The NCAA Football series has actually been around for more than ten installments. The series started back on the PlayStation 1. The franchise has had its ups and downs on recent consoles, having good releases and sub-par ones as well.
The good releases capture the spirit of college football and often take risks that the Madden series does not. The bad releases feel like Madden Jr.
This year's release feels halfway between a great release and a Madden knock-off.
The main modes of play are Dynasty, Road to Glory, and Online.
In Dynasty mode you choose a college to manage through the years. You make the GM and coaching decisions and can play through the games as well. The management decisions come down to setting depth charts, choosing which players to cut and redshirt at the start of each season, and recruiting new players. Recruiting players is the most in-depth part of franchise management. Players can be targeted based on their caliber, your team needs, or proximity to your school. After targeting a player you can phone them and pitch your school, offer them a scholarship, and schedule a campus visit for them.
The appeal of Dynasty mode to most will be taking over one of their favorite teams and improving it and taking it to bowl games. More could have been done to make this an engrossing mode. Because of legal reasons, actual player names are not in the game. At the start of your Dynasty you can auto-assign random player names or you can play with only player numbers. Division I teams are the only teams you are able to play this mode with. Previous games let you play Division II teams well. You can create a Division II team or download it off of EA's TeamBuilder website and insert it into a custom conference. However, that is not the same as actually playing as University of Delaware or another one of your favorite Division II schools. Overall, Dynasty mode is a good package but there is not enough new things to keep fans of the series interested.
Road to Glory is the other main single-player mode. In this mode you create a player and control him throughout his college career. After you create your player you play through his High School Playoffs. Your performance here will determine your player's skill ratings and your projected depth chart position in college. After the playoffs is signing day. If you commit to a high-caliber school you will likely be on a good team but if you commit to a less prestigious school you have a better chance of starting earlier.
After you get to college you have a few options to control your player's college career. Apart from playing games you can attend practices and choose nightly activities. Your choice of activities and practice attendance can affect your play in the game.
Play during a game can be streamlined. You can simulate between all the plays your player is not on the field. This means you do not have to watch a play you are not involved in at all. Playing as a single player can be quite immersive, but there are a few frustrations. The coach calls the plays, not you (though as QB you can audible and you can change your routes at RB and WR). You may also have a huge day as an offensive player but have your defense let you down, or vice-versa.
A neat part of this mode are the Road to Glory presentations. Periodically throughout your player's career, a video presentation will play where ESPN's Erin Andrews comments on your player's progress . These videos come up during career milestones such as your first Player of the Week award or the first time your player is put in Heisman contention. Existing players can be used in this modes as well, but Road to Glory commentary videos will not be played.
NCAA Football offers a few good online modes. Other than the normal ranked, unranked, and lobby games you can also host a game for your dynasty online and play a game in Season Showdown mode. Each week there is a Season Showdown game of the week available to play. The majority of other real-life matchups that week are available to play as well. The actual online games run smoothly with few instances of lag. Impressively, even the commentary is able to keep up. The EA Sports skill ranking systems still needs work to prevent frustrating matchups.
There is more to Season Showdown than just the online matchups. When you first create a profile in the game you are asked to choose what school you want to support in Season Showdown. After that every game you play is ranked based on your skills, loyalty to your team, your sportsmanship, and whether or not the game is an underdog win. All of the schools are ranked online based on everyone who is supporting their schools in the game. The better you do, the better the chances are for your school to rank up. This is a good idea, but more needs to be done to keep this from simply being a popularity contest.
The game controls very well. Those who have played previous NCAA Football game or Madden will have no problem picking them up. Newbies may be overwhelmed by the controls and find them too complex. There is a Family Play control option that simplifies the controls to only a few buttons. An inexperienced player can rely on the A.I., and Family Play and still be competitive against a seasoned player.
The game play is well put together. It feels realistic and accurate to football. Many of the arcadey elements, exploits, and bugs from previous versions have been eliminated. This is the best playing version of NCAA Football ever. The problem is, it does not feel like a college football game anymore; it plays almost exactly like Madden. There are two major differences: the option play and the set up play. Each offensive play is linked to another play. Each time you successfully run a play or its linked play you advance its set up percentage. The better you do on the play, the more set up it will be next time. Score a touchdown and that play will be 100% set up the next time you run it. It is a neat wrinkle on play-calling but it actually does not make sense. If a defense just got gashed for big gain on a certain play, in real life they would make sure to stop that play the next time it was run.
A few things that gave the game its college flavor in previous editions have been removed. The Stadium Noise Level (the crowd's reaction affecting the player's composure) is gone. Player Levels ( players become hot or cold based on their performance) is still in the game but no longer has any effect.
NCAA Football 10 has good HD graphics but cannot compete with Madden's look. The player motions are well-animated and reflections can be seen on the player's helmets. The stadiums are recognizable facsimiles of their real-life counterparts, but they are not exact and more details could have been added to them. The player models look good, but it is hard to judge with no recognizable faces to judge them against. The fields have good lighting and variance in the green color but no wear is shown during a game. Environmental affects like wind and snow look fake because they fall the same way continuously.
The commentary is done by Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, and Brad Nessler. Corso and Herbstreit have some nice chemistry and have a few funny back-and-forth banter. They both have some good analyses but their lines repeat too much. The play-by-play is done by Nessler with an annoying robot voice so prevalent in sports games.
The crowd reacts well to the games, getting louder and louder as the home team does better or is on a crucial defensive position. The bands play their school's fight songs after a touchdown.
Dynasty and Road to Glory would normally be the biggest reason to continue playing this game, but there is not enough different about them this to hold attention. Season Showdown and online modes offer the best incentive to keep playing this year. Many hardcore fans will be playing this game until Bowl Season trying to keep their favorite team's ranking up.
This game does many things very well, and is overall a high quality package. However, it does not offer enough new to entice those who have a previous version and are uninterested in online play. With fewer playable schools and gameplay with less college flavor, NCAA does not do enough to differentiate itself from Madden this year. If you are an intense college football fan then this game may be a necessary purchase. But if you are happy with previous versions, this year is not a standout iteration in the series.
NCAA Football 10 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: PS2, PS3, and PSP.