''NCAA Football 14"
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Publisher: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: E, for Everyone
Grade: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Just when I thought I'd seen role-playing elements invade every genre in video games, the good folks at EA blindsided me by making its college-football franchise into an RPG game.
No, you won't see a +7 Shield of Blitz Protection or get to cast a Hands of Glue spell on your receiving corps. Although, man, that would be awfully hilarious and I'd be more inclined to go through the Create A Team feature and field a team of players named after "Skyrim" and "Dungeons & Dragons" characters.
Instead, what you get is another year with a rather bland football game featuring minor tweaks and a new sheen on a game you've played a million times.
Don't get me wrong. The on-field action still provides plenty of fun. By the time new Kentucky coach Bob Stoops was giving his remarks at SEC Media Days last week, I'd already guided my alma mater to its second bowl game in Dynasty mode. The requisite improvements in in-game player movement, tackling and overall visuals are there, so whether you are playing alone in Dynasty or against friends competitively, the experience of college football feels alive and real in "NCAA Football 14."
When you step away from the field, though, the game starts (bad-pun alert!) committing penalties. The most egregious being the Dynasty mode's inclusion of experience points. Just like your standard strategy RPG, you earn points for wins and in-game achievements. You spend these points on a skill tree that improves your coaching staff, recruiting ability and team skills. I understand the need for skill trees and appreciate them when used properly, but the execution in "NCAA Football 14" feels like the result of needing to change the system for the sake of change, not for any real purpose. It doesn't make recruiting or improving your team more enjoyable or meaningful; you simply spend XP on upgrades to say you did.
On the other hand, EA did a wise thing in building a smart tutorial system to introduce gamers to the finer points of how to play. I've long mastered the art of virtually guiding my Wildcats to football glory despite being cellar dwellers in real life. Yet I was impressed with the way the tutorial can help teach even the most savvy and cynical of gamers about blocking techniques, route running and so on. The tutorial provides a decent amount of depth where sports franchises normally focus on action, action and more action at all times.
''NCAA Football 14" lacks the mold-breaking change that would propel it forward. Instead, the series continues to feel stale. This franchise needs a shot of adrenaline to make it truly exciting, and one that doesn't involve coaches wielding wizard staffs.