"NCAA Football 11" PS3 Early Impressions

I know that this isn't "early" in relation to the game's release, but  I just picked up NCAA 11 last Saturday, and I wanted to give it some reasonable play time before I shared my thoughts on the game.

First, understand that I skipped last year's edition of NCAA Football, so some of my thoughts are about how the game has improved over the last two years, and many of these improvements may have first been implemented in last year's game (Team Builder, for example, which I did use online last year before deciding to skip the game).

I've spent most of my time in the game in two modes so far: Dynasty and Road to Glory. The latter is the upgraded version of what used to be Campus Legend, but other than the new name and the Erin Andrews involvement, the gameplay itself is practically unchanged from two years ago. This isn't a bad thing, since on the field there wasn't much wrong with this mode, but the off-the-field options are still wanting, especially when compared with an in-depth "create-a-career" mode in a game like MLB The Show. It also pales in comparison with Dynasty mode, which features an incredibly upgraded recruiting center.

What I love about recruiting in Dynasty mode is you can do it until it stops being fun and then let the AI take over, and the AI will do a reasonable job, so you can get back to playing football quickly. I'll admit, I bought all the DLC recruiting boosts (I had some extra money sitting in my PS3 wallet), but they work reasonably, so it's not like my school turned into Florida overnight.

As for which school I'm using, well, I had a lot of debate over that. Back in '09, I used West Virginia, and before that I usually went with Miami, but I wanted to try something different this year. I hit up Team Builder and was getting ready to create my alma mater -- Towson University, an FCS school in Maryland -- but someone had already done it. I took a cursory glance at the roster, and aside from having the school's most legendary AD as a punter (a nice Easter Egg), it looked pretty accurate. So I inserted them into Conference USA (in place of UAB) and I was off.

Now on to the actual football playing. In recent years, the NCAA series has moved more controls to the right analog stick, and I'm still getting used to that. For my first few games, I'd find myself going to make a defensive move and instinctively hitting the shoulder buttons, which obviously did not have the intended effect. I honestly prefer the old controls, and I may try and customize them at some point.

I always play NCAA at the "All-American" difficulty level, which is just short of the most difficult, and is a reasonable challenge without making the game unplayably frustrating. I considered dropping the difficulty level down when I was struggling through my first season with Towson, but I stuck it out and ended up 4-8. I remember in the early 2000s, running the ball was way too easy, then at some point it went completely in the opposite direction, meaning your only real way to have any success in the game was by using nothing but options. Over the last few years, NCAA has found a nice balance, and you can actually run a normal run-focused offense without wanting to smash your controller through a coffee table.

I really love the advanced "style of play" controls in the game, allowing you to set whether you want to be aggressive, balanced or conservative in half a dozen different areas of focus on both offense and defense. In particular, the "tempo" option is great if you're playing as a mediocre or bad team, because you can shorten the game, control the ball, and give yourself a better chance to win. On top of that, with the built-in clock run off, you can actually play a game in a much shorter amount of time than was previously possible.

Graphically the game is amazing, at least when focusing on the 22 players on the field. There are new tackle animations that add to the variety of the game and make it look more realistic, and catching the football no longer looks like the result of an accidental merging of pixels. However, with each degree removed from the on-field action, the graphics get noticeably worse, ruining the illusion. Players on the sideline still look like emotionless pod people, and multiple times in the course of play, they showed up in gray jerseys (rather than the black my team was wearing on the field). This problem is at its worst when a referee is making a call, and it looks like the players behind him wandered in from a rejected NFL 2K Dreamcast casting call. Head into the stands, another degree removed from the field, and the graphics look even worse. Sure, the pregame and postgame animations look pretty good, but those are pre-rendered. When you score a touchdown and get reasonably close to the stands, it looks like you're in a modern game, being watched by a bunch of people from "Bill Walsh College Football" for the Sega Genesis. Again, this would be something minor, but it really detracts from what is otherwise a very good game.

NCAA Football 11 is not without its glitches as well. In one instance, I went to punt on fourth down from my own 20, and my punter ended up at midfield with my mascot. When I snapped the ball, it magically ended up in his hands, and he was stuck there until being tackled, at which point I was given a first down. Another time, I went no-huddle, and my right guard got stuck in his stance about a yard in front of my center, drawing an encroachment penalty (when the opposing NT went to line up) and giving me another free first down. In fact, no-huddle offensive line positioning seems to be a problem, as a defensive lineman getting on side can nudge an offensive lineman who's already in his stance out of position, and the lineman won't be able to get back in place, sometimes leaving a huge hole for a defensive rusher. These are definitely issues that could be fixed with a software update, and EA has been good about taking care of them in the past.

Overall, NCAA 11 is a nice upgrade over past editions in the series, and I'd highly recommend enhancing your gameplay experience by downloading a roster with names (the one I found also had player updates, with Jeremiah Masoli off the Oregon roster), especially since EA may be forced to remove the feature in future games (there are some legal issues being contested in court right now). Also, if you can, you should get in on the online dynasty feature, since it takes most of the best things about regular dynasty mode and extends them to a group of up to 12 people playing online. Now that I've got the gameplay under control, I'm going to check in with some co-workers to see if they've got any leagues in the works.


  1. NCAA Football 11 is out now. I get my rosters from NCAA Football 11 Rosters. Where are you getting yours?

  2. There is literally NO reason to pay for rosters, when plenty of users provide them for free. I suggest checking out http://www.operationsports.com/forums/ncaa-football-rosters/


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