NCAA Football 14 Review
Diligent recruiting is the precursor to success on the field. Well, that and a little luck. However, as much effort as NCAA 14 puts into building up its program, it doesn't all translate on game day. The development team worked on additions on both sides of the ball, but I found the on-the-field experience less rewarding than the recruiting portion
NCAA uses a revamped version of the Infinity Engine from Madden NFL 13, and while some of the post-play pratfalls and more outrageous moments have been cleaned up, you still see inconsistent collision results between players and a lack of smoothness. The new interplay between the ball carrier and his blockers is a step up, but there are times when you are guided around them and others when there's nothing you can do to get around them.
Layer on top AI that exposes itself, and you have a game that is caught in a bad place; it neither fixes the problems from the past nor successfully implements new concepts. For instance, run blocking is better in some ways because the edges are sealed on outside running plays and your blockers take assignments on the second level. The problem is, their AI fails them once they get there, making them unable to pick up blockers in the open field. AI indecision can be seen throughout the game, from players being unaware of opponents around them to not being able to locate the ball while it's in the air.
Despite gameplay that can be rough around the edges, I like the way the option and read-option flow. The pre-play icon is helpful but not a gimme, and I didn't have problems with the pitches. Similarly, pulling off the new combo moves with the right analog is fun and easy without being overpowering.
I found refuge in the recruiting, where the elimination of the phone call streamlines the process without robbing it of its strategy. I still feel it's missing a personal touch (not that the phone calls were the perfect embodiment of this), such as being able to change a recruit's mind or make promises, but it's a good step forward. I got involved in the horse race with other teams for recruits, and liked tweaking my points from week to week according to how I was doing. The new coach skills, offseason points, and visit scheduling are perfectly integrated into recruiting as well. I prefer to spend my head coach points on recruiting (versus on-the-field effects), and this helps at certain phases of the process. I like how the timing of when you schedule recruits to visit your campus – including with whom and also taking into account how you played that week – adds a wrinkle to recruiting. These additions, along with school's better understanding of your win-loss record in the context of your contract, make the off-the-field portion more dynamic.
Naturally, you can make any dynasty an online one, which means that all of the game's recruiting nuances are playable with your friends in an online dynasty. You can also create an online dynasty that's comprised of just yourself if you want to use the game's companion browser page which lets you manage your team – including recruiting – online. It must be noted, however, that you can only advance your dynasty's week from the browser if you've bought an EA Sports Season Ticket.
Even with these positives, and a better-late-than-never addition of the Ultimate Team mode, NCAA Football 14 is not a game that shows a series playing at its peak as a console generation ends.