LOS ANGELES--The Xbox 360 version of NCAA Football 07 was available to play on the E3 show floor, so we took the opportunity to get hands-on with the franchise's first appearance on the Xbox 360. Graphically, the game looks spectacular, getting a Madden-esque treatment as far as the level of detail put into stadiums and in the character models. You'll see meticulously crafted stands and 3D crowds surrounding manicured grass fields, with shadows cast by light fixtures and press boxes shrouding portions of the crowd depending on the sun's position in the sky. Player models also look much more detailed, with visible musculature on arms and calves, and helmets that glint in the light with their glossy surface. Not all college stadiums will be included in the game, but the development team is putting focus this year on getting the high-profile home fields in the game. We noticed, for example, that the Rose Bowl looked pretty accurate, with the press box at the top and the backdrop of the San Gabriel mountain range to the north.
The play-calling interface has also taken a cue from Madden for the Xbox 360. You can pick plays based on formation, play type, key players, or by asking Lee Corso for his recommendation. On the field, we immediately noticed a new kicking system for the game, which requires you to pull back on the right analog stick and then push forward in time with a meter to measure out your power. Your steadiness with the push forward affects the direction of the kick and, presumably, how much you hook or shank the ball. What's interesting is that on punts, you don't just snap the ball with the A button as normal and then kick. Pulling back on the analog stick initiates the snap on punts, and then you push forward to step up and get the ball away. If you wait too long for the power meter to rise, you run a higher risk of getting the kick blocked.
The development team has given you some new tricks on defense, such as a noticeably larger playbook. It feels like there are almost twice as many different plays to choose from. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that you're more easily able to browse through different packages of the same base formation with the play-calling interface than in past versions of NCAA Football. On the field, you can tap the Y button off the line to try to get a jump on the snap. Obviously pressing this button before the snap will result in an encroachment penalty, but if you can time the snap just right, the defensive lineman will knife right into the backfield to blow up the play right from the get-go.
The main thing we noticed about the feel of the game is the wealth of new in-game animations. Finally, NCAA Football feels like it's getting a premium graphics treatment--you'll see decleating tackles, where the defender knocks the ball carrier right off his feet. One time, while we were running a delayed blitz with a linebacker, the computer-controlled fullback stepped up and chipped the blitzing LB right in the side, knocking him over sideways to buy more time for the quarterback. Horse-collar-style tackles (despite being illegal in the NFL) are available in the game when you run down ball carriers from behind, and on most basic head-on collisions, you'll see player models do a better job of wrapping up the man that they're tackling. Running backs can drag one or more defenders for extra yards and roll back over the top of players on the ground as they're taken down. A defensive lineman who gets a free shot at the quarterback can truck the passer mercilessly, knocking him flat on his back and then crawling over top of the prostrate QB on all fours. We also noticed a new throwing animation for QBs who throw short patterns with touch. We could go on for pages about how the game looks in motion, but suffice it to say, NCAA Football 07 will be college football as you've never seen it before, if our brief play test was any indication.
Unfortunately we didn't have an opportunity to check out dynasty mode or any other play modes, but we were more than satisfied by what we saw with the basic gameplay. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more details on NCAA Football 07 as they become available.