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NCAA Football 06 Review

Developer: Tiburon Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: July 11, 2005 Also On: PS2 and Xbox

Over the last five years I have slowly transformed into a sports gamer and while every year I get excited about my favorite titles. It’s hard to remember the last time I was this excited about one of the many “annual rehashesâ€?. Being one of my favorite franchises I had only the highest hopes and expectations for NCAA 06 and I’m glad to report that, for the most part, it does not disappoint.

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Being one of the only sports titles that is truly playable and worthy of a new purchase year after year, NCAA has amassed quite a following. Unfortunately, until recently, this following wasn’t large enough to warrant the same amount of development time and money that the Madden franchise was granted. But now that’s changed.

The biggest addition this year is Race for the Heisman, a Dynasty Mode-esque mode that spares the team aspect and instead focuses on an individual player. The first time the disc is inserted players are automatically thrust into RftH and run a drill dependant on your desired position. If you perform well enough some big name schools will offer you a scholarship but if not the option to walk onto any school is available. Whether successful or not the drills make little difference than to get you in the atmosphere of the game.

From this point the game plays very similar to Dynasty Mode except for the fact that you’ll have virtually no front office options and will almost certainly call plays specific to your character’s position. My biggest complaint about RftH is the actual Heisman ceremony. Whether or not your player wins or not the ceremony is identical. There’s no real reward for winning the Heisman and after winning in your Sophomore or Junior year there’s no real incentive to win it again other than for the gloating factor. While not as exciting as Dynasty Mode, Race for the Heisman is an excellent diversion and a welcome addition.

Luckily, Race for the Heisman, isn’t the only addition to this year’s NCAA. Dynasty mode has been beefed up, the inclusion of impact players and, perhaps most importantly, the gameplay has received a significant speed increase. I never had a problem with last year’s release until I went back and played it and noticed shockingly slow gameplay. This year’s version just feels significantly faster, perhaps twenty or thirty percent more so. While the speed increase doesn’t necessarily change the gameplay it does help make the game feel like real, intense football instead of a stereotypical videogame. Online play has been sped up as well, nearly to the point where there is virtually no difference between online and offline play.

The impact players are a nice addition that is implemented well enough and tip-toes on that fine line between simulation and arcade. Sometimes, the impact players do behave too arcade-like, but those cases are few and far between and, in my experience, only made a significant difference in gameplay when the quarterback was in the zone on 3rd and long. Try running a quarterback keeper while in the zone and you’ll pick up a dozen yards easily.

I also noticed some minor problems with the A.I. It turns out that I can run the same play on defense the entire game and have absolutely no problems holding the opposition to under 200 yards. Money plays were supposed to be a non-issue after the release of NFL 2K for the Dreamcast but it seems developers still have a little work to do. This does end up being just a minor gripe though as it only affects the lower difficulty levels.

Last year one of my biggest complaints was the lack of any real visual improvements over the previous release. NCAA 06 features the first significant upgrading of the graphics engine since the 2003 release and it shows off. Shadows look better, reflections off of helmets look more authentic, and grass stains look particularly fantastic. Some major texture work has also been done as the fields actually look like real grass, or turf, for that matter.

The commentary has been virtually unchanged from last year and is becoming extremely obvious. I don’t know how difficult it’d be to get Herbstreit and friends in for another recording session but one is needed badly. Other than that, the audio is great, especially on decent home-theater setups. It may just be my sadistic side, but the big hits sound absolutely brutal when you can hear the low-end of bones crushing against each other and is a real treat.

NCAA 2006 is easily the best title in the franchise’s history and deserves to be played. Race for the Heisman is the biggest addition but shouldn’t be the biggest draw. Improved gameplay speed, impact players and a beefed up Dynasty Mode all make NCAA 06 a serious contender for Sports Game of the Year. If you’re a fan of college football go buy this game.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 7.5
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 8.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9.5
Final: 9
Written by Chris Review Guide