Gameplay changes, poor balance, and a host of user exploits make this game feel clumsy and very "un-football"
Well, when I heard about the Teambuilder feature of this game, I was instantly sold on NCAA Football 10. Sadly, neither Teambuilder, nor the game itself has lived up to my expectations.
NCAA has made several fairly major adjustments to the on-the-field gameplay this year and numerous presentational additions and changes that make the game look a little more flashy and meaty than previous installments (too bad the graphics weren't updated the way Madden was). Sadly, however, many of these new features feel forced, come with their own glaring faults, and don't mesh well with the rest of the game anyway; and other, nagging issues from the past return to frustrate gamers for yet another year.
The game features new animations that are supposed to give the player more control and make the game feel more authentic. QBs no longer auto-tuck the ball when being sacked while throwing, leading to wobbly "lame duck" passes that can easily be picked by defenders and taken to the house. Additionally, passes that are deflected at the line no longer fall straight to the ground, but rather bounce up into the air for anyone to grab. This is a HUGE improvement to the game and changes the way the pass game works because suddenly, height for QBs and defensive players suddenly has more meaning, and an aggressive pass rush finally has a chance at really pressuring the QB. Unfotunately, it exaccerbates an already existing problem of the AI defenses being way too effective at getting pressure on your QB at higher difficulties (mostly because of your offensive line's complete unwillingness to pass block), and you'll be forced to scramble on almost every pass play you run, and will still end up with a lot of incomplete passes and even more interceptions. And on the higher difficulties, the AI linemen pass protect so well, that you'll rarely get close enough hit their QB.
Another addition is "Gameplanning". At the beginning of each half (and overtime) and at any timeout or during the play-call screen, you can set a series of AI behaviors for your offense and defense. Each one has a positive and a negative. Some of them don't really make sense and should probably have more ambiguous pros and cons (i.e. why does going for a stripped ball cause more facemask penalties?). These are a nice idea, and some of them can be a huge game-maker for you if used properly. But some of these go way overboard in their effectiveness. For example, if I set me players to "Block Longer", they suffer the side-effect of having more holding penalties. And I mean a LOT of holding penalties. In one game, I had a holding penalty every other play on offense because of that setting. Ridiculous. The amount of holds should be dependent on the length of time it takes to run the play. So a quick Halfback dive for 2 yards should be significantly less likely to have a holding penalty called than a play where my QB sits in the pocket for 7 seconds looking for a receiver, or runs back and forth behind the line of scrimmage waiting for someone to get open. In fact, almost all of the "Aggressive" settings seem to have no effect on your team's play except to trigger an excessive amount of random penalties.
Another component of the "Gameplanning" feature is a series of plays in the playbooks that are linked together. By running one play continuously and successfully, the defense will be more likely to be fooled by the linked play. For example, if you run the same run play several times and gain good yardage, you can come back later with a Play Action pass that is linked to it and the defense will be fooled more easily by the run fake. This would be a much better feature if it weren't so specific. Linked plays are only one-to-one, so if a play is linked to another, it is only linked to that ONE play. So running the same off tackle run successfully will not open you up to be successful at a counter run from the same formation AND a Play Action pass. Only one or the other. It would also be nice if you could set up plays across different formations. If I call a power run from the I Normal, and then from the I split and then from the I Tight, the "set up" should apply to the Power Play Action Pass from all of those formations. But instead, the "set up" only applies to the directly linked play in the same formation. And besides, being very succesful in the running game should make the defense more susceptible to the Play Action in general, not just the one specific PA play. Not all plays have linked plays associated to them. Linkable plays typically include runs linked to Play Action passes, passes linked to draw runs, and pass plays with similar receiver routes. Occasionally a clever link will be in a team's playbook, like a HB dive tied to a flea flicker pass, or a Power run with a receiver in motion being linked to a WR reverse. But mostly, the linked plays are pretty boring. It would also have been nice if the game would remember each linkable play that you have