Sunday, July 17, 2005

Blaine 2006...

...aka, EA Sports' "NCAA 06", the latest release of the only serious
college football video game franchise for playstations and the like.
You're either with Madden or your with me, and if you're with me, well,
here we go.

(hey - since i'm doing a video game post, anybody know how to watch the
porn on Grand Theft Auto 5? I don't mean how to unlock it, cuz I won't work that hard. I mean, have the actual movie parts been captured and posted anywhere? Leave it in the comments below. thanks)

After a 30 minute initial shakedown, I'll cut to it: thumbs way the
hell up. Where the 2005 game was a sloppy re-release of 2004 with a
thin coat of new paint (and 2004 was a clone of 2003), for 2006 they've
totally updated the product, with only one or two obvious missteps and
a whole list of clear upgrades.

I'm 4 days away from spending 45 days in front of a giant plasma screen
in a hanger on the other side of the world. Now I can hardly wait.

Coverboy and Packaging: (UPDATE FROM PREVIOUS POSTS) D-. Every version of an EA Sports college franchise ever released for the PS2 has had on its cover one the sports' elite players from the previous year, including this month's NCAA basketball with Emeka Okafore.

They have been, if memory serves, Danny Wuerfel, Joey Harrington, Carson Palmer and last year's Larry Fitzgerald (to break the QB lock, I guess). Two runaway Heisman winners and two saavy shoulda wons.

This year they went with Desmond Howard.

The only reaction this can possibly elicit: Who said no?

And the bizsarre part is, assuming they felt like they needed a midwest pick, Michigan had a terrific departed player available for the first time this decade in Braylan Edwards. In fact, Edwards is pretty much the only first-tier talent
to emerge this decade from the Big 10 (other than Clarett), and he even stayed all four-years, always a nice touch for a college-based game. If they were going to do a Big 10 guy, this was it.

and they did. Big 10-circa 92.


In fact, it kinda HAD to be Edwards: the three best players from '04 are all
back in school (SC's Leinart and Bush and Texas' Young) so they
couldn't be on it. The #1 draft pick, Utah's Alex Smith, has still
never played in a game of national interest. Two of the top 3 running
backs were from Auburn, and neither was really the team's star, and the
third, Cedric Benson, wasn't the best player on his own team. I think
any true college fan would have appreciated seeing Cal's Aaron Rodgers get the cover
- who had a more complete, memorable college season in 05 than Rodgers?
But both the 03 and 04 games had Pac 10 QBs on the cover, and the frat
boys in Austin, Columbus and Tuscaloosa are only going to buy so many
of those.
This might have been a good year for a defensive player (David
Pollack? Marcus Spears? Either, or both, Sean Codys?). But I suppose it was time for a midwest guy, Michigan is the Midwest's franchise team and so Braylon would have been a solid choice from a limited field.

Instead - an NFL-flopping, early 90s guy who, the year he won it, wasn't even the best player at his own position in his own bowl game.

Other than that bizarre pick, the packaging is updated. They gave the typeface a tech look
and added some stadium elements. And they dropped it from "2005" to
just "06"

Not enough to sink the product, but a terrible, terrible start.

Fortunately, things recover.

Opening Cameos: The Cameos (the live-action clips that run as the
intro at every boot up) were strongest in 03, which was nothing but
campus clips. And let's just say it: it had the ASU chicks. The 04
cameos were dull, with mostly shots of ex-players at the all-star game
and some annoying band clips - plus the two random clips of two skinny
SDSU chicks who weren't even so much as hot as jarringly slutty. 05
just sucked. boring. bands, all-star games, lame.
Welcome back to the good stuff. Lots of on-campus rallies, TONS of
hot girls screaming "its in the game" and then bouncing around, drunk
frat boys, fighting mascots - terrific.
And here's the hammer: there's now an option in the game that you
can watch all the cameos, back to back to back to back to back......
awesome. honestly, i could probably just let that play for like 2
hours while i clean the kitchen or cook or... just watch it.

