 stadiums throughout the country and mapped them out to the tinniest detail. From the field, you can pick out things like the visitor section, alumni section and the school band. EA has packed these beautiful virtual stadiums with new “smart fans.” These fans will react to what is happening on the field. If the home team makes a huge play, you can actually see the fans rising to their feet as you hear them go crazy. On the flip side, the crowd becomes silent and still when the visiting team does well.

  These new features are a welcome addition, but what about the teams who didn’t get the “living stadium” treatment? They play in drab, generic fields that only mirror their real life counterparts in very subtle ways. It’s a big jump from mapping even the drain pipes of some stadiums to seemingly not even attempting others. What’s more, the living stadiums seem like a perfect match for stadium pulse, another feature that is absent from the 360 version. Imagine playing Florida VS Florida State in a living stadium, complete with smart fans that truly get as loud as fans would at a meeting of these two rivals. It’s a college football fan’s dream, and one that EA dropped the ball on.

NCAA 07’s gameplay sticks to the conventions of its predecessors and changes little gameplay wise. The controls are mapped out exactly the same as Madden, with the left trigger serving as a pitch button. While this may seem awkward, it really does work well. You use your right index finger to sprint and your left to pitch, leaving your right thumb open to control the “impact stick” on offense or the hit stick on defense. These three simple controls can make for some replay inducing moments that will cause you to make frequent use of the game’s snapshot creator, letting you take pictures of your greatest moments and share them with your friends.

  The kicking mechanic has also been redone in NCAA 07. Instead of using the A-button to start and stop the kicking meter, everything is now mapped to the right thumb stick. You chose the general direction, and then pull back and then quickly up on the right thumb stick, similar to swinging a club in the Tiger Woods Games. Defending kicks has also become easier, with the new line jump feature. By pressing the Y-button at exactly the same time the offense hikes the ball, you can get into the backfield easier and create havoc, think of it as a new way to blitz, and a new way to cheese online.

The heart and soul of the NCAA games has always been Dynasty Mode, and is here in almost full force in 07. Baring small omissions (like ESPN the Magazine), Dynasty Mode should not disappoint. You’ve got your in season recruiting, Hiesman watch and Top 25 polls to work with and take your team to the top. Something seems to be frighteningly wrong with the way the computer ranks teams. For example, a team ranked 26th at the beginning of the year begins rocking and rolling, knocking down teams ranked higher than them. Odds are this team won’t even crack the top ten before the season ends. It seems EA made the Dynasty Mode last 60-years for a reason.

NCAA 07 is a great first attempt at next generation college football, with a few holes that make it stumble. Its clear that the franchise is on its way from breaking out from the shadow of its older, more popular sibling, Madden. Sports fans or anyone who truly enjoys a competitive game should check out NCAA 07.

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