Before this current generation of consoles it always felt like the NCAA Football franchise was a year behind its big brother Madden. However with modes like Road to Glory, a super deep Dynasty Mode, and with the fact that they are comparable on the gridiron, the playing fields have leveled. As we now reach the end of this generation I for one was interested to see what EA had up their sleeves with NCAA Football 14.
Last years big new feature was the Heisman Challenge. In short it was a quasi-career mode where you took past Heisman winners and tried to recreate their award winning season. The mode was not all it was cracked up to be, and it seems as though EA took the feedback and removed the mode from the front menu and made you dig in the Road to Glory mode to find it. Instead NCAA Football 14 primarily puts its focus on the field.
The biggest thing both casual and hardcore fans of the series are going to notice is the changes to the running game. Unlike the NFL which has become a pass first league, college football still focuses on the run game. NCAA Football 14 captures that really well and makes it far more important to pick up your blocks and hit the holes. My first experience in the game was a quick USC v UCLA exhibition where I ran for 200+ yards and only passed for a 150. That’s not my usual style but the game’s updated engine makes it far easier to break out big runs. NCAA Football 14 now allows you to cut on a dime with the analog sticks and that allows a lot more creativity in the run game. In the past I was all about running it straight up the middle but this year breaking it to the outside has some advantages. The new run game also has greatly improved with realistic offensive lines who create opportunities to break off big runs.
The other big change that everyone will notice is the upgrades to the engine, which EA has dubbed “Infinity Engine 2.” In a lot of ways this eliminates some of the weird tackle and animation hiccups that happened quite a bit in past games. However that’s not to say they are all gone. I saw a tendency for plays to end with a player suspended on top of another not hitting the ground for 5-10 seconds. Sure this happens once in a while in real life but it has happened quite a bit in my time with NCAA Football 14. Outside of some minor technicalities the new engine is quite incredible. Tackling is much more of an art form that focuses on a lot more then just timing. You need to make sure you take the right angles and have as much momentum as possible. It took me a few games to get used to the new engine but all the changes feel like a natural progression forward. For non-sports fans these new features will sound like a cash-in but for long-time players of the series this game does have an extra sense of polish that wasn’t there last year. There is a really nice flow to the action on field that I really enjoyed.
The modes this year got a minor upgrade. The Road to Glory mode has gone untouched (which is a shame), and the Dynasty Mode’s only big new feature is the updated recruiting. I messed around with the new recruiting and it is far cleaner then in years past allowing you to allocate points to players your interested in. You get a lump of points, spread them out, and each week see how your recruiting efforts are working. Its a far easier system to understand and I hope they keep it this way going forward. The other new modes include a new Season Mode which just allows you to go through one season of action and the Nike Skills Challenge which is a training/challenge mode to mess around in the new engine.
NCAA Football 14 feels like a great culmination of all the NCAA Football titles this generation. The new engine fixes a lot of the weird problems that occurred in the past few games and allows the running game to take center stage. I for one really enjoyed my time with NCAA Football 14 and find it to be a great swan song for this franchise on this generation of consoles. It makes me even more excited for what’s to come from this franchise next year with new hardware behind it.