NCAA Football 14 Review
Posted by Mike Zatorski
With the college season kicking off, we thought it would be the perfect time to review EA Sports NCAA Football 14. While fans cheer every Saturday for their favourite team to demolish the competition, EA has attempted to bring that enthusiasm any time you want it. Unfortunately, you will find yourself disappointed. The franchise is struggling and the latest entry in the series shows it. This iteration however is the first to incorporate the use of the new Infinity Engine 2, which provides a much improved physics experience. Receivers still run their best routes across the field instead of playing deep, linemen still mash together and cornerbacks still have stone hands, so not that much has changed.
The physics system is the greatest improvement to the series, although it still leaves you feeling you're playing the college version of Madden 13. Players that weigh more will typically be able to fend off the smaller players, gang tackling actually works like its supposed to, and players collide with each other instead of walking through each other as if they didn't exist, as they did in previous versions. Still, even with the new engine, the field is plagued with some issues. Action around the field is pretty much non-existent. The players, coaches, media and cheerleaders are nothing but placeholders. When players run out of bounds, they will magically pass through the outside-field staff. This has been an issue since the beginning and every year, it truly ruins the realistic aspect of the game.
What we've noticed this year is the running and passing game has become a tad bit more realistic on the default settings. Quarterbacks can no longer throw into traffic without interceptions, and breaking a run forces you to look for open holes instead of just ploughing through the line. As for the receivers running their routes - they unfortunately suffer from a lack of intelligence and as such, they don't improvise their routes or try to get away from their defenders. Defence seems to be a little more rewarding though, and if you stop the opposition on 3rd and short, you will feel some sense of accomplishment.
Road To Glory mode has returned, and starts you out at high school level, with the goal being to get recruited to a college. The whole high school experience is feels below par, with the graphics feeling positively last-generation. The minor details just aren't up to scratch. Some scoreboards, for example, do not function and just show all 7's instead of accurate numbers. The sound in this mode is horrendous and will have you muting your television. Once you get into a college, it's more or less the same thing except with the college atmosphere. The only real positive about the presentation is that EA is finally making use of the ESPN license. The Saturday ESPN presentation you see on TV is somewhat there although the announcers could use some work.
In an attempt to keep players coming back, a degree of role-playing has been added. Your player has the ability to be an "Iron Man" which allows you to play on offence and defence. As you gain experience, you build up your player based on certain skill sets and by practising each week you also earn the trust of coaches. Doing this ranks you up, to the point that you can become a Captain, Veteran, or All-American. The more trust you have with your coach, the more abilities you can perform without the coach's approval, too. Getting sacked or throwing interceptions will however, lose some trust with your coach so it can turn into an on-going battle.
Dynasty mode is back as well, both online and offline, and again, RPG elements have been added. As you coach your team and perform well, you gain experience points. There is a skill tree for the head coach and both the offensive and defensive coordinators. Recruiting has been dumbed down to be a numbers game, as the more credits you spend on recruits, the higher chance players will want to be on your team. No longer do you decide how much time you want to spend with each recruit or delegating assistant coaches to seek out lower-priority candidates. The interviewing mini-game that brought you to a personal level with potentials has been removed. Now the players are just raw stats - nothing more than a number.
NCAA Football 14 does make an attempt to explain the complexities of the college game for those who are not familiar with it. The Nike Skills Trainer takes you into an in-depth training session covering most major aspects of the game and how to counter and react to different situations. Learning how to use your blockers or throwing a lob compared to a bullet pass becomes intimate knowledge for game day, and the learning curve using the Nike Skills trainer system is a welcome addition and will undoubtedly help those who have never played the game before.
NCAA Football 14 is typically at its best when you're matched up against another person of similar talent online. Performing miracles with crucial first downs or stopping those 3rd and short plays tends is remarkably rewarding, as we've mentioned. True nail-biters even get credited as "ESPN Classics," so it's worth trying to play well even when you are losing. As an aside, NCAA Football 14 is also the first of the series to utilize Kinect, which is somewhat unnecessary. Kinect has trouble with voice recognition here most of the time, so you'll end up muting it and not using it at all.
NCAA Football is again burdened with the same problems the franchise has had for years. The new engine makes on-field action more enjoyable, but pretty much everything else needs a lot of attention. The stripped down version of the recruiting system and the unneeded role playing aspects that have been applied to coaching will leave a sour taste in your mouth. Recreating the college atmosphere is a daunting task, as the franchise has proven for numerous years. The question now is whether or not they should keep going for yet another year, or give up.