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Review: NCAA Football 07

Is new release best college football video game ever?

Posted: Monday July 24, 2006 12:45PM; Updated: Monday July 24, 2006 4:02PM
NCAA Football 07
NCAA Football 07 features some changes -- and all for the better.
Courtesy EA Sports

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You haven't really played sports video games until you've spent at least one hour sitting in front of the TV, navigating deep inside the guts of the game, a laptop open on the coffee table in front of you while you painstakingly program in the name of each player on your favorite college football team. This is an annual occurrence with EA Sports' NCAA Football series, and this year's version, NCAA Football 07, is no different. There's no way around this, because the NCAA refuses to let anyone market the actual players' names (lest anyone accuse them of being driven by finance -- horrors!).

But, of course, everyone knows the 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior wide receiver wearing number 83 for Notre Dame is Jeff Samardzija. And so we deal with it, changing the names by hand (or buying one of those pre-loaded memory cards). That's an inescapable part of the college game, at least in the gaming world.

Over the last six years EA has incrementally improved its college football franchise, and NCAA Football 07 continues that progress, making it the best version to date. While the gameplay generally continues to mirror that of the Madden series, a couple of critical changes make this year's game -- I played the PS2 version -- more compelling than ever.

The most palpable tweak is the reworking of the kicking game. All EA football games formerly required tapping a button several times to get a kick in the air -- once to start the kicking meter, again to max it out and finally when toe met leather. Now that's all been shifted to the right analog stick, making kicking a much more fluid and natural action. And where previous games made blocking or returning kicks irregularly difficult, this year's version introduces a brilliant innovation: first-person view. As the ball is in the air to your kick returner, your point of view suddenly goes from omniscient to inside the helmet of the returner, and the returns become a scramble to save your neck. More than once I broke through the initial wall of defenders only to be blindsided as I scurried down the sideline.

If you're into the little stuff, EA has pumped that up, too. The playbooks have visited BALCO, as they're now 30 percent larger, with more sets available. You're able to challenge calls you disagree with, and on defense you can try to guess the snap count and get a jump on your blocker, at the risk of drawing the offside penalty.