NCAA Football 2005 E3 2004 Hands-On Impressions

EA offered us a firsthand peek at its upcoming college football game.

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At the EA Sports booth, we stopped by the NCAA Football 2005 kiosk to have a peek at how the game has evolved since last year. While its "big brother" Madden has put a renewed emphasis on defensive play, NCAA 2005's focus will be on home field advantage and player morale, in general. The most obvious feature change is the crowd rumble feature. If you're the home team and you're on defense, you can tap a button (the white button on the Xbox) to rile up the crowd and get them to cheer louder before the snap, in an attempt to disrupt the opposing offense. Depending on how highly rated your stadium is as a "tough place to play" (yes, stadiums will now be ranked in NCAA 2005), the screen will shake, and your opponent's controller will rumble violently. If your opponent is foolish enough to try to call an audible, you'll see the quarterback step out from under center to try to yell the signals to his wide receivers and backs. However, they may not get the proper signals and may end up running the wrong routes or not executing the proper blocking schemes, just as in real life. Another amusing gaffe that could result from crowd noise is the quarterback lining up under the guard instead of the center.

The morale of individual players will also be taken into account in NCAA Football 2005. Depending on how composed or rattled a player is, his morale can affect player skill on the field. These two aspects, morale and skill, are represented by icons underneath each player that can be toggled on and off before the snap by tapping the right analog stick. A circle with seven different states represents the player's current morale. A full white circle means the player is fully composed and poised, which can benefit the player's base skill. A black circle means he's totally rattled, which can reduce the player's effectiveness. Several in-between states also exist. Skill is represented by a sliding green/red bar to the right of the circle. A large green bar is good news, while any bar in the red should be a warning to you that the ball should probably go in someone else's hands. Morale is generally affected by the last few plays on the field. As a result, if a running back gets stuffed several consecutive times on rushing plays, his morale will take a hit. Similarly, a linebacker corps that gets a couple of sacks will be encouraged and fired up by its positive play.

Aside from the new crowd rumbling and morale features, tweaks have been made to the game's dynasty mode. Just as today's athletic directors do, you'll now have to worry about your school's program integrity. From time to time, you'll receive news of players who are missing class or other improprieties. While leveling suspensions will keep the NCAA from swooping in and applying sanctions or taking away scholarships, it can also negatively affect the morale of your team. You'll also have to make sure that key reserves and freshmen see enough playing time. Bury a potential star on the bench and you may get hit with the news that he's decided to transfer to another school. Rounding out the list of new tweaks is the addition of "Athlete" recruits. Multipositional Michael Vick-wannabes such as these can be groomed for any position you need filled, such as wide receiver, running back, or quarterback.

Overall, NCAA Football 2005 is shaping up to be a more than worthy successor to last year's game, which was one of 2003's more underappreciated sports titles. The game is slated for release on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube. Xbox and PlayStation 2 owners can look forward to online play on their respective platforms when the game ships this coming August.

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