Article: http://traditionsportsonline.com/tso-ea-sports-ncaa-football-14-review I liken the NCAA series to my 10 year old Nissan Altima – while terribly unexciting to drive and riddled with minor and annoying issues, I just can’t give it up. After taking my Altima to the shop to get it tricked out, I walk in and see that the car appears to be the same – the scratches have been buffed out and there’s a new coat of wax, but that’s about it. Just as I am about to take a quick look and write the project off as a failure, I pop the hood and find an entirely rebuilt engine. The same can be said with NCAA 14; there have been many subtle, fundamental changes that need to be experienced, rather than seen. With an updated version of Madden’s real time physics engine, NCAA 14 feels like a solid step forward for the franchise, and is very much worthy of your time. Presentation The minute you fire up NCAA 14, you’re presented with an entirely new menu design reminiscent of Windows 8. There’s little to no lag while navigating through the game, even while recruiting in dynasty mode or editing rosters. While these new menus may not be for everyone, I happen to find them incredibly intuitive and aesthetically appealing. If anything, it gives the game a much needed face lift. NCAA 14 also has a brand new musical score that does a fantastic job creating a sophisticated, collegiate atmosphere. The in-game presentation has been given some serious attention as well, including the introduction of a pre-game cinematic, halftime shows, and a plethora of post-play cut scenes. Though the pre-game cinematic is a nice addition, they are repetitive, and I quickly found myself “a-buttoning” right through them. The halftime show is fantastic when it’s accurate, though it can feed you false information from time to time. The post-play cut scenes are perhaps the best addition out of the three, as you’re forced to see them in between plays (which, believe it or not, is a good thing). You’ll see things like defensive players chest bumping after a sack, an offensive lineman picking up his running back after a solid gain on the ground, or a receiver flipping the ball to the referee after making a catch. They are diverse enough not to get tiresome, while bringing a legitimate television broadcast feel to the game. The commentary has some nice additions, too. While playing USC as Notre Dame, I completely shut down star WR Marquise Lee. About halfway through the game, Lee’s stats popped up and the commentary team compared Lee to a shooter in basketball – feed him the ball a few times and let him get hot. In dynasty mode, I broke a record with my QB, and Herbie and Nessler noted it at the start of the next game. They will also highlight any player you have in dynasty mode that is leading the conference in a given statistical category, though so far I’ve only seen it for passing yards and rushing yards. Lastly, in dynasty mode they give a special shout out to the seniors on your team in your final home game. There are a few new camera angles in the game, most notably “zoom” and “coordinator”. While zoom gives you an awesome up close and personal perspective, the lack of depth perception makes it extremely difficult to use. Conversely, coordinator cam gives you a terrific vantage point, though one can’t help but feel a bit too disconnected from the action. One nice aesthetic addition is the uniform degradation that takes place during inclement weather. A view from the all new coordinator camera angle. While EA’s attempt at a presentation overhaul are noticeable, you can’t help but conclude they only got halfway there. Stadium crowds continue to be soulless; juxtaposed to these other presentation improvements, it makes this even more noticeable and aggravating. While crowds occasionally elevate their cheering during a big play, it’s inconsistent. Again, this makes the “misses” all the more obvious. In some ways, EA is its worst enemy as far as the presentation is concerned. The same can be said for commentary – all the improvements I’ve already noted are undermined by Herbie’s dreadfully repetitive lines that have been in the game forever: “This might not be the best example, but this receiver’s really gotten better at running his routes”. Furthermore, with such an emphasis on coaching careers this year, why no coach-specific commentary? I’d love to hear about my young up and coming defensive coordinator whose 4-2-5 defense ranks top 10 nationally. Fans worried I might bail for a head coaching gig? Will my school offer me an extension/pay raise to keep me around a bit longer? Am I being groomed to be the heir to an aging Steve Spurrier? With an obvious attention to improving commentary, I can’t help but question why EA ignored talking about the coaches. Gameplay The much anticipated implementation of a refined version of Madden’s real time physics engine doesn’t disappoint. Offensive/Defensive line interaction has improved substantially, and pocket awareness is more important than ever. A disruptive nose tackle will drive centers into the backfield as the pocket collapses, while a strong offensive line tends to keep the pocket intact longer. For the first time in a long time, I truly feel ratings in the trenches are realistically replicated. Gone are the days of two linemen standing upright playing patty cake, it’s now a physical struggle complete with intelligent double team blocking. Run blocking is sensational as well. While there is the occasional missed assignment, the frequency of them