The NCAA Football franchise has suffered some lean years of late, especially last year’s entry; when the “Infinity Engine” was announced for Madden NFL 13 to introduce physics to its gameplay—a feature NCAA Football 13 would be lacking—fans of college football were left waiting anxiously for this year’s release. With only months remaining before the start of a new console generation, NCAA Football 14 has sounded a triumphant cry to unofficially close the current console generation, delivering arguably the best iteration of the franchise since the launch of the PS3 and Xbox 360.
It all begins with gameplay, which benefits from the implementation of “Infinity Engine 2,” helping to create more unpredictable play results. The game has also seen improvements in the Option run game—including the addition of new schemes and plays—and basic running controls where the left analog stick controls hard cuts and the right analog stick controls special moves. The “Infinity Engine 2” also brings the Hit Stick and the Truck Stick back to prominence, while making the Stiff Arm a viable tool in the offensive arsenal again.
Blocking has been improved as well, with new assignments and interactions between offensive and defensive linemen to freshen up the running experience. There are still instances of missed assignments and frustration, but the frequency of their occurrence is significantly less than previous games.
Dynasty and Online Dynasty modes have seen new additions through the introduction of XP and Coach Skills. Players in the mode earn XP by achieving goals in gameplay and recruiting, allowing them the ability to level up their coaches and unlock new Coach Skills. Coach Skills are broken up into skills which affect the game on the field as well as skills which assist in recruiting.
The tried-and-true (and tired) system of recruiting from previous versions of NCAA Football has been overhauled this year with Power Recruiting. The system simplifies recruiting, eliminating the time-consuming “phone call” mechanic and streamlining menus to allow the same amount of depth in while allowing you to more quickly complete your recruiting responsibilities and get back to the game.
Presentation has seen some upgrades as well, though not all will be fully embraced. The unique “tradition” introductions to the games were judged to be over-long, and have been replaced by “music videos” which use highlights to lead into each game; people who liked seeing what makes each of the 126 schools on-disc unique might be disappointed with the loss of these pre-game sequences. Less polarizing are the additions of new statistical overlays and a better-functioning “Living Clock” from the ESPN scorebug, which helps the NCAA Football 14 experience look and feel more like a broadcast. The addition of a halftime show with highlights and commentary from Rece Davis and David Pollack also helps to spruce up presentation, though the in-game commentary from Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit continues to feel old.
The game introduces the popular EA SPORTS staple, Ultimate Team, through NCAA Football Ultimate Team. It functions similarly to Ultimate Team from other EA SPORTS titles, though it uses cards for current and former NFL players representing their college years. There’s not much here to convince non-fans of Ultimate Team as a mode to commit to NFUT, but Ultimate Team fans will have something to keep them busier than in past years.
There is also a “Play a Season” mode in NCAA Football 14 which strips away much of the newly-introduced XP, Coach Skills, and Power Recruiting and allows players to simply play through the 2013 season. While it will surely have its target audience, it feels strange to introduce new features to the Dynasty experience and then offer a way to avoid using those new features.
Fans of Road to Glory mode and last year’s Heisman Challenge mode will be disappointed to find that not much has changed, though the gameplay experience benefits from the addition of the Infinity Engine 2. The lack of improvement for the “single player” career modes is a weak point in the overall package, and fans will be desperate for news about these modes in NCAA Football 15.
NCAA Football 14 is a vast improvement over what the franchise has offered in the past few years. From a personal standpoint, it has given me significantly more enjoyment than any other version of the series released for current consoles. Usually I have to work to stay committed to a Dynasty through a season, leaving me to spend my time in Play Now one-off games; I’ve already played an entire season in my Dynasty, and the gameplay revisions combined with XP and Coach Skills have me looking forward to many more seasons. If NCAA Football 14 is the last version of the game that will be relevant on current consoles with the series making the jump to PS4 and Xbox One next summer, then at least the series will be going out with a BCS Bowl-worthy effort.