Groundhog Day

No players, big problems in NCAA 07
By RYAN STEWART  |  August 1, 2006

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“CAMPUS LEGEND”?: Put down the playbook and pick up the physics book.
By now, you should know what you’re getting yourself into when you pick up the latest version of one of EA Sports’ two main football franchises. You’ll get a career mode that will feel as if it were slowly shifting you toward some tamer console version of Second Life. You’ll get a watered-down “Dynasty Mode.” You’ll get the full-on ESPN experience, including walking punch line Lee Corso. And, of course, you’ll get some gimmicky change to the gameplay.

In NCAA Football ’07, EA has radically changed the way you’ve been punting, kicking, and attempting field goals since the dawn of video football. Now, instead of pushing buttons while a meter progresses, you hold back on the right analog stick until you reach the desired leg strength, then push forward to unleash a mighty kick. The left stick aims. I’m sure in the long run people will hail this as a better way of controlling your special-teams play, but in the here-and-now, it’s annoying to have to relearn something as integral to the game as kicking. Those of you who’ve grown accustomed to the button-push system may have some difficulty adjusting. Unless you play Tiger Woods Golf, in which case you’ll be accustomed to doing something similar on each golf swing.

Other gameplay changes are less dramatic but more interesting. The “homefield advantage” system, so much a part of last year’s installment, has been played down (unless it’s usually just that quiet at Alumni Stadium), replaced by a “momentum meter.” When a team makes a big play — say, an endzone interception — it gets an almost imperceptible boost that provides a little added edge. This too flies in the tradition of sports games’ AI, which used to give a barely appreciable boost to the losing team, but it’s still an interesting wrinkle. You also now have the capacity to view match-ups in an almost oversimplified manner: having seen which players on both sides of the ball are good and bad, you’re able to exploit mismatches.

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HOT TIP: If you want actual rosters with real players' names, go to ps2rosters.com or fkrosters.com (per Deadspin)
At the same time, I’m starting to feel that actual football gameplay is not what EA is interested in. This year’s version of the career mode is “Campus Legend,” which is like last year’s “Quest for the Heisman” on performance-enhancing drugs. They can’t use actual players — Notre Dame’s QB will look and play like Brady Quinn, but he’ll still be “QB #10,” — so you’re going to want to create a player with some personality. But in addition to seeking glory on the field, your man is now expected to maintain his image off it as well. To this end, he must declare a major, take exams, attend on-campus social functions, and generally behave like a good citizen. Successful execution of these tasks will improve his attributes, help him in his quest for individual honors and, if you move on to Madden ’07, help him get drafted by your team of choice.

EA’s Sims-y paradigm shift has been on for years now, but this is too much. Studying in a video game? Aren’t video games supposed to be the alternative to studying for a large chunk of the demographic? True, many of the majors are bogus, like “trophies” and “ESPN,” and it’s easy enough to “cheat” on the exams by looking up the answers on the Internet, but I still felt ridiculous doing busywork in a game that’s supposed to be fun. What’s next? Will your create-a-player in Madden have to fill out his tax return?

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