Every year tens of thousands of high school football players dream of continuing their careers at the collegiate level, but most of them will never know what it's like to play in an enormous stadium in front of 60,000 rabid fans. EA Tiburon is doing its best to make sure that dream comes true for everybody in NCAA Football 08's campus legend mode. We recently spent some time with the mode at EA's Summer Preview event and tried to see if we had what it takes to take our game from high school to a Division 1 powerhouse. It wasn't easy, but it sure was fun.
You can start your campus legend career in a number of ways: You can take over the career of any existing collegiate player, you can create a player and start him off in college, or you can create a high school player. Just be sure to pick a position you enjoy because you can't change it once you've begun. Should you go the high school route, you'll start the game as a senior who's about to take part in a 16-team playoff featuring schools from real cities in whatever area you said your player is from. The first three games take place on what looks like a typical high school field with a small number of bleachers packed with fans. If you can make it to the championship game you'll be rewarded with your first taste of what it's like to play at the next level because your game will take place in the stadium of the nearest major university.
Your focus isn't just on winning playoff games; it's also on playing well and garnering the attention of college recruiters. This means you'll have to make every play count, especially since your coach can bench you if you're stinking up the joint. But be aware that if you're blowing out the other team, your coach might call off the dogs and pull you too. Because you're a player and not a coach, you'll have to run the plays that are sent in by the head coach. EA is toying with the possibility of letting you call audibles if you're the QB, but no final decision has yet been made. You'll have control over only the player you've created, and the game will quickly simulate any play you're not involved in, though you can choose to watch any play you'd like. While it's only natural to want the ball in your hands on every play, it's surprisingly fun to throw a block that springs a player free for a big gain--especially if you're a quarterback. QBs naturally get the most action and receivers the least, but you can call for the ball if (like any receiver worth his salt) you think you're open on every play.
Once your high school career has wound down you'll be presented with a list of the schools that want you to don their colors. While this is a small victory, your journey has just begun. Do you go to a small school where you'll come in and challenge for the starting job right away, or do you swallow your pride and ride the pine at a major program? We chose the big school route and headed off to Nebraska to see if we could channel our inner Tommy Frazier. As expected, we were way down on the depth chart. Heck, we were lucky to just get into the stadium. But we didn't come this far to be a glorified water boy; we came to play, and that meant working hard in practice.
When practice started we were shown how far behind the next player on the depth chart we were. Basically, you'll need to earn about 21 practice points for every one overall rating point between you and the player above you. When your rating equals his, the job is yours. After practice we were awarded points that went toward improving our quarterback's accuracy, throwing power, carrying ability, elusiveness, spine move, and juke. While a backup quarterback's role is mostly limited to mop-up duty in blowouts, other nonstarters will need to be prepared to contribute to special teams, both on offense and defense. In addition to practicing, you'll need to figure out how to best spend your free time. You can choose to study, go to the movies, or play pickup basketball, which may raise or lower certain attributes or even cause injury. Being all about our education we decided to stay in and hit the books. Hey, we said we wanted to be like Tommy Frazier, not Lawrence Phillips.
Even though it has been just a short time since our last hands-on time with the game, it's already looking and playing even better. The new gang tackles look great, and while there are even more animations in this build, the frame rate was more consistent and smooth. EA was tight-lipped about other aspects of the game, but we were able to get a few tidbits on some things to look forward to. Not only will there be 115 stadiums, but UCS's new stadium will be in the game, as will Vanderbilt's new digs and Alabama's upgraded stadium. We also got a closer look at the beautifully detailed trophies that will fill your trophy room...if you're any good.
NCAA Football 08 is due out on July 17 for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. We'll continue to bring you the latest on the game as its release date approaches.