Saturday, November 14, 2009

360 review: NCAA Football 10 (3/10)

So the "new" version of NCAA Football is out. I bought it because I'm a fool. As is typical of older EA franchises, there are about three new features in the game, a bunch of small new crap that nobody seems, and hundreds of bugs, most of which have been in the game for years and years.

New features? Well, one interesting one is an online/offline hybrid called Season Showdown. You register with the online site, pick a school, and then each week, you help your school win its matchup with its real-life opponent.

Each team's representatives compete in five categories: offline play against CPU, online play in general, online play against the current opponent, rivals voting, and trivia (a 10-question online trivia game, high score for each player counts toward the team total). One point per category you win, winner of most categories gets the win. For the voting, you can vote for up to five schools per day, including your own if you desire.

During NCAA 10 games, you get points for plays you make yourself (catches, big plays, tackles, etc.), and you get bonus points for underdog wins, classic games, and even strategy (see below) and sportsmanship (punting on 4th down). "Poor" sportsmanship can cost you points, although it's kind of silly in some cases: for example, passing at all with a big lead costs you points. whatever.

Strategy is another new aspect. Now, when you execute certain plays, you're setting up others, similar to how it happens in real life. These plays are indicated in your playbook with a percentage of setup; if you succeed enough with the right plays, you'll get another play completely set up and it will glow. Call that play and you get bonus Season Showdown points. I don't know if it's also easier to run or what. The "instruction" guide suggests that it is more likely to work, but it should be anyway, right?

What else? Well, video clips of Erin Andrews talking about your Road to Glory athlete. Nice, but there's a limited collection of them (obvious because they're actual video and not digitized). And, um, that's it. Well, you get to "look around your room" in RtG mode, which is pretty dumb considering that left-to-right also is supposed to be used for menu navigation, but like with a lot of other things, EA screwed that up.

Bugs/design flaws from last year and before? Where to begin ... how about Road to Glory mode?
  • The coaching AI is terrible: running the option inside your own 5 or on back-to-back plays when it was stopped, calling three- and four-deep zone defenses when down 21 or more late in the fourth, etc. etc.
  • The point system is not only skewed toward defense, but you frequently get points in practice for things you don't do.
  • The depth chart is based solely on overall rating, but preseason all-conference and all-American teams aren't. One season, I was first-string All-American in preseason and wasn't even a starter on my own team.
  • You get rating boosts for good practice sessions, but only until you're a starter. After that, no. Why? Who knows? So you develop faster if you're not a first-team player.
  • Intercepting a pitch in practice gets you no points at all: not for an interception, not for a fumble forced or recovered, not for a tackle, nothing.
  • You only get tackle points if you are the last one in on the tackle, so you can end up with something ridiculous like 7 credited tackles but 13 tackles in the box score. This sucks in practice.
  • Pass deflections don't count toward your career stats, which is kind of awkward if you're a defensive back.
  • The camera angles used are frequently terrible. For example, on any kind of kick play, the camera is a high sideline camera. Good luck figuring out how to block a kick or block on a fake. What's worse is that the camera in live action will spin around as the ball goes past you, which would make sense except that it's a third-person camera and so there's no reason to have it be so disorienting ... especially considering that at times, when the computer pretends to snap the ball, the camera will twist toward the sideline. Basically, this means you'll never catch someone who runs right past you. Sometimes, when you're in pass coverage or in a pattern, you'll actually be off the screen. I wonder if they even let the testers play RtG mode.
  • Your high school isn't referred to properly. If you enter your high school name, that's the only thing they use. This works for about one high school in 50. They should use the whole thing.
  • Of course, this could be avoided if they used real high schools, which, of course, they could. All they have to do is round up high school standings from the year before. Not hard. I mean, WIS has every high school in America in their database. EA could figure out how to get the ones that play football. If they cared.

