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NCAA Football 09

1 rating: 3.0
Sports video game by Electronic Arts for the PlayStation 2

The game unveils the Break Away Animation Engine, which allows gamers to break in and out of moves giving the user more direct control as well as instant influence and responsiveness on the field. NCAA Football 09 also focuses on wide-open collegiate … see full wiki

1 review about NCAA Football 09

No, My Opinion of Ohio State Hasn't Changed

  • Feb 12, 2010
Pros: Controls finally work right

Cons: No option to cut through the fat in Dynasty Mode

The Bottom Line: The first truly playable football game I've seen from EA Sports.

This is another one of my preserved Netjak reviews. The site is back up, though, and if writing starts appearing there again, I'll have to quit posting my Netjak work here.

Another great season of college football will be upon us before we know it, and so we have begun asking the usual questions: When will the NCAA install a playoff system? Who will Ohio State lose to in the BCS Championship game this season? How many more years will go by before people finally realize the Buckeyes should be arrested for fraud? Is Illinois coach Ron Zook the real deal or did he just luck out last season? (Go Fighting Illini!) And, finally, will EA Sports’ annual rearrangement of history be worth playing this season? Feel free to debate, gamble, and fight over the first four questions to your heart’s content. When you’re done, shut up and let me give you the answer to the fifth question.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been royally smoked off at EA Sports ever since their real-life game of Monopoly. It doesn’t help that most of their football games over the years have bordered on being unplayable. But I always knew that somewhere in there, EA Sports knew how to make a good football game. I even saw flashes of playability in soccer and rugby games from EA Sports. But somehow, a fully playable gridiron game just seemed to elude their talent. The controls were always too slippy to create a fun gaming experience, and I never understood why compliments were being handed out left and right about the precision of their controls. As I mentioned in my review of Madden NFL 2005 a few years ago, EA’s football games only have precision control if your idea of precision control resembles that of a shopping cart.

It is for the reason mentioned in the last paragraph that NCAA Football ’09 shocked me to the very core of my being. It was a long time in the making, but EA Sports has finally released a football game which is playable. The sliding in the controls still exists, but it has been toned down to the extent where it doesn’t interrupt you when you try to switch directions quickly in order to make a fast dive at the goal line. As far as I’m concerned, every other feature of NCAA Football ’09 pales in comparison to this one. The most important thing about any game is that it has good controls, and EA Sports has finally given us a football game with good controls.

I was so shocked and overjoyed with the gameplay that EA Sports could have been able to get away with making a basic two-team football game. But they declined to do that. There are so many play options, features, and rewards in NCAA Football ’09, it would take weeks to even scratch the surface on any of them. I tried to try everything I could at least once. My favorite mode was a mode in which you tried to score as many points as possible. This isn’t what it sounds like, though. In this particular point scoring mode, you play a full game just as you would any old pickup game. But you get points based on just about everything you do. You pick up points by gaining yards, making sacks or tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and if you score on a drive, the point value on them skyrockets. Sometimes the game gives you a chance to double, triple, or even quadruple your points on any given down. While it’s nice of the game to offer you these chances at bonus points, the game only seems to offer them at the most inconvenient times; kickoffs and defensive downs are the most common bonus chances. In the event you get one on offense, it will likely be offered after you’ve selected a short-yardage run play designed to get three yards on third-and-short. Despite the bonus shortcomings, I still loved this mode and still enjoyed playing as the 2004 USC Trojans against weak teams just to see how much I could run the score up.

I was a little less enthused about the mascot challenge. In this mode, you play as a player from whatever team you pick. It takes you through standard training and practice drills. The catch, of course, is that the guys trying to stop you will always be the mascots of other teams. The novelty of the scenes comes from watching these giant, silly cartoon characters try to stop you. But once you’re able to stop giggling at the idea of Syracuse mascot Otto covering your receiver, you’ll see the mascot challenge is nothing more than a glorified version of the Madden bus. It’s fun, but it has little to keep you coming back time after time.

If you want to play the Michigan/Ohio State game without cycling endlessly through the 100-plus teams in NCAA Football ’09, Rivalry mode is your salvation. It sets up the list of rivalries for every school in nice, neat little rows. Just cycle down to your favorite school, select the rival and press the start button. All of your favorites are in here: Michigan/Ohio State, Army/Navy, and Texas/Texas A+M are all in here along with some lesser known rivalries like UConn/Buffalo. If one of those cute little rivalry trophies is on the line, it will be listed at the top of the screen to let you know just what the prize is. (I managed to win the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy and the Illibuck.) When you go into rivalry mode, the teams actually step right up and fight like cornered foxes.