They made an improvement and a mistake in the menus - they added
actual famous game tape to the menus. As you select what you are
doing, to the right they have, say, Desmond Howard's return against
Ohio State, or Warren Sapp destroying an FSU runningback. That's good
(though it looks like there's only 5 or 6 clips - they repeat pretty
fast).
Unfortunately, the soundtrack over all the menus is no longer fight
songs (what else COULD it be?) but now skate/surf-punk music. That was
the cool thing to do in the late 90s, but its pretty dated. not to
mention all the punk songs so far suck. the only hip hop is "me myself
and I" from De La Soul and, again, it seems pretty limited. The songs
repeat pretty fast.
bad decision.

And now... the game.

Gameplay: they altered the controls, which is interesting and i
think good. For dodging and juking, rather than using the
front-mounted 'L1' and 'R1', you now use the right stick. Juking is
one of the best parts of the running game so its important to get it
right. we'll see, though, because it's a bit akward to snap the ball
with the X and then shift your thumb to the stick. Particularly since
the circle is still the spin the move. It'll take a few hours to sort
it out.
But at least they're trying something new.

Defense seems a bit more responsive around the line, but i think
some of the mechanisms for switching plyers has changed. again, time
will tell. But i always sucked at playing D anyway, so it won't matter
to me.

Animation - which was always a strong point - is terrific, i think
actually redrawn from previous years, but i'm not sure. either way,
looks great.

Strange Features - the clownish "crowd noise" is still there but oh
well. last year Madden added something called "playmaker" where a
certain player had some sort of super-powers and could fly, or
something. i don't know. Apparently they've migrated the concept to
this game, with one player on the field highligheted as an 'impact'
player by a white dot - when the white-dot is pulsing, that player is
'in the zone' and has triple-magic-hitpoints. Or something. i don't
know - i'm always against any sort of invented superpower thing. So
far its mildly distracting. And Reggie Bush is always pulsing. I wish
you could turn it off.
Also back is that odd 'match-up' option where you can, before the
snap, compare the relative talents and fatigue of your players at the
line and the guys they are lined up against. Actually not a bad
feature, but unneeded.
They reddid the pregame animation, which after 4 years needed
rewrite, but they made it into this bizarre studio show - the three
ESPN guys sit around and talk and then Lee Corse puts on the helmet of
the team he picks. stupid.
But unlike last year, where the bizarre add ons swamped the game to the
detriment of the expereince, here it's all secondary. the game play
appears to be the focus again.

Now, the truly good news: the structure of the game.
revamped and massively improved the practice options. Now the
'practice' part of the game is like an arcade-style game of its own.
They have 4 drills: option (QB and RBs versus 2 LBs and a safety),
passing skeleton (passing game without linemen), running game including
and "oklahoma."
"Oklahoma" is terrific - its 2 on 2, a ball runner, a lineman going
each way and a linebacker, all hemmed in to a 10 yard area. you get 10
snaps as the ballcarrier, trying to use your blocking past the line
then beat the linebacker in the backfield. then you get 10 snaps as
the linebacker, trying to stop the CPU as the ballcarrier.
In all of the pracitce games, it keeps score, and records your high
score.

There is still Dynasty mode, roughly the same as Madden's
"Franchise," where you run a program as the coach through multiple
seasons. But they've also reworked it from the bottom-up - now rather
than be the Dynasty coach, you can play a full career as a specific
player in a mode called "Hiesman." You start as a high school kid and
'tryout' - you run through one of any of the practice arcades as your
tryout for a scholarship. Your score determines the scholarship offers
you get. I picked option QB, and screwed up the first couple then did
real well on the last 5 snaps. I got offers to mississippi st, akron
and Syracuse (you can also 'walk-on' anywhere you want - not sure what
the advantages or disadvantages are of that). Then you 'enroll' and I
guess play a full season. As you go through (and this part, obviously,
i didn't do), your heisman hype goes up and down depending on your
performance. they have a little structure set up for 'college life' -
you get fan (or hate) mail, earn awards, be on the cover of SI and all
the stuff from Dynasty (playbook, rankings, bowl games, etc).
A nice effort to rework the long-term part of the game.

All the standbys are still there - historic teams (which i like) and
mascots (which I don't). And they appear to have dialed down the
stupid crowd animation, which was one of the 'new' things last year.
thank goodness.

There's also online play, if you're into it.

In short, where 2005 was a major let down, 2006 is a terrific
product. I guess that bodes well for the new Madden, for those of you
who dig that. so if playstation football is your deal, don't hestitate
to get it.

matt

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