Reviewed: August 13, 2007
Released: July 17, 2007
Well, the summer is over. I was kind of enjoying riding my bike around campus with nobody around. But August always comes and the football players with it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m always up for a good tailgate party and competitive college football game. Actually, as with most sports, I find the college game to be much more entertaining than the pros… at least in real life.
On the videogame consoles the story has been slightly different. Madden has usually been the choice of football fans everywhere, for better graphics and gameplay. However, over the past few years the NCAA games have added new features and improved the overall experience enough to make it a tough choice for football fans with a limited budget.
Last year was the first NCAA Football effort on the 360. It satisfied many college football junkies, but was lacking on so many fronts that the used game stores are filled with discarded NCAA 07 football games. Now that ‘next-gen’ systems have been around awhile maybe EA can finally get it right with NCAA Football 08.
When you first start the game you can select your favorite school from NCAA Division I. This basically sets the theme for your interface, including conference flags and the carpet in the middle of your trophy room.
The manual is a meager 8 pages with basic instructions. However EA compensated with a handful of video tutorials in the EA Sports Extras menu. The videos are very helpful for those of you new to the NCAA Football experience, and even provide some good tips for seasoned veterans.
If you want to jump right in, the ‘play now’ menu will get you right to the team selection screen. You can pick from the list of teams, but the default setting will put your favorite team up against their biggest rival to battle for their rivalry trophy. Rivalry games will vary since some schools have many rivals. For example, I selected Purdue as my favorite team. But each time I select the “play now” menu, my opponent might be Notre Dame (for the Shillelagh trophy), Illinois (for the Purdue Cannon), or Indiana (for the Old Oaken Bucket). Win the rivalry game and you get a new trophy to add to your case in the main menu lobby.
There are 67 rivalry trophies for you to win. After you win a championship, bowl, post-season award, or rivalry, the trophy will appear in your lobby trophy case. Select the trophy and you can rotate it around and even hear an audio clip on the history of the trophy. An funny bug is included in the trophies. If you play Iowa State and Missouri, after winning, open your trophy case and check out the back of the Telephone Trophy. Instead of the Missouri logo you will find Michigan! Apparently EA Tiburon has a Wolverine in their midst.
There are 119 playable teams from NCAA Division I schools. In the “campus legend” mode you can also play as a high school team in the state playoffs. Not only are their fewer teams than normal, you can’t even create your own team! With older consoles there was the great option of making your own school, complete with logo and stadium. But not this year. There are also no classic teams – zero, none, zilch, nil. How pathetic. At least I still have my old XBOX so I can play some classic teams rivalry games on the old-gen systems.
Due to NCAA regulations, EA cannot include actual player names with the correct schools. To get around this annoyance, EA made a database of first and last names which you can pick and assign to your players. It is tedious work, but you are rewarded by seeing the correct names on the jerseys and the announcers will occasionally say the player names. If you don’t want to go through the hassle, you can just have the game assign names randomly to all the players.
I’m all for accuracy so I cheated. Fixing the rosters for 119 teams would be insane, but people do it. If you have the Datek Xchange memory card PC hardware or some other type of memory card utility, you can download the correct rosters from several web sites and copy them over to your Xbox memory card. Make sure you have instructions on how to import the file. EA made it somewhat difficult to accomplish this task.
The one good thing they did resurrect from the past to add to NCAA 08 is an all-new Campus Legend mode. In this mode you control one player throughout their career. You can create your own player or pick an existing player with the goal of becoming a ‘legend’. If you create a player you can pick his position and just about anything you can think of, right down to the sweatbands. One piece of advice, if you create a player, your chances of being recruited by your favorite school is greatly improved if your high school is close to the college.
In Campus Legend mode, you only control your chosen player. So when you are on the bench, you can watch, skip to the next time you are on the field, or sim the whole game. Once you create your player, you play in your state high school playoffs. The better you play the more interest you’ll get from big schools.
Once you sign for a school, you have a lot to do. You will live the daily life of your player. Well, sort of. Basically a menu comes up and the daily schedule is class, practice, and evening event. Most of the time you get to pick from a couple options and your choices have consequences. If your GPA goes below 2.0 then you get suspended from the team. You also have to earn the starting job during practice. Which is very easy and once you have the starting job it is apparently impossible to loose it. I played several horrendous games (running the ball into my own end zone repeatedly) and never lost the starting position.
Once you win a few BCS National Championships you’ll get the chance to play in the NFL. You will need to decide to either enter the draft or stay for your senior season. Once you graduate, you can export your legend to Madden 08.
The Campus Legend mode is good, but it has a ton of unrealized potential. If they did something along the lines of The Sims where you actually interacted with students and get recruited by a frat that would be a whole new ballgame. Of course, they would probably loose their E rating, but I bet they’d sell a lot more copies!