Next: the game as a whole. Again, these are returning bugs/flaws.
  • Tackling a player so he goes out of bounds gets you nothing. No credit for a tackle, nothing.
  • There's nothing that tracks your best practice efforts, which I suppose is just as well given the flaws with practice.
  • There are no I-AA teams in the game, which means that a whole bunch of teams play these made-up logos: Cobras, Rhinos, etc. What is this, Baseball Stars? Take Erin out and put in real teams.
  • AI players chain moves together like crazy. If you try the same thing, you get tackled every time.
  • AI defensive players jump the snap all the time and are never offside.
  • In certain defensive formations/against certain plays, the AI covers the wrong man, which means that not only do you have to recognize this, you have to figure out who the jerk was supposed to cover and run like hell to get to him before the QB figures it out.
  • Kick and punt return teams only block for the AI, but will happily stand around and watch while you get crushed, fumble, and lose the ball.
  • The play selection screen forces you into Corso Mode on fourth down, which is particularly a problem when you are in hurry-up mode late in the game.
  • Offensive linemen still carry large electromagnets in their arms which activate when the ball is snapped. Even if you're going the other direction, if they get close enough to you, you're locked into position and can't break away. Naturally, this does not apply if you're blocking them.
  • The AI insists on moving you forward at the snap, even if you've taken control of your player by moving him a bit. Combine this with the magnetic lock-on blockers and you have real problems on defense.
  • Pre-snap movement borders on absurdity. It's simply an excuse to move your player out of position before the ball is snapped. Again, this doesn't happen when they're on defense.
  • When you're on defense and the other team is in hurry-up mode, you can't sprint to the line because you are crouching down. Why? Because you're focused on the ball that isn't set yet. Nice.
  • There are barely any penalties in the game, and I mean that two ways: penalties are rarely called and there are very few of them that can be called, which is a good thing, because I doubt they'd be programmed properly.

Okay, now the new bugs.
  • Sometimes Erin and Kirk Herbstreit will talk about you as Player of the Game even when you aren't.
  • One year, the Heisman was awarded to the player who finished second in the balloting. No, that player wasn't from Notre Dame.
  • Postseason practice is messed up: when you finish one session, it doesn't advance to the next day or to the bowl games that day. The only way to do it is to advance to the next practice, and that's not available on Friday, even if your week of practice didn't start Monday.
  • Defensive players have had their speeds boosted because ... because ... I don't know. Because EA sucks.

Overall, the lack of improvement the programmers were allowed to put into this game is shocking. It's not like they don't know about this stuff: there's actually a thread on their forums where you're asked to report bugs. So the only thing I figure is that of the time the team spends on this game (and remember, they've probably been programming for 52 weeks straight across all games: EA is notorious for overworking its programmers), about 20% is allocated toward fixing bugs, and that includes bugs from the new features that are forced into the game. Playtesting? Whatever the testers report is probably thrown out the window by management. I mean, who the hell could possibly sit through some of this stuff and allow it to go out the door, other than a clueless manager?

Screw release dates. Next year, take the time to get it right. Better yet, stop adding crap we don't need (like other "pressure" crap; give me a break, shaking my controller just runs down the batteries, it doesn't replicate the feeling of playing in Michigan Stadium or Neyland Stadium or wherever in front of 100,000 hostile fans) and spend one year just fixing bugs.

If you've never bought or played an NCAA game before, yeah, I guess you can pick this one up. Otherwise, rent it from GameFly or just stay away. Next year's game won't be much different.

zlionsfan's rating: a disappointing three first downs out of ten.

More bugs/design flaws I've uncovered:
If a penalty is called on the defense on an extra point (perhaps only on personal fouls), the point counts and the offense gets the ball again. In this case, it was a 15-yard penalty, so the offense got the ball at the 17. This bug has been around for years, and frankly it's a deal-breaker. When it happens, I restart the game.

Reviews are rarely initiated by the booth (have these people ever seen a real NCAA game?) and always result in a reversal. Granted, the plays they do review generally seem to warrant a reversal, but a) it isn't the "realism" they appear to be shooting for and b) it's always a tipoff that you'll lose the ball. (It seems the majority of the reviews come when you've forced what you think is a turnover.)

Extra points are called "field goals". Incorrect. They are both place kicks ... if you must use a generic name, then the formation is "place kick", but honestly you should be using specific names. After a TD, it's the Extra Point formation. Other than that, it's the Field Goal formation.

Play suggestion on fourth downs is abysmal. It's not uncommon for Corso to suggest a fake punt on 4th and 15 or more inside your own 30 ... even running out of a fake punt formation.

The field announcer sounds almost happy to announce touchdowns for the other team; presumably this is because he's trying to remain neutral, but then that's the exact opposite of what you'd expect. If my announcer called a touchdown for our rival on our home field like that, I'd fire him on the spot.

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