Sunday, August 09, 2009

EA Sports nearly knocks "NCAA 10" out of the park

While we're waiting on the new (and supposedly improved) “Madden NFL 10,” due Friday, it's a good time to take a look at EA Sports' “other” football game: “NCAA 10.”

Upon putting in the PlayStation 3 version, it's readily apparent that EA Sports has stepped up the details. There are a lot of new animations, which add to the realistic feel – and when you create a player with a tough-to-pronounce name, the announcers tend to get it right. Amazing.

“NCAA” has a high level of difficulty, but there are a couple of gadgets that help you keep pace.

The new “setup” control allows you to bait the defense into coming closer to the line of scrimmage. So, for example, if you call several run plays in a row, the opposing line will creep up – allowing you to run a play-action pass play, get your receiver behind the defense, and try to throw to him for a big play.

On defense, you can hold down the “win” button and magically watch as your cornerback turns into Deion Sanders or as your linebacker becomes Mike Singletary. It's almost foolproof.

A couple of other new features add an incredible amount of depth.

You can create your own team using a free Web site on your PC, customizing everything there and then transferring it to your console. (I saw people had created a few area high school teams in exquisite detail online.)

And the new “season showdown” mode is a true innovation. During the season, you play the same schedule as the real-life team of your choice – against a computer or online opponent – and you can follow your standings online or in game.

You can earn points, via online play or against the computer, during the four-month regular season that begins Aug. 31. The only way to lose points is for sportsmanship, so no running up the score. The season ends with a championship round. EA Sports will post weekly podcasts with updates. It's a wonderful addition, and I hope it's in “Madden” as well.

There are some bugs in “NCAA 10” – players running in circles for no reason, cheerleaders wearing shorts in snowstorms. But all in all, this is another strong game.

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