Another play mode is “Dynasty” in which you pick your team and manage them to the National Championship. Nothing much has changed here except recruiting. In the recruiting section you do a prospect search based on your criteria, and then you put potential players on your recruiting board.
You rank your prospects in order of importance, and then establish a relationship with the player. There is a bunch of different ways to pitch your school to the player. If the prospect is at a local high school, you can get major lift by putting a high priority on being close to home.
Then you can make promises. It can get kind of tricky because if you keep your promises, you can unlock a bunch more promises. But if you don’t stay true to your word, the prospects won’t trust you and you’ll have more difficulty getting the players you want.
There are a few new additions to NCAA Football 08 in the regular gameplay. The motivation level has been tweaked so when a player makes a big play, it affects the whole team.
There are several new trick plays included in NCAA 08 Football, including the Statue of Liberty, hook and lateral, and flea flicker. The Xbox 360 will end up controlling the QB for some portion of the trick plays, but they are still pretty fun to run.
Using the “hit stick” has also improved. Now you can pick to either hit high to impale the runner, or hit low to take his legs out. It’s pretty fun until your opponent figures you out and hurdles right over you.
Score a touchdown and you will probably see your school mascot cheering. But you won’t see cheerleaders or the band or really anything else.
There are three mini-games including football versions of tug-of-war, bowling, and an option dash. These are all fun for a quick party game I suppose, but it’s not something I’ll be playing again.
There is a video and photo highlight feature which you can save for bragging rights with your friends. You can upload them online and even download them to your PC to share.
You can play your friends on Xbox Live, but it’s limited to 2 people per game. It would be nice to play with my friends on the same team similar to the campus legend mode.
The ESPN integration is similar to other EA sports titles. As long as your are hooked up to the Internet, you get the sports ticker. You also get the usual SportsCenter update every half hour. ESPN On Demand is included to check out the latest news via text, radio, or video.
EA did a little bit of innovation by including real time weather. The Weather Channel is featured during the game. When you set up a game you and elect to play in the current weather conditions of the home city. It’s kind of neat… but who cares? Maybe EA can use the money The Weather Channel paid them to bring back the classic teams next year.
There are 50 achievements available for 1,000 points. They range from fairly easy in-game achievements up to fairly difficult like changing a 1 star player into a 6 star player. There is plenty to do here if you don’t get bored.
If you don’t have an HDTV yet, now is the time to get one. The graphics are very good – a nice improvement over last year – but there are some collision detection issues in the between play cutscenes. It’s not a big issue and doesn’t really affect gameplay.
The gameplay graphics have improved. Player models are as close to real as I’ve seen, with realistic shadows and reflections. The biggest improvement are found in the stadiums and rendering framerate.
One of the many complaints from last year was the lack of some major college stadiums. This year EA added 43 new stadiums bringing the total to 97 authentic stadiums. Much better! Each of the stadiums is rendered in great detail. The pre-game flybys and menu graphics are stunning.
This is the first EA sports title to run at 60 frames per second on the 360. It only runs at 30 fps on the PS3, which was the source of a lot pain for PS3 owners, but it’s great for us 360 gamers!
The commentary is a weak point. It’s always great to hear the actual people that do the games on TV. ESPN’s college football broadcast team of Brad Nessler, “the coach” Lee Corso, and former Ohio State player Kurt Herbstreit do a good job adding an authentic sound from the booth. It seems like the variety of comments hasn’t changed. After a couple games you will hear the exact same color commentary from Lee Corso and it gets old real quick.
Crowd noise and the atmosphere of the stadiums seem somewhat subdued, but you can turn up the volume in the settings menu. The majority of teams have their school theme song and chants. Sound certainly adds to the experience, but the overall feel of college football is lacking.
Yet again I am very disappointed with EA’s choice to cut features from the next gen games. This is the second year for NCAA Football on the 360; it should have more than this. Much more. The PS2 version has an excellent presentation complete with studio announcers, cheerleaders, a mascot game, and all kinds of additional features. The Xbox 360 version has a fraction of those features yet we still have to pay $60.
Its unfortunate EA doesn’t have any competition. NCAA Football 08 looks nice, but we can only wonder how great it would be if there was some competition.
This is the best NCAA Football game on the Xbox 360. This is the only NCAA Football game on the Xbox 360. So if you are a fan of the college game, this is it.
I gave this game a 7.8 more because it is better than last year’s version, but not a lot better. In my gut I don’t think it deserves that high a score, but the fact is it has improved graphics and gameplay, it’s just lacking in everything else. Everyone loves nice graphics, but if you want a more complete college football experience, you’ll have to play the PS2 version.