Another year, another round of NCAA and Madden for your gaming pleasure. Although my initial review of NCAA 10 wasn't quite as nice, I thought it was the best of the bunch on the HD consoles. After some initial bugs got cleared out, it was a well tuned machine that either fixed most of my major complaints or refined the features that were already well done.
Now NCAA 11, complete with an additional cover just for the state of Alabama, comes calling to store shelves. The usual hype parade of new "features" has been a little softer than in years past. The two biggest additions have been the additions of the Pro-Tak system that was included in Madden 10, as well as a new momentum based movement engine. Is it worth your hard earned $60 or should the series consider red shirting for a year?
The biggest overhaul this year has been in the game play department. A new physics engine, the Pro-Tak system, and a new blocking system have created a different beast entirely from NCAA Football 10. The biggest beneficiary of this has been to the running game. The movements are crisp and fluid, and juking defenders has never been easier.
The new blocking system on the other hand still seems like a work in progress. While time honored loopholes like swinging a DE out wide to beat a tackle have been rectified, it has magnified player differences to a much greater degree. In a few test games, it seemed defensive lineman who were even marginally better than their offensive counterparts could break through the line on passing plays easily.
The new Pro-Tak system from Madden makes it's collegiate debut. The pros and cons of the system are much the same as in Madden 10. In short, it creates way too many "WTF" moments for my taste, such as when a linebacker comes free on the blitz but just bounces off the QB.
Also, buyer beware, as the Turbo button has gone the way of the dinosaur in this latest version. The game now controls the speed of your player, and it can be hit or miss.
Overall, honestly, there isn't a whole lot to talk about that is different from last year's game. The biggest addition is the ability to stay connected with your online dynasty from practically any device that can get on the internet, but it a feature I doubt most will take advantage of.
Road to Glory, Dynasty, and Season Showdown mode all come with glitzy new menus and not much else.
Graphics and Presentation
NCAA 11 laps it predecessor in one department, and that is graphically. The new momentum engine allows for some truly amazing looking animations. The little details are also finally being able to be seen as while, such as making out the numbers on Alabama's helmets. The game also looks like it's supporting self-shadowing and some basic HDR lighting effects. In addition, it's being done at a rock solid 60 frames per second to boot.
However, there were some random details that stick out even more thanks to the improvements. Though the rain effects look great, the field barely changes because of it, and player uniforms still look just as nice as when it started.
Also, mark NCAA 11 down as when ESPN officially announced it's comeback into the video game arena. If you were the type who missed the total integration NFL 2K5 had with The World Wide Leader, NCAA 11 has it down pat. Practically everything from the Opening Sequences to the score box are all modeled after what ESPN will be using in it's College Football coverage this fall. However, it does come to the detriment of some authenticity. While NCAA Basketball 10 had both ESPN and CBS's coverage, programs like the SEC on CBS and Notre Dame on NBC are no where to be seen.
Surprisingly, despite the wholesale upgrades in the presentation department, the commentary is weaker than it's been in years. The amount of times lines are repeated and the general lack of enthusiasm is troubling.
While not up there with the likes of Uncharted 2 or Alan Wake, NCAA 11 is easily the best looking NCAA game, and indeed EA Sports Sim, to date.
The new game play mechanics are going to be a love it or hate it affair. Personally, I thought that while they all had potential, they still need to be ironed out for another year.
The massive amount of ESPN branding can either be a plus or minus depending on your point of view. However, it does manage to make you feel like you're watching a real game at times.
Honestly, with nothing really new to bring to the table, I could see quite a few people coming back to NCAA 10, particularly those who aren't fans of the gameplay changes.