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NCAA Football 14 Xbox 360 Review

EA’s summer releases have become something of a tradition. Beginning with the early Spring release of a Tiger Woods game, summertime promises college football lovers a short time until their teams compete again with the yearly release of an NCAA Football game. Like clockwork, we now have this year’s iteration on our hands, and the end product fits right into the company’s seasonal pattern. Don’t expect a massive shift towards an entirely new experience, but NCAA Football 14 contains enough improvements to easily deserve the excitement specially known to college football fanatics.

For the most part, you’ll be familiar with the types of game-modes in NCAA Football 14. Dynasty, Ultimate Team, and Road to Glory are still as enjoyable as ever, and you’ll find that the gameplay has substantially improved from last year’s edition. Regardless if you’re playing online or offline, the graphics and player animations appear vastly improved; you might not even notice the details in the grass as it reacts to the weather, but a quick glance at replay shows that there’s far more eye-candy than ever. Looking at your team reveals the same story, as players and coaches react more realistically than ever.

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That new realism comes courtesy of EA’s Infinity Engine, which was first introduced in last year’s edition of Madden. Rare glitches aside, the engine works phenomenally well – playing as a mid-major against a superpower like Alabama or LSU becomes truly intimidating when you see the overwhelming physicality those teams bring to each matchup. Every play accounts for various factors like player size, skill level, speed, body positioning, and others to realistically determine how every player will respond. It’s a massive leap for the series, and it’s certainly welcome. However, the occasional glitch still defies the system’s careful parameters; at one point during a bowl game, I found my defense struggling over a series of three plays against a 5’6” running back, who suddenly developed a penchant for running over my 300 pound linemen and gaining six to eight yards after contact per play. Once he was finally stopped, the glitch didn’t appear again and that same running back lost yards the next time he touched the ball. It’s rare, but those glitches hinder an otherwise welcome shift to the NCAA formula.

Beyond the new engine, Dynasty mode has received perhaps the most attention and changes, for better or worse. You’ll notice that recruiting has been streamlined into a points system that allocates a certain number as you attempt to gain new athletes for your team. Your coaches and coordinators can even partake in this new system, as points and bonuses can be earned based upon on-field actions and decisions. With this new system, however, comes a small sacrifice of complexity; though the phone-call system of previous games wasn’t intricate, the sense of reward is missing when you use points to recruit in NCAA 14.

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The game misses the balance between a system that mirrors the demands placed upon a college coach and the freedom offered in videogames, and more improvement in the recruiting area could have helped lengthen the appeal of Dynasty mode. As it stands, the mode is more enjoyable this year, but that sense of stealing a recruit at the last possible moment – a rarity even in last year’s version – is gone. Hopefully, next year’s version can enhance this area even further; the college recruiting process is unique in sports, and trying to mirror it will only help future versions of NCAA capture that frenetic experience.

Regardless, there are numerous improvements that help make the game feel its own. You’ll notice the improvements to pre-game coverage and camera angles immediately, as well as the ability to turn off the Reaction Time ability, a much-needed change since that option felt overpowered in NCAA 13. You’re no longer forced to use it, and the result is a game experience that feels less like an arcade simulation and back to a realistic simulation. The other major addition is the inclusion of Ultimate Team mode, where you’ll try to unlock player trading cards and use them to unlock your personal college dream team. The mode rewards finishing games with a new pack of cards after every victory, so you might find it an addictive reason to play. The problem with it, however, is that it’s online-only, meaning that no connectivity can ruin any hope of using these players otherwise. It’s a minor qualm, but one that frankly shouldn’t exist at all.

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Though NCAA Football 14 isn’t the ground-breaking experience we might have expected, the inclusion of the new game engine and numerous changes to the game more than merit a play-through. Still, though future versions will more than likely be released on current and next generation consoles, you get the feeling that this is the best the 360 and PS3 will see. NCAA Football 14 is the benchmark for college sports games this generation, and here’s hoping the Xbox One and PS4 versions continue to improve the formula in ways we can only imagine.

8 out of 10