seems very much tied to an offensive lineman’s awareness rating. The ability for pulling guards to pick up the right blocker opens up a world of possibilities. For years, several styles of offense were useless due to the fact that the offensive line couldn’t hold up long enough for certain plays to work. In NCAA 14, there is no offensive play that can’t be successful against the right defense. This alone is a total game changer, and makes me feel as if NCAA 14 is a solid step forward from every Gen3 iteration. Different types of running backs have distinct playstyles and feels in NCAA 14. Carlos Hyde, a big, bruising back from Ohio State, will power through the gap and take full advantage of a new force impact system to deliver devastating blows to smaller linebackers and defensive backs. Meanwhile, a scat back like Oregon’s DeAnthony Thomas will take advantage of his small stature and excellent agility to slip by and around blockers to get to the next level. The run blocking is so good, however, it just may be a bit overpowered out of the box. Coupled with improved downfield blocking, getting to the second and third level is simply too easy. Foot-planting is another new feature in NCAA 14, and is arguably the most important. The ability to make cuts with the left stick is not only fun, but brings an entirely different feel to the running game. With good downfield blocking, the improved cutting ability enables one to get creative with cut backs once they hit the second level. I’ve seen incredible plays develop as a result of these two features coming together, and it makes for a much more organic experience when in the open field or stuck behind a pile of offensive lineman. The new stumble mechanic also makes the running game feel more organic, and thus far has proven to be much less of a gimmick than many thought it would be. My fear with the stumble mechanic was that it would be triggered too often and that it would be too easy to pull off. Neither of these seem to be the case, thankfully. The new foot planting mechanic changes the way you’ll run the ball. The defensive side of the ball got some love this year as well. Most markedly, safety play is considerably upgraded from last year. With improved play recognition and zone coverage, the seam route isn’t quite as automatic as it was last year, though I’d argue it’s still a bit too easy. Defensive players are now equipped with a new targeting system, which enables users to hold the “x” button and lock in on a potential ball carry to tackle him. While for the most part I enjoy this new feature, it results in some all too automatic dive tackles that are much harder to pull off in real life. 2 man under and press man seem to be less overpowered this year, which is very welcomed. It’s easier to beat man coverage, and as such I no longer expect opponents to call such an unrealistically high percentage of man coverage plays. Off man coverage (i.e. cover one) is still pretty useless, however. I’ve yet to find it to be successful against routes it should be: curls, comebacks, and posts. Also, there is also no stopping the out route in man this year, again. While traditionally a man beater, a good cover corner should shut down the out route against a lesser-rated WR, particularly in man under or press man. The physics engine itself, though greatly improved over Madden 13’s version, still has some wonky moments. Though the majority of animations look pretty good, your ball carrier ends up with his back on top of the defender but not yet down all too often. Additionally, that hit stick animation where the defender pushes the ball carrier back 5 yards is still in the game, much to my dismay. CPU play calling was a huge issue last year, as they were all too reliant on draws and screens. While the screen/draw issue has been resolved, the CPU now calls the “stick” play at an alarming frequency. Moreover, there is a pretty glaring glitch that results the CPU defense calling the same play while a user is in the no huddle offense. Hopefully these problems can be addressed via a patch. Career modes Road to Glory didn’t receive any attention this cycle, but the improvements to dynasty mode more than compensate for it. Recruiting is the life blood of every program; in NCAA 14, expect that process to be more realistically replicated than ever. Gone are the tedious phone calls, as you are now are designated a number of points you can allocate to scout and recruit for up to 35 players on your board. Bonuses are given for pipelines and how well your dynamic pitches align with a prospect’s top three most important pitches. Additionally, a player can lock you out of contention if you fall behind a certain number of points. Most importantly, for the first time in the series’ history, a prospects initial list of top schools is a direct reflection of his pitch preference. For instance, I saw a 4* 77 overall DE from Houston, Texas with the following top three pitch preferences: proximity to home, academic prestige, and playing time. His number one school?