Electronic Arts had playable versions of PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of NCAA Football 06 available on the E3 show floor. We were able to get a demonstration of the game and get a close look at the game's new "race for the Heisman" mode, which is a sort of football role-playing game where you follow the college career of a player from his freshman year through his senior season. The ultimate goal is to win a job in the starting lineup and do well enough in games that you win the Heisman trophy. When you first load up NCAA 06, you'll start out in the role of a high school senior whose coach tells you that you've got one last shot at impressing some college scouts. You find yourself in the midst of some kind of prep camp, where you'll do a different minicamp drill, depending on what position you choose for your player.
You've got several different options: pocket or scrambling quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive lineman, linebacker, or defensive back (sorry, aspiring offensive tackles, you're out of luck). We tried being a scrambling quarterback and ran some option-play drills. Your performance in the drills affects the quality of colleges that offer you a scholarship. Since we scored several touchdowns in the drills, our player received offers from powerhouses like USC and Ohio State. We turned them down and chose to walk on at Arizona State instead. Once you arrive on campus, you'll find yourself in your dorm room, which is a criblike feature where you can check fan mail, read the campus newspaper, look up your stats on the computer, and do other tasks in between games. Many of these features serve as a barometer for how well you're doing in your quest for the Heisman. There isn't much guesswork involved though, as an ever-present Heisman Hype meter in the upper right corner tells you precisely how highly you're regarded for the award. Fill the meter, and you'll receive an invitation to the Heisman ceremony in New York City.
Aside from including the race for the heisman mode, the game has been overhauled in other ways. The pregame show now takes place on a College Gameday-style set, where you'll get predictions and other analysis from veteran college football commentators Brad Nessler, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit. New celebration and postgame animation has been added to the game, as well as updated stadium models and new animations like combo tackles and pancake blocks.
In-season recruiting means that you'll have to expend more effort than ever in order to attract and keep the blue-chip high school players. As in real life, you'll be able to get two levels of verbal agreement (soft or hard commitment) while you wait for signing day, but if you ignore your commits, they may end up getting swayed to go elsewhere.
We also got a taste of the new impact player mode while playing a couple of games. Impact players are the stars on each team who can pull off amazing plays to swing the momentum of a game. Pick a team like USC, and you can find yourself with as many as three or four impact players on each side of the ball. Most ranked teams will have one or two impact players. These players are denoted by solid white halos underneath them, so you'll know who the go-to guys are. When these players get in the zone, the halos will glow, and the juke moves you do (which are now mapped to the right analog stick) can unleash special Burnout-style stop-action close-ups that show your ballcarrier breaking some poor defender's ankles or stiff-arming him into the turf. It sounds disruptive, but when they happen, they're pretty cool looking and don't seem to disrupt the flow of the game.
NCAA Football 06 is slated to ship this July for the PS2 and Xbox. We'll definitely have more info on this game leading into release, so keep an eye on GameSpot Sports.