Review by Psycho Penguin

Reviewed: 07/26/06

The series is getting really close to top level status again, after a couple of off years.

Once in a while, a game comes around that totally redefines video gaming forever. Personally, I have experienced this with a few titles, most notably Super Mario Brothers 3 and Final Fantasy 7. NCAA Football 2004 was the last game to do this for me, as the game was simply phenomenal and one of the most addicting games ever. Then, NCAA Football 2005 came around and disappointed many, including myself, with its focus on defense being the major flaw. NCAA Football 06 tried to fix the flaws, and succeeded, but the game simply did not feel like it stood up to the test of time.

NCAA Football 2007, however, is the best sports game to come out since NCAA Football 2004, with some of the most revolutionary new features I have ever seen in a sports game. At first glance, the game seems more of the same. The fight songs return after a one year absence, ditching the doomed EA Trax feature from last year’s version. The dynasty mode remains mostly unchanged. The ESPN integration is almost non-existent. There’s barely any new modes or teams. So, what makes the game so much better than last year’s?

On the field game play, that’s what. After focusing way too much on silly little features the last few years, EA really tuned up the game play this year. The biggest additions by far are the new special teams features, which I absolutely love. I dare say these new features are the single handed biggest innovation in sports games in quite a while. Now, when you line up to block kicks, you can control a player and switch to a third player camera. You then can push X right before the snap to get a head start, then try to burst the way through the line to block the kick. It’s simply amazing.

The camera changes don’t stop there, however. Now, when you are returning a kick, the camera follows directly behind you, making you feel like you are actually returning the kick. You can only see a few yards to the left and right of you, and it’s more challenging to find the holes and see who’s blocking for you, but that’s the beauty of the game. Real football is exactly like that, so this game feels much more realistic as a result of the new camera changes.

Another innovation that the game includes this time around is a momentum meter. Showcased as a colored bar behind your team’s name on the scoreboard, it indicates how well your team is playing at the moment, as well as your opponents. The more good plays you do, the higher it goes, but if you turn the ball over or do something that is not good for the momentum of the team, your meter goes down and your chances of doing more devastating things like turnovers and incomplete passes improve tenfold.

Think of it like the player momentum added to the previous versions of the series, only focused on the whole team this time. Momentum meter is a good thing, but it does have its faults as well. The glaring flaw about this is the fact that sometimes you just can’t control when you fumble, and when you do fumble, the other team suddenly gets pumped up and starts getting better. This is unfair to the player sometimes, but there are always ways to stop the momentum from gaining even more if you are a good enough player. Another flaw is the fact that momentum is helped immensely by home field advantage, meaning the road team has more stuff than ever to overcome. It does make the game more realistic, however.

The last new features to be included in NCAA Football 2007’s main gameplay are defensive hot routes and offensive line controls. In previous versions, you could control a defensive lineman and get a good start, but now the game tells you when you get a great or late jump, making it easier to practice. Defensive hot routes are a long awaited feature that allow you to control each defensive player individually and change their routes, like the playmaker feature in Madden. Finally, offensive line controls allow you to shift the offensive line left or right, as well as packing them in tight or spreading them out. It’s about time!

The on field gameplay itself is just as fun and effective as ever. One of the great things I love about the NCAA Football series is the passion and unpredictability that NCAA Football brings every week, and this game illustrates that perfectly. Nothing is more rewarding than leading a Division IAA school over a powerhouse like USC or Notre Dame, I assure you.

The playbooks are much improved this year, especially on defense. In every other game in the series, every team shared the same basic defensive formations. This made no sense, since no team ever used every defensive formation, and some teams have wildly different formations than others. Now, each team has their own formations, and variations of each formation. Maryland, for instance, has about 3 or 4 variations of the 3-4 base defense, while West Virginia loves their 3-3-5 variations. Offensively, team playbooks are more realistic than last year, and provide more plays. Many teams return the same plays and books from last year, so if you got used to last year, you won’t have much to worry about.

Impact players make their return, although fortunately they are a little toned down from last year. These are basically players that are designated with a flashing gray circle under them, and they’re the best players on the team. They can do all sorts of nonsensical stuff that normal players will rarely do, although like I said before, it is definitely a good idea that these players were toned down quite a bit from last year, where Reggie Bush was practically superman.

Also making their return are the campus challenge and pennants. I have always loved these features. Unfortunately, there’s no new campus challenges to overcome, but the ones that are there are still as fun and challenging as always. Basically, campus challenge is a feature where during a game, you can do various tasks and get points for doing it. One such example is having a player rush for 150 and catch for 150 yards in the same game. You get more points for doing these challenges on higher difficulty levels.

Completing these challenges gets you points, which allow you to unlock the various pennants. There are a ton of pennants to get, and it will take you many hours to get them all. You can use these pennants during a game to give you advantages. There’s everything from team pennants which make certain teams stronger for one game, to cheat pennants, which help you with various things like forced fumbles, better arm strength, etc.

