I knew something was amiss when Virginia Tech upset Alabama week 1.
As someone who has played the NCAA Football series since its debut, I can say without reservation that I love this game. After playing many hours of NCAA Football 14, I can say without reservation that it is the best of the series to date. There are several new features I love, a few I don't, and a few old features I absolutely detest. So I thought I'd create an opportunity for us to discuss. Perhaps it will help the next 50 days go back a little more quickly.
Things I love include:
All the new option, uh, options. For the most part, running the read option is good in general, and great in particular, particularly when using "#5" AKA Jameis Winston. My only issue with this (and someone please correct me if I'm just doing it wrong) is the handoff seems automated and often stupid. Sometimes the DE stays and I hit the button and Winston keeps it. Sometimes the DE comes, I don't hit the button, and Winston hands it off and the runner gets slammed. Is there an "automatic" option I need to toggle or what? Because that is super irritating. Happens maybe 1/3 of the time.
Cutting. And I don't mean like emo chicks. I mean like making a cut to explode past a defender. This is the first time players really dig in and rapidly change direction, rather than making a bizarro circular turn which often led to a nasty tackle and fumble. This opens the game up quite a bit. In the past if a defender were anywhere near you, you were pretty much done unless you made a crazy juke or spin move. This definitely adds to the realism, especially playing as elite skill players.
Is it just me or is the passing game WAY better? I've always been pretty good at EA football games and play at the higher difficulties. It seems like in the past, coverage players usually either stuck to receivers like glue or made boneheaded mistakes. Rarely did my receivers ever create space before I threw the ball. This time around, receivers are able to create a lot of space with solid route running. It's rare for me to run a pass play and not find at least one guy open, even if it's just for a second.
As for the new stuff I don't care for:
Recruiting: Seriously. WTF happened here? I appreciate that it's more streamlined, but to be honest I kind of enjoyed the obsessive recruiting in years' past. This year it feels entirely random. Maybe I'm just doing it wrong, but I'm about to play Florida and I think I only have 6 commitments so far.
The AI is kind of ridiculous: Like I said at the top, Virginia Tech upset Alabama week 1. Now, I'm playing at All-American difficulty. Don't know if this has any impact on how the entire season shapes up, but it seems like upsets are happening ALL THE TIME. The top 25 right now is a complete wreck. After I beat Clemson they went on the downward spiral and are barely bowl eligible. It just seems completely random, like when the computer determines outcomes for other games it doesn't factor in their ratings.
Speaking of which...I have found that regardless of the team I'm playing, regardless of their ratings, usually in the first half they are UNSTOPPABLE. I just played the Idaho game. They are rated in the low 60s across the board. Nonetheless, their quarterback absolutely torched me in the first half. Threw for 197 yards on 17/19 with 3 TDs. No matter what defense I ran, no matter who I controlled, they would not be stopped. Guys were always open and almost always broke the first tackle. In the rare event I'd force a third and long, even very long (think: 3rd and 27) they'd usually convert it, inexplicably.
Now, I'm sure everyone who plays this game is familiar with the random UNSTOPPABLE drives in this series. You can always tell. Sometimes the computer offense is just not going to be denied on a particular drive. They will get into the end zone and you will deal with it. Period. But NCAA 14 takes it to a whole other level.
FCS-Southeast AKA Bethune-Cookman even kept it close in the first half. It was incredible. In the rare event I pressured the QB, he pretty much always had a man open or threw the ball away to avoid a sack. Scored two first half TDs.
Generally in the second half the tide turned. But I'm still stuck with ridiculous stats that sink my defensive ratings. I know I'm a geek, but these things matter to me.
Syracuse dropped 42 on me. 42. I think their QB finished with 476 yards and 5 TDs.
As for the computer defense, it's generally pretty awful. My completion percentage with Winston is in the mid-80s. It's not unusual for me to be right around 18/20 in the first half of a game.
But here's the thing. Those two incompletions are usually INTs. And they're usually inexplicable. Somebody ran their route horribly, Winston made a ridiculously bad pass or the computer miraculously wins a single coverage battle. I realize this happens, but I threw two picks in the Idaho game to Rashad Greene in single coverage. Both times he had plenty of space when I threw the ball, and the 59-rated cornerback miraculously closed the gap, jumped seventeen feet in the air and made the grab.
Which brings me to what I continue to hate about the NCAA Football series:
On a deeper level, the games feel almost driven by narrative. By this I mean at the higher difficulties it feels like the AI makes the game difficult by messing with momentum at certain moments and, most infuriatingly, forcing you not to run up the score late.
I really don't know why they insist on having Kirk Herbstreit chastise me year after year after year about running up the score. It's a video game. I paid a lot of money for it. Let me enjoy myself for the love of christ.
In the Idaho game, I went into halftime with the score 28-21. As I already said, the Idaho QB was having an incredible game (just like the Syracuse QB before him). This is the first installment of NCAA Football in which it seems like the season gets progressively more difficult, regardless of the opponent, as long as you're still winning (I'm currently undefeated).
The narrative here is, undefeated seasons often fall apart late in the year. Rather than leaving it up to the player to just play football, it seems like the game manipulates the momentum to push you toward the brink of that upset. Against an opponent like Syracuse I can be a little more forgiving about this. But Idaho? Really?
The second half against Idaho was a total blowout. By the start of the 4th quarter I was up 56-21, so I opted to sub in the second string. I did this particularly to try Coker out in the passing game. But the later it got in the quarter, the more the AI basically forced me to run. The Idaho coverage became perfect. I mean, nobody was EVER OPEN. I'd go back into Instant Replay to make sure. Suddenly, the Idaho secondary was elite, jumping routes, staying at my receivers' hips.
The vast majority of INTs I've thrown in this game came late in the fourth. It almost feels like punishment. Which, again, I paid $60 bucks for this game. Let me do what I want, Herbstreit.
So, there you have it...my epic rant on the video game I love and love to hate.