Friday, July 21, 2006

NCAA '07: Who Do You believe?

It's less and less of a surprise every year that EA Sports chooses not to include Patriot League schools in the only NCAA Football video game title on the market. But I always check: and this year, yet again Patriot League fans are skunked.

Maybe it's been the hopes of too many summers unrealized, but the gleam in my eye when EA Sports used to release a new version of their college football game has been replaced with cold cynicism. In years past I used to race out to the store to try to play-test the game. Finding out the changes in gameplay and possibilities about dynasty mode were something that interested me. I never got what I really wanted, but usually there was something interesting to take the edge off. Maybe dynasty mode was expanded, or more I-AA teams, or a Heisman mode. I'd look at some of the versions and say, "Maybe I could work with this".

As '07 hit store shelves this year, the neglect to I-AA teams in general was pretty apparent. No I-AA playoffs. No I-AA Dynasty mode, to allow for recruiting over multiple seasons. Even the rosters were in many (if not all) cases carbon-copies of last year's rosters. For I-AA fans, it's hard to recommend the game since so little has changed from last year for our teams. Yes, gameplay has changed a little, but you have to ask yourself the question - if EA Sports doesn't want to take care to get my school right, why should I buy the game?

Curiously, if you do a quick Google search you'll find out that the "game review websites" give the game super-high marks -- suspiciously so, in my mind. (Check out metacritic: no other game gets a higher review.) Look at these snippets:

Not surprisingly, NCAA Football 07 is a no-brainer buy for the college football fans and is well worth a look from even the most casual of sports gamers.

By once again capturing that electric atmosphere in NCAA 07, and combining it with an ever-evolving set of control tweaks and gameplay modes, EA Sports has created a game that no fan of football video games--be they college or pro--will want to be without.

Which ad agency wrote these? First of all, if it's a no-brainer buy for college football fans it's because it's the ONLY college football game out there. It could be a repackage of Atari 2600 football, but if you want to play college football, tough - it's the only game in town. Second, it may be an electric atmosphere if you're a fan of a I-A school like Notre Dame or USC, but if you're a Delaware or Montana fan, you're still in Skunk City.

When you talk to real fans, especially I-AA fans, you get a different story than the "ad agencies". It's not a slam-dunk either way - a very mixed bag. Some like the new gameplay, others think they should have done much better. Specific to I-AA, folks are upset that the Big Sky conference is incomplete since someone forgot to notice that Northern Colorado was joining them this year. Also, no new I-AA teams. No I-AA dynasty. No I-AA playoffs.

It's your call as to who you believe, but read the links and judge for yourself. My money's with the I-AA fans.

To be fair, there is a very positive development I'd like to mention before leaving on such a sour note. First, there is hope in the future that I-AA coverage will be expanded, based on this interview of EA programmers Larry Richart and Anthony White. Here's the snippet:

GS: If there's one thing you could add to the NCAA Football series, what would it be and why?

AW: I'd add an I-AA dynasty mode option that allows you to play in the actual conferences, and at the end of the season if your team is good enough, compete in the I-AA playoffs. As for my reasons, I enjoy watching I-AA football, especially when it's playoff time.

Let's hope for '08 Mr. White's suggestion gets implemented - of course, complete with Patriot League teams. In all seriousness, it is very encouraging that folks at EA Sports are finally getting the fact that people want these features.
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