Normally, when we preview football games these days, we’re only looking for features that can be considered significant additions or enhancements to the previous year’s entry. However, in doing initial research for NCAA Football 09 , it became abundantly clear that EA Sports is about to implement a major change that goes beyond extra depth or more animations. We’re fully aware of all you football geniuses who require the deepest and most intricate simulation possible, but we know there are plenty of casual football fans out there who want something more accessible. They probably want an experience that’s richer and more rewarding than a game like Blitz , but they also don’t feel like spending a few hours just trying to get accustomed to the controls of a football game. Evidently, EA has recognized this large group of gamers as well, and they’re finally producing a simulator that has a distinct “pick-up-and-play” quality. You can expect realistic momentum physics, spruced-up graphics, and certain gameplay modes that will satisfy any hardcore fan, but the casuals have a place here, too.
Don’t believe us? Well, say hello to the most important part of this preview and the most intriguing addition to this year’s NCAA Football installment: Family Play. No crazy analog and shoulder button combinations to control complicated plays; instead, beginners can get their feet wet by simply pressing a few face buttons. Helpful hints will pop up along the way to assist you in the learning process, and all options remain open to you during play. If you’ve had enough of Family Play and want to graduate to the more advanced control mechanics that basically require the use of the entire gamepad, feel free to do so: you can turn off Family Play at any time. EA will make everything easier when it comes to play-calling, too. By now, most sports fans are used to the computer choosing “recommended” plays (it’s now common in the Madden franchise; the default choice was always Madden’s pick). But while we do get the recommended plays in this one, you can opt to choose your own play without any risk of piling up a bunch of game delay penalties.
If you’re one of those guys who likes to catch a game on Sunday every now and then but doesn’t stick to SportsCenter at all hours of the night for in-depth analysis, there’s more good news. Don’t even know what a “package” is? That’s cool; you don’t really need to know. With the new easy-to-access mechanics in NCAA Football 09 , you can simply pick a passing play, point in the direction of your desired receiver with the left analog stick, and press X. It’s that simple. And again, if you play for a while and want to ramp it up a notch, feel free to do so. As we understand it, the new gameplay style that will appeal to the casual gamers doesn’t replace the advanced controls that’ll appeal to the hardcore; it merely complements it. It’s like an introductory phase, but you can turn it on and off at will. Given all this, we’re assuming EA will advertise this new change to garner the attention of casual pigskin fans, primarily because most casual fans don’t like simulators…and they equate this franchise with that very word. It’s clear to us that EA wishes to cater to a wider demographic this year.
But of course, it doesn’t end there. They’re working to upgrade other aspects of the game, and that includes new combo moves that let players execute smoother and more realistic evasion maneuvers (spin, juke, etc). You can even chain these moves together – yes, we’re still talking about a football game, not a fighter – to make a defender’s life a living hell, but obviously, this is going to take some practice. The Dynasty mode will be better than ever as well, because players will now be able to effectively combat the challenge of playing on the road. You can actually see opponent’s playbooks and work on your impending match-ups by practicing 10 specialized plays (5 running and 5 passing), and if you’re successful during the game, you can quell crowd noise. The crowd can easily give the other team the edge, especially in the sport of college football, but if you don’t give ‘em much to yell about, a road trip isn’t so intimidating. You’ll also get to toy around with a brand new Mascot Challenge, which lets you work your way up from the lowly Junior Varsity level; you’ll work on every aspect of the game, allowing you to become an all-around player. If you’ve got the patience and ambition, there’s no doubt this game will deliver the goods.
NCAA Football 09 should also boast the now-requisite set of annual upgrades: revamped graphics and sound, better overall gameplay physics and a spiffier presentation. But it’s the Family Play and new accessibility factor that interests us, because it’s going to interest a lot more gamers out there. Not everybody can name the entire starting 11 for the Buckeyes in 2008. Not everyone watching a college football game is screaming at the TV, wondering why that idiot coach would use such a ridiculous package against a 6-man front. Some people like the game, would like to play a video football game, but don’t want it to be a classroom process. EA is acknowledging you this year, so be thankful!