Alas, it's a new year and I owed it to the series to at least download the demo, especially with the announcement that the Import Draft Class feature would be returning for 14. I played the demo, and honestly, it didn't blow me away. On the other hand, I heard nothing but glowing reviews from the majority of gamers that partook in the demo and wondered what they were seeing that I wasn't. Regardless of being unimpressed, I still bought 14 with the intention of using the rosters for Madden 25, which doesn't come out until late-August. After playing the game for the last 48 hours off-and-on, here's my take...
Also prominently featured this year is the popular Read Option offense, which works well and is a blast to use, once you pass the chemistry class that is the Oregon Playbook that is. Ok, so it's not that difficult to get, but you have to be on top of things at all times. This fast-paced style can turn disastrous if ran improperly. Luckily there's the all-new Nike Skills Trainer to lead the way! This mode is essentially a practice mode that allows you to experiment with the new controls and new playbooks in the game. Certainly a welcome addition to those who don't like to just jump into the fire.
A huge part of college football is the pageantry and atmosphere. It's something I always look for, and I'm happy to report that NCAA Football 14's atmosphere, while not spot on, is better. You'll hear and feel the difference between playing at San Jose State and playing at Boise State. All but one team (Baylor) seems to have their fight songs in this year, something that had been an issue in 13, as detailed by Owen Good of Kotaku. The crowd chants things like 7 Nation Army and Zombie Nation, both staples of real life college football. The crowd does fall flat at times when it shouldn't, however. Right after you make a big play that keeps you in the game or gives your team a late lead, often times you won't even hear a smidgen of crowd reaction.
Gameplay is the best it's been in the series, and it's about time that it's all come together. Gameplay is the glue for any game, and NCAA Football should be proud of the point it's gotten to.
Dynasty ModeTerry Rodgers, my ace WR, ended up being a 1st Round Draft Pick, giving me an extra 500 XP
Anyway, you'll also need to schedule some of your targeted recruits for school visits. You can choose to welcome them for a home game or a bye week. You only get a certain amount of points for a bye week, but a home game introduces many modifiers into the mix. These modifiers include goals as simple as winning a game or throwing for over 250 yards to more difficult tasks like getting a certain amount of sacks with a certain position. This makes nearly every game important in one way or another, whether that be to win for your current season ranking or to win for the future of your squad. This, combined with the fun gameplay, is what kept me wanting to play. You also have to be careful. There were many times where I was so focus on reaching the visiting recruits goals that I got off my gameplan and got in trouble of losing the game. There's a fine line you'll have to walk, and that keeps things exciting.
I went 11-3 with San Jose State, losing to #3 Stanford, Utah State, and #8 Boise State in the MWC Championship game. I won the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas, and overall, I consider it to be a good year that we can continue to build off of. At the end of the year, I was offered a four year contract extension to return to San Jose State. I accepted, but you can also check out the other options available. I did notice some odd occurrences with the coaching carousel, such as Nick Saban (or the G. Williams to the generic roster names) won yet another National Championship beating out Johnny Manziel (who won another Heisman and put up even more ridiculous number than last season), but decided to leave Alabama for Virginia Tech. Things like that could potentially kill it for some players, but all-in-all it's a video game. Whacky stuff happens.
Building your career from the bottom of being a small time coordinator to a big time head coach seems to have a lot of longevity. The bland presentation in the menus does bring Dynasty Mode down a notch or two, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to level-up my coach and improve my squad. If you start your career at the top, I can see the mode getting tedious much sooner, so as I stated before, I HIGHLY recommend starting from a smaller school. The gameplay had to be really solid to go along with this new dynasty mode, and thankfully that was all on point. There are some logic quirks with the AI when you're running only one side of the ball though. I was in Triple OT and had just scored a TD in the second possession to tie the game at 37. An extra point would have won the game, but the AI forced me to go for two, since the Head Coach controls Special Teams. Also, when you're playing as a coordinator, you don't get the full game presentation. Often times you'll miss the halftime show because you weren't controlling the game when the half hit, and you also won't see the game updates from Reece Davis throughout the game. There is a new ESPN score ticker on the bottom of the screen which is the best ticker I've ever seen in a game. The scores update in real time and the ticker will cut in with "priority scores" that directly affect your team and "upset alerts" when an unranked squad is downing a top 25 team. It's an enjoyable experience, and probably the most fun I've had with Dynasty Mode, ever.
The fact is that this will probably be the last time I play NCAA Football on this generation of consoles. By this time next year, I'll be waist deep in my PS4 and awaiting NCAA Football 15. NCAA Football 08 was my first game for my XBOX 360. The series has a very special place in my heart. But as good as NCAA is in some areas, it's also a reminder that it's time to move on. 14's a tough game to recommend to the casual gamer, but if you're a college football fan in the least, it's worth picking up. NCAA 14 is a game that can reach the National Championship, but it won't win the big game. Still, I can appreciate the product that was put out this year and I think you will, too.