Sports games are a strange genre. They are often dismissed by hardcore gamers as something not worth time and effort due to the annual releases and the lack of innovation that comes year over year. Many times their complaints are worthwhile, as some games just retool the rosters, throw a couple new lines of dialogue in and call it a day. Thankfully, NCAA 14 is not an example of this, as it’s the greatest football simulation game I’ve ever played.
At the core of any good sports game is the gameplay. Without a solid on-field experience, your game could have all the bells and whistles that anyone could think of and still suck. This year’s edition has a major overhaul with the blocking scheme, as your linemen’s AI system was redesigned by a former college lineman. Linemen will get out quickly from the line to find someone to block instead of just standing in one space while a corner back comes and gets you as you try to run a toss play.
College football today is all about the spread offense and the read-option, and NCAA football 14 captures the ability to run the spread option to perfection. They have added a one of the best tutorials yet in a sports video game. The Nike Skills Trainer (nice ad placement, right?) effectively teaches you how to run the spread offense and how to properly read the defenders and make the right decision on each play. The in game experience even puts an “R” above the defender’s head to tell you which player to read, and then make the correct option.
The graphics in NCAA Football 14 look amazing with the brand new Infinity Engine. Ball-carriers move with fluidly, they’ll fall forward for extra yards, and they rarely go down on first contact. They’ll fight for more yards, which is nice when you’re playing as a big back but somewhat unrealistic when you do it with an undersized runner, like this game’s equivalent of DeAnthony Thomas. (Since we can’t really use his real name and all of course) The stadiums feel like the real thing and have changing sunlight and shadows as you get later into the evening of that week’s game.) The presentation has also been upgraded, as they have expanded the ESPN brand to make it feel like you’re really watching football on a Saturday afternoon. In the dynasty mode they’ll take a break to send it to the studio to show how other teams in your conference are playing and Reese Davis will have a comment or two about the simulated game that just occurred. While the audio is a bit choppy, it’s still displayed wonderfully.
The Dynasty recruiting mode has been redone to take much less time to properly recruit. Previous year’s models made you call each individual recruit and try to match a topic he was interested with something your school was good at. The whole process felt forced and tedious, not to mention a huge waste of time. I always felt that the best part of the dynasty mode was building your team up from nothingness to become a powerhouse through recruiting, but recruiting was so boring…hence an unentertaining game. This year’s version has a point system that is used, meaning you can assign your top recruits the most points and adjust accordingly. The approach is still hands on and important, but much less time consuming. They have added deal breakers to some recruit’s profiles, meaning that no matter how much effort you put into a kid, if he doesn’t want to go to your school, he’s not going there…just like real life. For someone who enjoys playing the game more than recruiting for hours on end, this was a welcome addition.
I’ve always got the feeling that the decision to buy any sport’s game for that year was a gamble. While the past few years of NCAA football titles have proved that logic true, NCAA Football 14 certainly comes through in a lot of great ways. While none of the things that it does is groundbreaking, it certainly maintains its excitement level for season after (in-game) season. I’d absolutely recommend it if you haven’t played a college football game in years, or even if you purchased last year’s title.