- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 1, 2004

Developers don’t always revamp the games that come out every year, particularly the titles that don’t need much change.

So it’s no surprise Tiburon, the developer of EA Sports’ NCAA Football 2005, didn’t tinker much with last year’s leading (only might be more accurate) college football title. And that’s both a positive and a negative.

How so? NCAA 2004 was among last year’s best sports titles, with its deep dynasty mode, easy-to-learn game play and hundreds of teams, including every school in Division I-A. Plus, the graphics were sharp, and the game commentary engaging and sometimes even insightful.

NCAA 2005 brings all of that back — to an unfortunate extent. Much of the animation and many of the cut scenes from last year return, and anyone who played last year’s game will recognize many of the phrases spouted by the broadcast team of Brad Nessler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit. There are some additions to correspond to the game’s new features, but those mostly involve reaction shots of fans or coaches that slow down the game.

Yes, the game retains its overall greatness, but it’s hard not to feel some laziness took hold here in terms of NCAA Football 2005’s overall look.

While there’s little cosmetic change, NCAA 2005 does have some selling points, including one that should please Xbox owners. For the first time, EA Sports games will be online compatible, and NCAA 2005 provides the first test for the company on Xbox Live. You can’t play a full season, but you can play games or tournaments of up to 32 players online.

In terms of actual game play, the biggest upgrade here is the Home Field Advantage, which replicates the effects a crowd can have on a game. By pumping up the crowd with a bit of button mashing, you can cause the screens and your opponent’s controller to vibrate. That really isn’t anything but annoying. However, a loud crowd also makes it impossible for the quarterback to audible, often resulting in failed checks or responsibilities. You even see backs and receivers walking toward the quarterback, struggling to hear the new plays.

In other words, the crowd can help rattle the quarterback, which leads to another new feature: composure. Players who are composed are much more likely to execute plays; those who are rattled often stay rattled by making mistake after mistake. The game’s momentum often shifts based on composure, and it can result in players’ attributes increasing or decreasing by several points in the middle of games.

Little has changed in the dynasty mode, but the changes will both amuse and annoy you. In a nod to the troubled world of athletics, NCAA 2005 adds player suspensions for things like breaking team rules and academics. You control the length of the suspensions, but ignoring the infractions can bring down the wrath of the NCAA. Also, you have to keep your players’ fragile psyches in mind throughout; if you bench players or they otherwise become unhappy, they can choose to transfer to another school.

That said, things like Home Field Advantage and composure are minor improvements at best for a sports game already among the best available. And with little change in graphics or audio, plus the replay factor from previous years because of the dynasty mode, there’s only one reason to upgrade if you have last year’s version. For those of you who can’t get enough of online play, the addition of Xbox Live to NCAA Football 2005 makes it a must-buy. For the rest of you, wait for another revamp.

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