Graphics:
7.5
Gameplay:
8.7
Sound:
8.5
Control:
9.0
Replay Value:
9.1
Overall Rating:
8.8
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated


College football fans dream of July almost as much as they do the first week
of foot ball in September because that's when EA's beloved NCAA series is released to ease
those summertime blues. With no competition anymore, it has been up the guys at
EA Tiburon to come up with ways to keep the series fresh, instead of resting on
their laurels. This year there are some nice additions to the game, namely the
"Home Field Advantage" but the rest of the game suffers from a "been there, done
that" problem, since not much else has changed from last year.

There are a variety of play modes in NCAA 2005, including recreating great
classic games, playing teams that consist of mascots, online, and of course a
practice mode, but true college fans will head straight for the game's dynasty
mode. When you enter dynasty mode, you are asked to select a school, or you can
create a college, which is nice if you go to a small school that doesn't have a
football team. You can then rename your coach, redshirt players and tweak your
schedule before the season begins. You can't change all of your games, since most other
teams have their schedules set, but it's cool to be able to schedule a patsy to
pad your stats or schedule a tough game to hopefully raise your ranking. As your
season concludes, you'll be invited to a bowl game, provided you're bowl
eligible, the Heisman trophy will be awarded, and then after the season you have
to start recruiting.

Not much has changed with recruiting from last year – you still spend points
recruiting players, and it's more expensive to recruit out of state. This year
you can change your budget around and allot more money to recruiting, though
other parts of your program will suffer from a lack of funding. The whole
process tends to be rather tedious and uneventful, and the computer is very slow
at simulating other teams' actions. You'll get the best players if you recruit yourself,
but after a season of doing it on your own, you might just want to let the
computer take the reigns in future years. One of the new things you can do in
recruiting is recruit athletes – people with tremendous
athletic ability, but no real position. You can then train them in the off
season and place them at the position they are best at.

Once you get to the actual gameplay, the first thing you'll notice is the
game's new "Home Field Advantage" (HFA). Since HFA is a huge part of college
football, Tiburon has tried to replicate that feel in this year's game, and for
the most part, they did a really nice job. If you're a visiting team playing in
a hostile stadium, your screen will shake, your controller will vibrate, and
you'll have difficulty calling audibles. As the drive progresses and you get
worse, the crowd yells more and the effects become more pronounced. In addition
to making the game more difficult by altering the visuals, the HFA also changes
player ratings, based on each person's composure ratings. Veteran players won't
get rattled as much, but younger players will drop the football, miss blocking
assignments, and perform poorly overall. It's a really cool addition, and it
will be neat to see how they are able to fine tune it over the next couple
years. Right now, it's not perfect, but it's got tons of potential.

One of the problems that many people have had with NCAA, is that it seems to always be
lagging a little bit behind Madden. For example, last year Madden added slants
to the hot routs, and now this year, NCAA has done the same. If you haven't
played the latest version of Madden, or ESPN NFL 2K5, you might not miss some of
the newer features, but it's a little difficult to go backwards with key
features. Running the ball is
a little bit easier this year, though there are still plenty of times where your
O-line will get blocked backwards into your path, giving you no chance to even
fight back to the line of scrimmage. Passing is extremely difficult this time
around,
with an excessive amount of dropped balls from receivers, and amazingly gifted
leapers at cornerback the two biggest culprits. Sure, dropped balls are part of
the game, but when players routinely drop the softest of passes when they're
wide open, it can be more than a little exasperating.

NCAA boasts a full-featured online mode that's a blast to play. You can chat
with friends, instant message, join tournaments, and best of all, there's an
"even team" mode. Using even teams means that everyone can play their favorite
school and you don't have to play USC 48 times in a row. EA's sports ticker,
which was stolen directly from 989, updates you on all the "real life" games in
progress, so you don't miss out on any of the big games. Some people have
reported difficulty playing online when they already have NCAA 2005 data on
their memory card, but I didn't have this problem. Just be aware that it could
be an issue, and having an extra memory card handy might not hurt.

NCAA 2005's weakest area is its graphics. It's not an ugly game on the same
level as 989's football titles, but again, when compared to Madden or ESPN, it's
an ugly duckling. Though Tiburon added new tackling animations, there are still
many times where players just run into each other and nothing happens, or
blockers will block just by running into another player, not pushing them with
their hands or lowering their shoulders. There's also quite a bit of clipping,
and a lot of it is quite bad, especially during replays and celebrations. The
stadiums are also beginning to look dated, and the crowds, save for the people
that they zoom in one after big plays, are all flat, 2D pixilated blobs. In an ode to first
generation PS2 games, aliasing is a problem, and there's often slowdown,
especially if you play in the widescreen mode.

Of course the game's strongest visuals are still the cheerleaders, the
mascots and the celebrations, and there have been a few more things added this
year to spice things up. You can now create signs for the fans to hold, and
trust me, it
never gets old making signs that describe how your opponent sucks. Since emotion
is such a large part of the game, there have been new celebrations added – not
only for touchdowns, but after big plays as well. Just be careful not to go too
over-the-top as the referee won't have any qualms about calling a fifteen yard
excessive celebration penalty.

Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso are back to provide commentary,
provided the game you are playing is on television. If it's not, you'll get a
generic PA announcer calling out the downs, which is a nice way of creating a
difference between small-time and big-time games. Unfortunately, the commentary
feels exactly the same as it did last year, with no noticeable tweaks or new
sayings being added to the game. The fight songs are great, but it's time to add
some other marching band tunes to the mix. Overall, there's nothing really wrong
with the game's audio, it's just that they've done nothing to improve it.

As usual, NCAA 2005 is the best college football game on the market – of
course there's nobody else competing, but it's a very good game regardless.
Unfortunately, the lack of any direct competition seems to be taking its toll on
the series as each year it feels like it's slipping ever so slightly in quality.
The visuals are due for a major upgrade, and the audio has similar needs. Don't
let these gripes keep you from buying the game if you're interested – it's a ton
of fun to play, and there's lots of great games to be played online.

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