Review by Evil Dave

"Still The Best, But Beginning To Sag"

EA Sport's NCAA Football series has caught my attention ever since the 2002 version began to separate itself from years of being a Madden clone. Ever since, the game has evolved and found its own identity – an identity that can only be described as a strong emulation of college football. This game is an extremely good representation of college football, and this year's version gives it more enhancements that make it even better.

Visuals:

The menus are as easy-to-navigate as ever. They look great, and all information and options are available where you would expect them to be. The main menu also looks very nice, compared to previous versions, as you will be treated to a cascade of visuals from a 'favorite team' that you pick when you first load up the game. The in-game interface has changed significantly. The pause menu looks roughly the same, and functions as such. However, the playcalling interface has been radically altered in a style similar to last year's version of Madden. No longer will you be able to see what formation the opponent is using in User vs. CPU games; instead, the between-play information board that used to occupy the space between each team's play now take up the top half of the screen. This effect works better with the idea of the game as a football simulation, and is certainly not a visual detriment.

The in-game graphics are, as is par for the course, improved over the previous version. You'll see new graphical touches such as different facemasks, better-proportioned bodies, and different player animations. The newest graphical addition to the franchise is between-play scenes of animated ‘fans' in the stands. The ‘fans' will react to the way the home team plays, holding up signs and acting foolish as normal college football fans do. They are as well-animated as the cheerleaders that showed up in the 2003 version, and add to the atmosphere of the game.

Unfortunately, while the graphics still look excellent, they are beginning to show their age. With next-gen consoles looming around the corner, EA should give some serious consideration to updating the graphics engine in its star football franchises. While the aging of the visuals does not detract from the gameplay, it may leave you wondering when they're going to receive a facelift.

Score: 8/10

Sound:

As always, you'll hear plenty of college fight songs while navigating the menus. These songs are classics, and they fit the game perfectly. While you still have no control over the order of play or which songs you'll hear, the lineup is varied enough that you won't be bothered by hearing the same songs repeatedly.

Sound effects during games are on par with previous versions; they sound accurate, and help immerse you in the gameplay. Unfortunately, the commentary is virtually unchanged from last year – the only new lines added in by commentators Brad Nessler, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit seem to be those involving the game's new licensed sponsors – and the game suffers as a result. The commentary had been moving in a positive direct from the 2002 version, but this year's rehash doesn't sound any better than last year's version. While the commentary is certainly better than Madden's, you will still likely get tired of it quickly.

The lack of improvement in this area really overshadows the inherent quality of the audio component of this game.

Score: 6/10

Gameplay:

EA Sports has always published games that were successful not because of their gimmicks, but because of their core gameplay. This has not changed in NCAA Football 2005, which sports the same rock-solid football simulation as its previous versions, while adding in some interesting and useful upgrades.

One of the improvements brought to the table this year is a meter that appears in the top-right of your TV screen in-game. This is called the ‘Stadium Pulse' meter, and it is the addition that affects gameplay the most. This feature is meant to emulate the feel of a stadium when a college game is being played, and does so quite respectably. When you're visiting a team in their stadium, they will cheer quite loudly before you snap the ball on offense. This noise is portrayed in-game by your screen shaking and your controller vibrating, and the effects increase the louder the fans get. In addition to the potential to be thrown off your concentration by these distractions, the noise will also affect your players in the game. Calling audibles will be difficult, as some of your players may not hear the call from your quarterback. Players with less composure (‘composure' ratings for each player have also been added to the game for this year's edition) will also be more likely to jump offsides or have a bad play as the crowd pressure builds. The feeling this feature gives is truly incredible – you'll be sincerely frightened to visit enemy territory for a game, and you'll definitely have trouble counteracting the problems you'll face when you're there.

The other major improvement in the 2005 edition is the ‘Matchup Stick.' During games, the right analog stick serves as a display shortcut for the talent levels of the players on the field. Just by pushing the stick in a direction you can see how your offensive line matches up against the defensive line, how your receivers rate against the opposing secondary, or how your quarterback and running backs compare to the enemy linebackers. While this feature doesn't really add any depth to the game, it is nonetheless a welcome addition, taking a trip to the pause menu out of the way when comparing matchups.

One final new wrinkle is the addition of a context-sensitive L2 ‘big hit' button. Whenever you're on defense and are looking to lay an opposing ballcarrier out, you can hit the L2 button when you're near the opponent to smack him with all you have. You're more prone to miss the tackle and give up a big gain when you go for one of these ‘sticks,' but the dropped passes and fumbles you can create by delivering a solid lick may cause you to want to try it anyway. The feature plugs into the game extremely well, and adds another solid weapon to your defense's already-loaded arsenal.

Once again, EA has improved their college football product beyond its already-great predecessors. The new features fit well into the game, and go a long way towards making it all fun to play.

Score: 10/10

Features/Modes:

NCAA Football 2005 comes with the same assortment of modes as NCAA Football 2004. They're all compatible with the gameplay improvements, of course.

As usual, Dynasty mode has received a lengthy list of improvements. Players will now improve both during games and during the season in overall rating by playing well, and will similarly decrease in ability by playing poorly. Off the field, there are a bevy of improvements to the way you manage your chosen football program. You will now have to deal with players breaking team rules and faltering in their academics, and if these miscreants don't receive a suitable punishment, the NCAA may begin to investigate your program. From the roster standpoint, your maximum number of allowed players has ballooned to 70, which allows you more room to add players through the streamlined recruiting system or through player transfers, another new feature. These new add-ons give the already deep Dynasty mode even more of an appeal.

Other than Dynasty mode (and Online play, which I'll delve into a bit later), the game also features the classic Mascot game and Rivalry game features, Practice mode, and last year's addition, College Classics (which has gained Pontiac as a sponsor this year). While all of these are as enjoyable as ever, the lack of improvement to the promising College Classics mode leaves something to be desired.

The improvements to Dynasty mode add yet another layer to what is already the best simulation of college football out there, and the multitude of other modes will certainly keep everyone else entertained for hours. The lack of improvement from last year's game is the only thing keeping this area from a perfect score.

Score: 9/10

Online Play:

Last year, EA introduced its online service across all of its 2004 sports titles, and many fans were pleased. The service rivaled the one set up by Microsoft for its XBox sports games, and included features such as EA Messenger (a chat program similar to AOL Instant Messenger), EA Sports Talk (optional use of the USB headset to chat with opposing players), Fair Play (a very thorough anti-cheating system), and online tournaments and rankings. This year, however, EA has ‘shared the wealth' with XBox owners, bringing its online service to Microsoft's XBox Live. While the PlayStation 2 version of the service is of the same high caliber as last year's, the lack of improvements really shows when it is compared to EA's offering on the XBox.

Online play with NCAA Football 2005 is still top-of-the-line fun; however, you may find yourself wondering how it would fell if you were playing it on XBox this year.

Score: 8/10

Total Score:

NCAA Football 2005, like all of EA Sports' strong gaming franchises, improves on it predecessor in many ways. The gameplay additions keep the on-the-field portion fresh, while the additions to Dynasty mode will certainly make college football fans want to come back for more. Unfortunately, though, with the XBox version now sporting the same online mode in addition to the already better graphics, you may want to think twice about picking up the PlayStation 2 version.

Score: 8/10 (not an average)

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Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/16/04


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