With next-generation sports games, there seem to be two schools of thought. Some companies do their best to make sure that the Xbox 360 version of a particular game has the exact same feature set as the PlayStation 2 or Xbox version of the game, so you don't feel as though you're getting cheated out of features. Other companies strive to make sure that their Xbox 360 (and eventually their PlayStation 3) sports games differentiate themselves from the older games. EA Sports seems to fall solidly in the second school of thought, as evidenced by the upcoming release of NCAA Football 07 for the Xbox 360--a game that shares a number of features and modes with the Xbox version of the game but still maintains its own identity.
That separate identity is most evident in the game's presentation, which varies pretty dramatically from the Xbox and PS2 versions. When you first boot up the game, you're asked to choose your favorite team; once you've made your choice, the background screen in the menu changes to an attractive slide show of photographs that highlight your school. We chose Auburn and saw pictures of the campus, the Tigers marching band, the orange-, blue-, and white-clad cheerleaders, and even a shot of former Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell. It's a nice touch that really taps into the passion people feel for their favorite teams.
On the field, the presentation is different as well. Momentum is the heart and soul of this year's NCAA Football game, and it's presented in an even more explicit way than in the Xbox or PS2 versions of the game. The biggest change is the momentum meter on the screen--as you make big plays, such as touchdowns, interceptions, or fumble recoveries, your momentum meter will fill up (or decrease if you're consistently blowing it on the field). If you fill it completely, your team will get an even bigger boost, players will be faster and tougher to bring down, or your quarterback might make a few passes he might not otherwise complete. A number of cool camera angles in between plays really show off the work that's gone into the graphics engine--helmets brandish scuff marks and realistic reflections, and dynamic lighting effects change as the game (and the day) wears on, gradually changing from day, to dusk, to night. In all, the next-gen spit and polish in NCAA 07 has resulted in a game that looks like it belongs on the Xbox 360.
A handful of minigames are also new to the game, including bowling, tug of war, and option dash. While we didn't get a chance to see option dash in action, bowling and tug of war look like they could be fun diversions from the main action in the game. In bowling, you'll have two chances per frame to make it into the end zone from the 10-yard line. How close you get will determine your score. And yes, if you manage to "bowl" three strikes in a row, you'll earn a turkey--or rather, a Virginia Tech Hokie. Tug of war, on the other hand, is a battle for control of the field; you start out at the 50-yard line and switch possession between plays, gaining or losing field position as you go. The goal is to score on your opponent and thus "take" the entire field from your foe.
While fans of NCAA 07's career mode (known in the Xbox and PS2 game as campus legend mode) may be disappointed to hear that the mode didn't make it into the Xbox 360 version, the hardcore contingent should know that dynasty mode is well intact, complete with in-season recruiting, a new 3D map of the US for use during recruiting, and all the rest of the coaching goodies you've come to expect in the current-gen versions of the game. It's here that the majority of the big NCAA fans spend their time, so it's a good thing the Tiburon development team included it.
From a control standpoint, the game will play very similarly to its Xbox cousin, and many of the same control tweaks that have been made in the current-gen version of the game can be found in the Xbox 360 game. The turbo button, for example, has moved to the right trigger button, and new controls, such as the jump-the-snap option (which helps you get a jump on the ball when playing as a defensive lineman), are in place. Watch out with that jump-the-snap option, however; it's very easy to get the timing wrong and cost your team some penalty yards. A fake snap option, which pulls the camera back temporarily to simulate the camera movement during the snap, is in there as well; in fact, the computer will use it against you periodically, hoping to get you to bite and get caught offsides (and yeah, they got us a few times).
If you've ever played a game of NCAA and wanted to capture a great play for posterity (or, more likely, for bragging rights over your buddies), you'll be able to with a handy picture feature in NCAA 07, which will let you take a snapshot during a replay. You can move the camera all over the field when taking pics and save them to your hard drive or memory unit. When you access a photo later, you can even check out the game stats on the back of the picture for further proof of your on-the-field heroics. Unfortunately, you won't be able to share the pictures over Xbox Live, but producers said that's something they hope to work in for later entries in the series. Speaking of Xbox Live, producers told us they are working on a number of downloadable extras for NCAA 07, including team-specific backgrounds and helmets for your gamertag picture, and possibly even alternate uniforms (such as last year's supremely ugly Florida Gators orange and blue slash alternate kit). They also said there will be plenty of Xbox Live achievements to earn; we even saw one unlocked after completing a big downfield pass.
With amazingly authentic-looking stadiums and players, improved crowds and mascots that act more like the real thing, and gameplay modes you won't find in any other version of NCAA 07, the Xbox 360 version of the game is shaping up to be an attractive debut on the console. We'll have more on this game in the near future as we close in on its July 18 release.