NCAA Football 14 review: graduating class

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3
Publisher EA Sports
Developer EA Tiburon
Release Date 2013-07-09

NCAA Football 14 is like Thanksgiving.

Like that American holiday, EA Sports' college football series is an annual tradition, defined by small tweaks, changes in personnel and violent outbursts of varying degrees. Also, and this may vary by the person, but pie only adds to each experience.

The newest iteration of EA Tiburon's venerable college football game, NCAA Football 14 quickly evolves from a basic college football game into a hybrid title featuring traditional on-field sports gaming and interactive RPG elements. And that evolution nudges the series a number of cool steps forward.

NCAA 14 sees Tiburon step up to the challenges presented by previous games

On the field, the changes are a net positive, notably with offensive gameplay. EA and Tiburon have struggled for a long time to keep up with the real-world adaptation and experimentation of offensive and defensive strategy. Recent NCAA releases have been held back by difficulty integrating the mechanics of things like the read and triple option.

In NCAA Football 14, that challenge has been met. Creative offenses centered around reading defenders before making a decision about handing off or pitching the ball are more quickly executed than ever, aided by an indicator pointing to which defensive player's movement should be judged. Essentially, there's an extra beat to stare down the read man and make that decision, so everything feels more fluid.

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Aside from this small but important tactical change, the way players move and react on the field has been improved. The timing and sensitivity of running, jumping and colliding is now belatedly on par with EA's Madden series. This takes some getting used to, especially on defense, where closing angles for tackling has become that much more important. Offensively, teams relying on speed like Oregon or Texas A&M made me feel like I had stumbled upon a secret cheat code — in a good way — with how springy and loose the change of direction felt.

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I still have some quibbles. Tackling seems to be more difficult, and success seems more arbitrary; leading receivers in the passing game is improved, but pass catchers still seem to lack the ability to break off of routes when situations break down. But the game plays better than it ever has. More than ever, NCAA Football 14 feels intuitive; I was able to develop a rhythm and become good at all facets of the game, no matter if I was on offense or defense.

The game's presentation has been cleaned up as well, with much better, revamped menus. The ESPN broadcast talent is still there to guide you through generic pre- and in-game action. Sequences highlighting pre-game traditions are as thorough as ever, and EA does everything it can via tutorials to help you become the advanced, immersed college football gamer that the game pretty much demands. The reward is clear — playing the game with the ability to shift blocking schemes or coverages is entirely more fun than simply running plays, but it takes a healthy amount of time and energy to catch on to patterns and notice tendencies.

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For more casual players, the "Play the 2013 Season" option offers a convenient bridge between playing single games on or offline than the more granular Dynasty and Road to Glory modes. It allows you to dip your toes in the water of seeing your team through a schedule without fully jumping into the meticulous crafting of a dynasty.

The baby steps are appreciated if not necessary before diving into NCAA's more simulation-heavy modes. NCAA Football 14's Dynasty Mode is as robust as ever, allowing you to build a program from scratch — from recruiting to redshirting to creating players and coaches out of thin air. It's still difficult to penetrate the vagaries of managing an athletic program, but recruiting has at least been simplified. It's easier to hone in on specifics, letting you move on to important things like earning points that boost how well you call plays and how smoothly you convince pixelated teenagers to enroll in your university.

Wrap Up:

NCAA Football 14 feels like the culmination of years of college football experience

Ultimately, the competitive joy of NCAA Football 14's mechanics, no matter the mode, was enough to make me want to play more, learn more and read the hell out of some poor defensive end falling for my newly genius play fakes.

NCAA Football 14 feels like the culmination of a long-in-development college football gaming experience. Tiburon has gradually fixed sloppy mechanics that have long plagued the series and streamlined the behind-the-scenes modes. It's no surprise given recent uneven releases, but NCAA Football 14 is the best, most polished entry yet in the series. Pie not included.

NCAA Football 14 was reviewed using a retail copy provided by EA. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

About Polygon's Reviews
8.0 360
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