(Review based on play at All-American skill level)
NCAA Football 11 has permanently upped the ante on what we will and should expect out of Madden’s baby brother. I have been lucky enough to have my hands on NCAA Football 11 for two weeks now and I haven’t even thought about playing another game since I put it in. As many of you know, I am always a bit skeptical about yearly sports titles(even though I love them) because you have to ask yourself how many changes can they truly make in one year. NCAA Football 11 proves that they can make plenty and the results are the best installment this franchise has seen to date.
The request of fans every year about what they would like to see improved always seem to be the intelligence of the computer A.I. and they always want more realism. NCAA Football 11 definitely delivers on both counts, with improved computer A.I. and a strategy that underlies every aspect of the game and that strategy seems to have been attention to details. In the end, football is football and you can’t change how its played so your only real room for large improvement is in making the playing experience more authentic. As not only a gamer, but an avid football fan I always look for the details to match what you would see on Saturday afternoon and they really captured that gameday feel this time around. The are tons of ways to attack this review, but I will break it into sections that should make it easy to follow.
The biggest single change to gameplay is the new concept of “locomotion”, it has to do with a player’s momentum and how that relates to their ability to react to the environment around them. The place that locomotion shines the most is of course in the run game.
The Run Game
The running game in NCAA 11 is one of its biggest strengths, they finally seemed to find a balance between the speed at which a play develops in relation to overall game speed. For instance, when you run an HB Slam you actually have time to find a hole and hit it or cutback if its not there. In order for this to work as well as it does, they had to slow it down but it doesn’t feel like it at all. On outside run plays, the speed and angles that develop are as on point as I have ever seen. Utilizing locomotion, you actually see the player dip their shoulder and their hips turn as they round a corner versus them kind of just turning like in the past. Lots of you will remember from last year’s game the times when you would get into a pile of tacklers and randomly you might spin out of it and get a breakaway run, that’s back but its not automatic anymore. This year when you get into a gang tackle situation, what happens from their is all on you. If you want to break away, you need to press the spin button to initiate that spin move away, the game will no longer do it for you which serves to keep you engaged from the start of the play to the whistle blows because you just never know. Speaking of the spin move, in NCAA Football 11 it is a thing of beauty. In years past, the spin move had taken a backseat to juke moves and the truck stick, but not this year. This year, it just might be your most effective move if used properly. The spin move when you see it in real life and then in the past when we have seen it in video games just hasn’t translated. It was always either been not effective enough because it was too slow in the way it worked or it was too effective because instead of football spin the player did more of a pirouette. When you go to execute a spin move this year you will see the player plant that lead foot and then turn and then plant again and BOOM he’s moving up field again, you gotta love the run game this year. I am sad to report that the truck stick as we knew it is dead and this year its all tied to how far forward you push the right stick, it definitely takes some getting used to but its more real and less arcade than the truck stick though I admit not as fun.
The Passing Game
The passing game in this year looks much better and the controls feel tighter as well. From that overall look perspective I just mentioned, the QB’s throwing motion is much more authentic and accurate to what the motion really looks like and you will notice that. You will notice that the motion isn’t the same when you are set as it is when you are on the run as it is when you are throwing off your back foot and that all goes to what I talked about at the beginning which is the attention to detail. In years past, the passing game was really hit or miss but this year its very well done, the mechanics are there and the results based on the situation are what you would expect. I almost thought that the passing game was highly flawed though because I was playing the game the same way I always had and that just won’t do this time around. Specifically, I am talking about what you are doing when you throw the ball. In NCAA Football 11, it is VERY important to set your feet when you throw, you don’t have to but you will notice a major difference when you do. As I played my first few full games, I wasn’t happy at all with the passing game and I thought that while it worked well it didn’t seemed to be consistent. But then I thought, if everything else is so accurate to real life why not apply that to the way I execute my passing game. I started to take 5 to 7 step drops, get set and then throw the ball and it was like night and day. Suddenly, passes went were I wanted them to go, how I wanted them to go there. It’s a subtle change to the game mechanics but one that makes it feel much more real and authentic, so all you players out there that burst out of the pocket as soon as the ball is snapped, get ready because you won’t get the same results this year.
On the other end of the passing game I just wanted to mention how improved the animations and mechanics for the receivers are this year. As I pointed out in my demo impressions, receivers actually catch the ball it doesn’t just magically appear in their hands. You will notice that better receivers catch the ball all hands while average receivers will let the ball get into their body a lot more, maybe this is just something that as an ex-football player only I notice but I really appreciate the subtle nuances. They have updated and added several new animations including the sideline catch as well as the “jump ball”. New sideline awareness will also allow players to turn up field at sharper angles in order to stay in bounds.