Walking into a big college-football stadium for the first time is unlike any experience in big-time sports. A few steps into Neyland Stadium in Knoxville or The Swamp down in Gainesville, and you're overwhelmed by the color, the pageantry, and the pounding, throbbing, nonstop hum of the crowd, the band, and the overhead announcer. That very first time, well, you just don't forget it. Entering a virtual stadium for the first time in NCAA Football 07 for the Xbox 360 isn't exactly the same, but it just might be as close as you can get to re-creating that amazingly passionate atmosphere that makes college football the greatest sport in the land. NCAA Football 07 for the Xbox 360 excels not just with its presentation and spectacle but also with its compelling and hard-hitting gameplay. Despite its relative dearth of features, it's a fine start for the next generation of the series.
First and ten, do it again! EA Sports' NCAA Football series has finally arrived for the Xbox 360.
Practically everything in NCAA 07 feels different from the same game on the Xbox or PlayStation 2. Take the loading screen, for example--as a game loads, a panoramic picture of one of the 70-odd stadiums found in the 360 version smoothly transitions into a rendered version of the exact same stadium. All of a sudden, the still fans featured in the picture come to life, wildly cheering for their team, the roar from the crowd intersecting with Brad Nessler's game introduction. Students' sections are placed where they are in real life--if you look closely, you'll even see your school band blasting away on their tubas and trombones or the visiting team holed up in their little corner of the stadium, all donning the colors of their team. During the high overhead shots, you might find other on-campus buildings you recognize surrounding the stadium. For all intents and purposes, you are there on campus and ready to take in an exciting game of college ball.
In essence, the college atmosphere, long one of the greatest qualities in the current-gen version of the NCAA Football series, is taken to even greater heights thanks to the power of the Xbox 360. Oddly enough, it isn't the players that are the real stars here--it's the stadiums. You've seen football stadiums before in sports games, but you simply haven't seen them like this--the nuances and details that give each college stadium its unique character are presented in loving detail, and, when combined with impressive environmental and lighting effects, it adds up to a spectacular presentation. All that's missing, it seems, is the bite of crisp fall air on your face when the game kicks off.
The animations in NCAA 07--especially tackles--pack a serious punch; you'll often wonder how your ball carrier got up from the last punishing hit that brought him down. Even better, these animations are context sensitive, so your quarterback won't be able to make a long, cross-field pass unless he's firmly planted on his back foot, and running backs won't be making spin moves unless they've got a solid base, either. Things aren't perfect, of course. There are periodic glitches when linemen shift left or right (and sometimes linebackers showing blitz won't allow linemen to shift at all). You'll notice occasional clipping and collision-detection problems, and the run animation itself looks sort of stiff, especially when sprinting in the open field.
Still, for the most part, NCAA 07 is a visual treat. Numerous broadcast cameras give you close-ups as your players line up at the line of scrimmage, giving you ample time to appreciate the scuffs and scratches on the helmets and the menacing scowls on the faces of the players as the they dip into their stance. Certainly, there's a pretty wide gap in graphical quality when viewing the game in full 720p HD, as opposed to your standard-definition television, but under no circumstances is this a bad-looking game. Finally, it's probably worth pointing out that the players themselves don't really look like college athletes--but rather the kind of hulking brutes normally reserved for muscle duty on The Sopranos.
With dynamic crowds and impressive stadiums, he passionate college atmosphere is electric in the game.
The controls in NCAA 07 for the Xbox 360 are slightly different than in other versions but certainly won't feel alien to a series veteran. A new kicking meter uses the right analog stick primarily, and it's an improvement over the old three-button system found in Madden and NCAA--it's less dependent strictly on reflexes and more like a golf swing, requiring a smooth backswing and a confident follow-through to get the best kick possible. Another new feature, the jump-the-snap control, lets you get a run on the quarterback (or kicker) by pressing the Y button, provided you time it just right. In its defense, the computer artificial intelligence will make liberal use of the fake-snap option--which pulls back the camera to simulate the snapping of the ball--to try and draw you offside. On the plus side, the AI is canny enough to use the fake-snap camera at the right moments, such as during third and short; on the down side, well, we've fallen for it far too many times for comfort. Other control changes, such as moving the turbo button to the right trigger, make similar sense when running the ball. Best of all, every control is fully customizable, so even if you don't like how things are currently mapped, you can change things around to your liking.
If you played Madden NFL 06 for the Xbox 360, you'll fall right into line with the play calling in NCAA 07. You can organize your plays by formation, by play type (inside handoff, outside handoff, standard pass, play action, and so on), by key player (in those moments where you want to make sure your impact wide receiver is your first choice, for example), or you can ask Lee Corso for his advice on the call. Corso seems far too comfortable with zone coverage (and averse to blitzes) for our liking, but then perhaps that's why he's in the commentating booth these days. While the Xbox 360 version of the game doesn't feature the massive playbook upgrade featured in the current-gen versions, there's still a remarkable variety of playbooks to choose from. Once you familiarize yourself with the playbook of one team, playing with a different team in a different conference often takes a while to get used to.