Most of the other modes are pretty standard to any football game. I began a dynasty as Illinois, but one thing I hated about Dynasty mode was that I couldn’t figure out how to skip past all the boring preseason filler. When you recruit, the game gives you prospects to watch at every position from all fifty states, a very limited number of scouts, and no easy way to cut through the fat. The aspiring General Manager will certainly be in heaven scouting and redshirting players, but what about those of us who just want to take the Illini back to the Rose Bowl for a grudge match against USC? I can appreciate what EA Sports is trying to give me here, and NCAA Football ’09 gets a few points added onto its final score for it; but really, it’s overkill. If your big dynasty keeps getting run over by their biggest rival, you can also go into a practice mode and practice those weird college football option plays. It’s basic stuff, as I said.

I love college football because every team is truly unique. In NFL video games, you can barely tell the difference between playbooks. In college football, there are thousands upon thousands of plays unique to each team, especially on offense. Some offensive playbooks have more option plays or trick plays than others, some are more focused around passing than running, and some have enough little twists and squiggly lines to make you claw your hair out. Every school presents a different style of football. If you play against Oklahoma, be prepared to face a veritable stampede. USC has an air attack that can give people headaches. Playing with any new team presents its own challenge, learning just how vast the playbook is, how effective the plays are, what exactly it is they do, and which players are right to activate them. But figuring out what kind of play you’re picking can be tricky because the game doesn’t identify the type, and what you think is a screen pass may turn out to be an option. A wrap-around run featuring two tosses could end up with a negative yardage loss because you couldn’t figure out what was going on. Playing with teams that depend on the option can be particularly frustrating because you don’t know if it’s a rollout or a lateral half the time, and even when you figure it out, the game may go into a passing screen or just make your player run it. It’s very confusing.

If you like to pass, the passing game is one of the most surprising aspects of NCAA Football ’09. In most EA Sports football games, there’s a split-second delay between the time you hit the button and the time the ball spirals toward its intended receiver. In this game, the delay was corrected. You can finally throw bombs at the last second when the defensive line is bearing down on you, and let off short passes with ease. The running game is also much improved with the sliding mostly cleaned up. If you need to change holes to avoid getting stuffed, you can. Even the evasive jukes and spins are more effective than in the past.

On defense, using man coverage is no longer just for people who enjoy giving up touchdowns. All defensive plays have varying degrees of effectiveness depending on your situation, and so giving up big plays on third-down standoffs isn’t as common as it used to be, either. Sacks and quarterback pressures can still be easy to get, but the game makes sure the number of sacks you pick up is a reasonable number. While many football games allow you to blow the sacks-per-game record out of the water on a regular basis, in NCAA Football ’09, sacks are more controlled and so numbers like five or six sacks per game are normal against inferior competition. The potential to blow out the number of sacks still exists, but only if you play the very best against the very worst. Interceptions have just the right touch of challenge. It’s possible to make them manually every now and then and not let them be completely up the computer. The hit stick returns, and it’s a complete waste of controller space. The tackle button is always the better option, and even if it wasn’t, most people will probably forget its existence anyway.

The graphics are an extravaganza of color. Even before the snap, if you press the zoom out button to check on your hot route receiver, the route lines appear in bright, bold colors. There’s no slowdown, and the animation is about as complete as it could be. The lone weak point with the graphics is that crowd shots are recycled too regularly. They change colors and signage, but are otherwise very limited. There might be three of them, or maybe four at the most. None of them show any of the super-hardcore fans who dress in weird clothes. And the signage is the blandest I’ve ever seen.

I’m getting sick of hearing the traditional college football theme music, and I would kill for a licensed soundtrack like the ones in just about every EA Sports game ever made beyond the 16-bit era. The fight songs sound good, however, and while the announcers should have a few extra phrases, they all sound clear and enthusiastic. Not a bad effort overall, but the TV music really needs to be ditched and the phrase list desperately needs to be longer.

There’s one thing that bugs me to death about all football video games these days: They can never seem to get the kicking aspect right. As years and missed field goals go by, the mechanics of making kicks in video games get more and more obscenely complicated. Hold the d-pad to the right to make the kick fly straight! Whirl the analog stick around in a counterclockwise circle ridiculously fast to make the ball fly properly end-over-end! Press the A button when the power meter fills to make the ball fly from USC to Notre Dame, where it will fly into Charlie Weis’ head, decapitating him and making Irish fans happy about getting a new coach! How I long for the good old days, when all you did was point the arrow and hit the button. As you can no doubt guess from this paragraph, the kicking system is ridiculous AGAIN. That it’s controlled entirely with the right analog stick doesn’t help. All of the other aspects of gameplay were covered in the paragraphs above, so I won’t bother to insult your intelligence by repeating them.

So this is what happens when EA Sports works to the best of its ability to create a good gridiron game. I have to say, I’m very surprised, impressed, and happy. NCAA Football ’09 is nothing less than a football masterpiece which ranks alongside the Tecmo games or anything 2K Sports is allowed to create these days. It’s just a great football game in nearly every way.


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