NCAA Football 2008 Preview
Ah, mid-summer 2007. It's time for temperatures to get stupidly hot outside, especially here in eastern North Carolina. Time to run into all sorts of kids everywhere I go, including ones that wear those silly Helly shoes. However, and much more importantly, it is getting close to being football video game time. In just a couple of days, NCAA Football 2008 will hit consoles and, well, I'll be happy to say the least. It's been months since I picked up Madden 2007, so I've been without any football in my gaming life for awhile.
The thing that has me most excited is the current NCAA 2008 demo available on the Xbox Live marketplace. While you only really get to play a 2-minute quarters game as Michican or USC, this is more than enough to show you where some major improvements were made over last year's Freshmen entry into the next-gen world. There are a ton of features that aren't experienced in the demo, but I won't even mention them here – instead, I'll talk about them in next week's review.
First things first – the game runs a hell of a lot smoother. Where the play before felt a little jerky, 08 feels so exceptionally smooth. Loading it up is a totally different experience this year, and that smooth gameplay adds to every other aspect of the game. You'll feel like you have better control over the players, you'll enjoy the big hits you make more and the overall experience will be better. Graphical quality was not cut much at all to get the 08 entry to run at 60 frames per second, which is a nice touch.
Going along the line with the graphics, animations also seem to be better. Maybe this is a result of the 60-frames-per-second performance if NCAA 08, or maybe there were just better quality animations put together for this year's entry into the series. All I know for sure, though, is that I definitely felt it when my QB got nailed. My favorite, though, was nailing a receiver just as he caught the ball while jumping – he really crumbled to the ground as the ball dribbled away. Better animations leads to a more immersive experience overall.
While I was playing, too, something was going on. I was hearing multiple “snapshot” type sounds whenever a big play would happen. Typically, it'd happen when I fumble the ball, but we won't talk about those that much. I can only assume this is another new feature that I haven't read much about and was unable to fully use in this demo, but will see more about later on when I get the full version in my grubby little hands.
Anyways, enough on the graphics. Another major area that has seen improvement is the gameplay arena. While I didn't document it in my review last year, one of my biggest beefs with the gameplay was the supposed inability of receivers to make catches unless you constantly took direct control of them. Now, it could be argued that this is the way the game was meant to be played, and I can even understand requiring receiver control on a tough catch. But when I have my speedy receiver on a fly route and he's wide open, he should have no problems reeling the ball in. However, he'd still manage to drop it most of the time. Thankfully, that problem is solved in this year's version. You won't catch balls perfectly if they're thrown into tight traffic, which is a good thing, but you will catch them much more often if you're wide open. You can still take control of the receiver if you want to and manually catch the ball, but you aren't required to anymore.
Something else I noticed was that the option play seemed harder to successfully run. Normally, I'd watch my brother play some and he'd only ever use variants of the option. The play was really stupidly effective. I don't know if it is inability to run it on my part (which I doubt as I had no problem last year) or what, but the option was nowhere near as successful this time around and resulted in quite a few more fumbles this year than it did last year. This serves to open up the gameplay and keeps things from being a “run the money play, score, do it again” type of game this year – at least, it does so with that one type of play.
Overall, getting my hands on the NCAA 2008 demo did what it should – it got me excited for the full release. Seeing the game run at an exceptionally smooth frame rate, noticing new animations and seeing some major gameplay flaws fixed was definitely nice. Not to mention, I only got to experience a fraction of this year's changes – Race for the Heisman/Campus Legend is supposed to make a return this year along with a bevy of other shiny new features.
Right now, I'm just sitting here and thinking – what a difference a single year can make in a game. Lets hope that all the claimed features make it into the game. If they do, watch out, because EA's NCAA Football 2008 may well take back the throne as the more enjoyable of EA's two football games.