…Rice University, a Houston-based, top tier academic school with little to no depth at defensive end. Because of the way the bonuses play themselves out, Rice had a distinct advantage over every other school in the country. You must pay close attention to your bonuses relative to other schools. While higher ranked coaches can designate more points to a specific recruit than a lower ranked coach, there’s no guarantee that they will – making a small school like Rice in play for the right type of student-athlete. This system further differentiates schools from one another, as well as prospects from one another. I can’t overstate how huge of an addition this is, as recruiting is now more dynamic and realistic than ever. I will say, however, I think the new system plays into the hands of smaller schools like Rice a bit more than it should. Just because his preferences align more with Rice doesn’t mean that the opportunity to play at BCS level academic institutions like Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, or Stanford wouldn’t make him think twice about Rice. A potential solution would be to further differentiate a prospect’s top three pitches – meaning academics, proximity to home, or playing time would be even more important than the other two than it already is. The new system is also more streamlined and easier to navigate, while having little to no lag bogging you down. After every week, an info bar pops up that alerts you to relevant information about a prospect on your board and your recruitment of him. As always, you can set the computer to recruit for you, though they don’t seem to use all your allotted points, which is a bit curious. The introduction of an RPG style “skill tree” enables coaches to level up (at various speeds given the setting) and accumulate points for bonuses. For head coaches, there are two types of level up trees: the game management tree and the recruiting tree, which unlock skills like the ability to see a WR/DB matchup and improved scouting. Offensive and defensive coordinators are equipped with their own leveling system, and those points transfer over if ever you become a head coach. The RPG style skill tree makes the coaching world far more dynamic. While some may find the system gimmicky, I find that it does for coaching what the new recruiting system does for recruiting – further differentiates one coach from another, making the whole coaching landscape more dynamic. The obvious concern is the stacking of one tree, particularly the recruiting tree. Seeing as the CPU will tend to balance their trees out more realistically, users can overpower one facet of their game and overwhelm the CPU in that area. Needless to say, some house rules to balance the two trees may be a necessity. As good as all of these additions are, there are some lingering issues with dynasty mode that continue to limit its potential. Progression doesn’t seem to be dynamic at all; I ran three separate sims with Tulane monitoring the progression of my quarterbacks. Though results varied greatly, as did my depth chart, the in-season and offseason progression was the exact same. Also, draft declaration logic is completely broken. Every single season one sim I’ve done has Jadeveon Clowney, Marquise Lee, Luis Nix, and many other top juniors returning for their senior seasons. Meanwhile, an array of 85-90 overall juniors declare for later rounds, and are entirely too easy to sway into returning to school. Transfers still seem to be impossible to convince to stay. The recruiting pool has clearly been tinkered with, and the results are welcomed. There simply seems to be more types of players in the pool, as opposed to seeing that old 5’8 184 lb 5* halfback with A speed A acc and D carry. He’s still in there, but so is the occasional Adrian Peterson or Tim Tebow – freak athletes that EA never seemed account for. Unfortunately, there are still some weird things going on atop the prospect rankings: the top 20 is still dominated by ATH, WR, and HB, and there are too many small, slow players whose physical limitations would never warrant a high ranking in real life (even if they are polished). The coaching carousel is back but appears to be chiefly the same. Firing/hiring logic definitely needs some work, as I’ve seen Penn State’s Bill O’Brien fired almost every sim for failing to have a winning record. Coach prestige, the only determinant in the hiring process, is still way too easy to upgrade. In just two years as the Tulane offensive coordinator, I was offered the head coaching position at Cal and North Carolina. In reality, it takes a coach years to build up that type of reputation, and generally requires being a coordinator at a high level or being a head coach. The result of this is many head coaches with very few skill points taking on high level positions, which is a recipe for disaster. I would like to see coaching skill points play a role in the hiring process, enabling us to customize how quickly we want this process to go. The Verdict NCAA Football 14 delivers a deeply immersive experience both on and off the field. The new gameplay mechanics coincide nicely with the RTP engine, while the enhancements to dynasty mode will keep the most seasonal of users playing for months. Though the presentation still has a long way to go, this is simply the best NCAA football game since NCAA 06. If you’re a fan of the series or just a fan of NCAA football in general, you’d be remiss not to give this one a shot. Just have patience, and know most of the improvements are more subtle than many might be accustomed to. Hits + Implementation of the real time physics engine gives the game an entirely new feel. + Foot planting is very well executed. + Streamlined recruiting system is very deep and rewarding. + Coaching tree brings some much needed differentiation amongst coaches. Misses - Crowd feels lifeless. - Commentary is bland and repetitive. - Coaching carousel is largely untouched. - Road to Glory got little to no attention.