Review – NCAA Football 11

NCAA Football 11 is, in general, an outstanding football game. The gameplay is fantastic, and has reached a heightened level of realism, and EA Sports has ensured that the college game is represented in all of its tradition-soaked glory. Penn State rushes into Beaver Stadium behind their flag, Notre Dame players touch the “Play Like A Champion Today” sign and Florida State fans chant their war cry. It all adds up to an experience that’s thrilling, and should stir college football fans as they get the chance to take command of their team, traditions included.

The game is the most important aspect of a football title, and NCAA Football 11’s innovations are excellent. The biggest changes are to the running and receiving game.

Run blocking is realistic. Offensive linemen follow their gameplan and effectively create running laneways that just didn’t exist in previous versions of NCAA Football (or Madden, for that matter). This helps make running a viable aspect of the game. Rather than focusing entirely on a passing game, players can now focus on a 50/50 approach if they want to, and powerful, star halfbacks should be able to more realistically gain several yards on every play by finding an opening and dashing through.

Further making the running game excellent is the fact that the team made acceleration and speed equally important. Some players have a fast acceleration that allows them to burst through holes, while other players may accelerate more slowly, meaning they have more trouble getting an opening, but can be faster once in the open, meaning if they make it through they can be big gain runners. It adds up to a more realistic experience that makes the game more enjoyable. You can truly tailor your offense based on the style of play you want to embody.

Beyond the running game, NCAA Football 11 fixes up the passing game by making receivers aware of the sidelines. You will see spectacular toe drags as players attempt to kept their feet inbounds. This makes a huge difference because it was a complete frustration in earlier games to toss a ball to the sideline only to have the receiver react as though he were in the middle of the field. Now, passes to corners of the endzone and along the sidelines can result in catches rather than bumbling footwork that left you at third and long.

The only problem I had with receivers was the fact that while they recognize the sideline, if you aren’t in control of them (i.e. in Road to Glory mode) they don’t recognize the importance of time and getting out of bounds. I would often throw to the receiver on the sidelines with 30 seconds left in the game and one timeout because I wanted them to run out of bounds with the catch to stop the clock. Instead, they most often stayed inbounds, wasting precious clock time.

The only other real gameplay complaint is that the defenders seem less capable than before. Through an entire season as a quarterback in Road to Glory mode I didn’t throw one pick despite passing at least twenty balls almost directly into defenders hands. I enjoyed never ceding a turnover, but it didn’t feel realistic. They had supreme butter hands.

These are relatively minor qualms for an otherwise excellent gameplay experience. This is as realistic a game of football as I’ve come across yet because of the improved running game and improved receiver awareness.

As mentioned before, NCAA Football 11 amps up the college experience. Every single school features its own unique offensive style. For instance, Nevada’s pistol is unique to their school while Boston College employs a one-back system that wears down defenses with a persistent run game. Both are an accurate reflection of the school’s real offensive attacks.

Beyond the offensive schemes, the school’s stadiums look great, and the unique chants, entrances, and overall presentation is fantastic. The ESPN Gameday coverage is greatly expanded, with a dynamic presentation system that makes you really feel like you’re watching the game of the week on the TV. They analyze the star players, you watch as the home team makes its entrance, and the crowd roars.

Unfortunately, while the presentation is amazing in both Dynasty and Online Dynasty modes, Road to Glory is seriously deficient in atmosphere, which is really unfortunate. For instance, in Dynasty Mode, a game at Notre Dame will show the team moving down the stairs from their locker room, tapping the “Play Like A Champion Today” sign one at a time as they enter the field. But, in Road to Glory mode you simply don’t live the college experience. You would think, given the fact that Road to Glory is meant to put you directly into a player’s shoes, that the gameday experience would be amped up for this mode, but it isn’t at all.

There is no commentating during Road to Glory games, there’s no presentation at all. You simply have a coin toss (that doesn’t even show the Captains at midfield like in Dynasty Mode) and then you play when you are on the field.

NHL 10’s Be A Pro mode features your athlete waiting in the hallway before entering the ice. He breathes in and out, looks around, and you follow him from over his shoulder as he rushes onto the ice to the blast of music and the cheer of fans and skates circles around the rink. The commentators talk, and you get a real sense of personalization with the player. It’s too bad that NCAA Football 11’s Road to Glory mode isn’t the same, because the overall presentation between games is fantastic.

Erin Andrews is back with Kirk Herbstreit as they analyze your performance after each game, which includes showing highlights and statistics. You build up skills through practice and evening activities and you can follow your progress in Heisman Trophy and National Title races.

Road to Glory is still a blast, especially for gamers who really dream of putting themselves on the field, but it’s hampered by a strange lack of presentation where presentation would seem to be the foremost aspect of the game mode.

Online Dynasty is fantastic, however. You now have the ability to manage your teams via a web browser. So, say, you’re at work and rather than doing spreadsheets you want to recruit players for next season. You can do it. It’s a much easier way to manage the recruiting process than on the console.

Beyond that, Online Dynasty is quite simply addictive as you play against other people online, write up personal news stories about your victories, and share your glory with others.

Online Dynasty features all of the unbelievably immersive college football experiences mentioned above with the added benefit of playing against real competition. It is the highlight of NCAA Football 11 and is reason enough to buy the game.

While there may be a few small problems here and there – namely, like I said, it would be nice to have more immersion in the college football experience via Road to Glory, which could be the highlight with a little extra flair – NCAA Football 11 is even better than last years title because of the dedication to providing a realistic depiction of each school’s traditions and playing styles and for its more realistic gameplay.

NCAA Football 11 is a perfect addition to any football or sports game fans library, and should definitely be picked up.

9.5