run and save them in a list in the playbook, so that you can automatically go straight to the linkable plays. Sadly, I did not see any such feature, so you have to search through your playbook formation by formation to look for plays that have been set up (or that you want to continue to set up). The final piece of the "Gameplanning" feature is the ability for defenses to "key" on a specific play type. Before the snap, the user can hit a button and press the right stick in one of four directions to select between Run Middle, Run Left, Run Right, or Pass. The whole defense will then focus on whichever of the four you chose. If you guess right, you have a greater chance of shutting down the offense. If you guess wrong, you could give up an easy six points. The problem with this feature is that often times I don't want to use it because I know the other team is going to run the ball, I just don't know where. It would be nice if you could key on the run in general rather than having to specifiy right, left, or middle. It would also be nice if selecting the run keys didn't break many of your defensive player's assignments. Often, the Run Middle key will just cause all of your defenders to run over the offensive Center and then run single-file down the middle of the field like an angry mob rushing through a narrow gate. If the running back sees this, all it takes is a simple juke and he's gone with nobody left to stop him. Even if I have linebackers assigned to cover the zone flats, they will still follow a straight line towards the center of the field. I know EA was going for a risk-reward thing here, but they went a little overboard. Overall, the "Gameplanning" feature is a good idea, but it lacks polish and could really use some more generality, so its mostly only useful for occasional use. So a feature that could have revolutionized the game, ends up feeling like little more than a novelty.
The biggest change to gameplay, however, is the game's speed. The game is significantly faster than previous years. Think of Madden 09. This game is faster than that. Its far too fast. There is very little time to react to what's going on, taking a lot of the feeling of control away from the user. Often a play consists of pressing one button, then its done. This makes playing defense even harder than you would expect (even for an EA football game), since short passes have been made virtually unstoppable. Gameplay often feels clumsy and chaotic. Many of the animations have lost their fluidity, and some look very forced and jagged. And running backs still always fall forward, making it very hard to stop an offense on 3rd or 4th and short. The fact that the AI goes for it on 4th downs far too frequently makes those big defensive stops even harder.
Incompetent blocking and defenses mean that online play is a joke. A casual player who only has a handful of hours to devote to the game in a week has no chance at taking on the little kids that spend 10 hours a day searching for every playbook and gameplay exploit they can find so they can rack up 60 points and feel real good about themselves. The inclusion of a "Sportsmanship" score has helped to alleviate some of the problems that plagued online games in previous years, but constant gameplay problems make online games feel messy and frustrating, and you will rarely find an opponent who is both a.) looking for a serious game of football and b.) at your skill level.
Which means (in my opinion) that the heart of the game is in the single-player careers of Dynasty and Road To Glory (a redress of previous years' "Campus Legend" or "Race for the Heisman" modes). The Dynasty has seen some minor changes, but is still mostly the same as last year. One new addition in Dynasty is being able to recruit AGAINST another school. The idea being that when you call a prospect, in addition to being able to tell him wonderful things about your school, you can also criticize weaknesses in the other schools he's being recruited by. The problem here is, that if you are recruiting a player who is being recruited by other BCS or ranked teams, almost every school has an A or A+ in EVERY category. And if you're playing with a team from a weaker conference, then don't even bother trying to recruit against a BCS team, it'll just be a waste of your recruiting minutes.
The other career mode, the "Road To Glory" mode, is IDENTICAL to last year's "Campus Legend" aside for some pretty (i.e. Erin Andrews as eye candy) but mostly throw-away presentation upgrades and some minor camera tweaks.
If I were a on the NCAA Football development team this year, I would be hanging my head in shame right now. The ONLY reason that I can recommend this game is to people who want to get Madden 10 and be able to import their Dynasty draft classes into the Madden rookie draft. But once you've actually played Madden, you might not be willing to come back to NCAA 10 since Madden's polish and significantly more refined gameplay makes this game look like garbage by comparision. Play NCAA 10 if you must, but don't get your hopes up.