On the field, the game plays a lot like every other version of the PS2 series, so don’t expect too many innovations here. That makes the game just as solid as always, however. Trick plays have been added, meaning more opportunities for big plays. Unfortunately, trick plays and other big plays happen way too often, and defenses sometimes are just helpless when the other team has momentum.

Passing the ball and running the ball remain easy as ever. Passing fortunately does not include Madden’s lame ass “vision cone” failure they tried in 06, so all you have to do is snap the ball and press the button of the corresponding receivers to throw it to them. Running the ball has never been more realistic. You just can’t hold down X and bust through the offensive line any more. This leads to more fumbles and easier tackles for the defense. Instead, you have to focus more on cuts, patience, and holding onto the football with triangle. I loved this.

Defensively, the game plays far looser than NCAA 2005 and just as tight and realistic as last year. Defensive players are no longer super human highlight reels on almost every play, and you now really have to mix up your defensive formations and plays, especially with the addition of the aforementioned hot routes. You will get killed by some offenses in this game if you allow yourself to play like you did in, say, NCAA Football 2004.

Fortunately, controlling everything is a dream, and you will have no problems with the controls in this game. Most pre shift options are available at the push of a button, and helpful new help menus on some pre shift options really benefit the new players out there. It’s easy to pass, it’s easy to get the hang of running, and playing defense is easy to control as well. The only negative thing I found about the controls was the fact you could only use one button to switch between your controlled defensive player now, instead of two. This made navigating between players harder and sometimes impossible to get to the player you want before the other team snaps the ball, but it’s not the worst feature in the world and something I eventually got used to.

The game has all the basic modes you’ve come to expect and love. Exhibitions, online play, dynasty, it’s all here and just as great as ever. Don’t expect too many feature changes from last year when it comes to the same basic modes. Dynasty is pretty much cut and paste from last year, but it’s still awesome. The basic game modes are all here. The minor additions include new spring practice drills, which are fun and a nice diversion, but nothing too major.

The major “improvement” was the removal of the race for the heisman mode, replaced with a campus legend mode. This mode is pretty in depth, as you create a player and lead him throughout an entire career in an attempt to make him a legend. You can even import him into Madden 2007, I hear. This mode is a great diversion when you’re bored of running an entire team as a head coach, but I don’t think it’s too much of an improvement over the awesome heisman mode from last year.

I don’t understand why people think this game is not that good looking. I think it’s one of the better looking games on the console, and certainly the best one in the entire series. The player models are very well designed, with nice details in the uniform and helmets. Sure, the facial models are unremarkably plain, but that has more to do with NCAA regulations than anything else. The stadiums look remarkable, especially when they’re first zoomed into the start of the game. The attention to detail is evident throughout this inspired and well looking football game.

The removal of the EA Tracks from last year’s title does not bother me all that much, as a lot of the songs are certainly hit or miss and it’s almost impossible to make a soundtrack that everyone will enjoy. There are certainly few complaints about EA returning to the classic college football fights songs, and for good reason. The commentary is just as lame sounding as ever, as Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, and Brad Nessler provide some of the most perplexing and unoriginal comments ever. They even have the same stupid “jokes” as in previous years, although fortunately toned down a lot.

The game does have one major flaw that needs to be addressed. EA loves to go over the top sometimes, and their “Impact Camera” idea is certainly a prime example of this. Sometimes, during a play, the camera will go into slow motion, Matrix-like simulation, with the play being zoomed into and slowly being unleashed. If there’s a fumble, you’ll see it SLOWLY come out, almost to the point that it’s really hard to tell that it actually happened. The worst part? You can’t even turn off this lame ass feature. This is unforgivable and I hope they improve it for next year.

Fortunately, this won’t keep you from replaying NCAA Football 2007 for months on end, especially if you’re a college nut like me. Online play remains addictive as ever, and if you get bored of that, you can play in a dynasty, try out new playbooks, try to unlock every campus challenge reward and pennant, try to create a campus legend, and more. I played each previous PS2 installment since 2004 all year around, and I think it’s safe to say this will be my most replayed game of the year as well.

The AI really hasn’t quite caught up to the rest of the game yet, but it’s getting there. The momentum meter seems like a NFL Blitz-like way for the game to cheat into getting back into the game, but it certainly makes the game more challenging. Throwing and running are a little bit more challenging, unless you try deep bombs, which almost always work on the lower difficulty levels. The best way to get challenged in this game is to play it on Heisman difficulty with all the sliders turned up, or playing online against some of the better players out there.

I can’t really heap enough praise on this game, which reaffirms my love for the series and is the best title for it since the amazing 2004 edition. After two disappointing yet solid campaigns, EA Sports busts out all the stops and has created one of the most innovative and encouraging sports titles to hit the market in years. Hopefully, they will continue improving the product and one day we will be playing the perfect NCAA Football title.

Until then, EA is well on its way to creating its own legend.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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