NCAA Football 10 made some significant strides last year by introducing some entertaining new modes and reworking old ones to flesh out the entire college football experience. This year, EA Sports took a different approach with NCAA Football 11 by focusing more on beefing up on-field action than on making major in-game upgrades to supplementary modes like Road to Glory. But, that's not to say these preexisting modes--those transferred from last year to this year--are completely neglected. There are some small changes to be found, some of which don't amount to much more than window dressing while others succeed in making their associated modes more engaging.
6268799>Cal makes an early interception.
In either case, it's disappointing to start up a mode in NCAA Football 11 and find that little has changed, and there's no greater offender than the Road to Glory mode. This is the mode where you can create your own player and watch him grow from a high school standout to a college superstar. It's still hosted by ESPN's Erin Andrews, and colleague Kirk Herbstreit still chimes in to break down your performance, but aside from game specific highlights that play during his postgame recaps, there isn't anything specific to this mode that you haven't already seen if you played NCAA Football 10. Even Andrews' appearance is simply a replay of what she did for the previous game. Still, there's something undeniably addictive about taking a no-name player and turning him into a star athlete, but like last year, you still have to be mindful of the pitfalls of selecting certain positions on offense. For example, quarterbacks can always call an audible to get out of predetermined plays, but running backs and receivers are still at the mercy of an AI-controlled coach that wants to win and doesn't care about your individual performance.
NCAA Football 11's Dynasty mode is disappointing, at least in terms of feature upgrades from last year, but there's one relatively small difference beneath the surface that improves a major aspect of managing any dynasty, and that's recruiting. Like the recruiting methods found in previous NCAA games, you can woo an athlete to your school by making phone calls and pitching the benefits of joining your program. But NCAA Football 11 turns these phone calls into a more engaging and obvious meta game where you can earn points (think of them as indicating the level of interest in your school) and cause other schools to lose points based on the topics of discussion. For example, if you're talking about coaching prestige and your school has a high rating whereas a competing school has a slightly lower rating, then the recruit will show greater interest in your program and less interest in the other. Comparing the two schools will earn you points that reflect the recruit's interest. At times, recruiting still feels like an impenetrable wall of information, but receiving an instantaneous (and easily understood) reward for your efforts and having greater transparency in the recruitment process make it more worthwhile.
That feeling is amplified when playing an online dynasty where you can actively try to take prospects away from other player-controlled schools and hear competitors whine about it. But an online dynasty offers another significant advantage over its single-player counterpart in the form of a Web-based interface where you can access your dynasty at any time via a PC. Easily one of NCAA Football 11's greatest non-gameplay improvements, this interface not only lets you view schedules and keep tabs on other teams, but it also lets you participate in recruiting (which functions much as it does in the actual game) and write up news stories or messages on your games that are then posted to a dynasty-specific blog with highlights that you can share through a variety of social-networking options. This is an absolutely great tool for playing up the competitive element of a multiuser dynasty, and it goes a long way in making the entire dynasty process more seamless. It does, however, have a few technical hiccups every now and then as the site sometimes isn't available or it can take a good chunk of time to load a dynasty, but it's a great way to kill some time when it works.
There isn't a better way to mess with another team than to steal their prospects.
Of course, none of this would matter if NCAA Football 11's gameplay wasn't any good, but thankfully, it builds off of many of the improvements from last year and makes some progress in becoming an even more accurate representation of college football. The running game feels great thanks to some improved right-analog stick controls that finesse player movements--how far you press right, left, back, or forward determines just how much you sidestep or put your momentum forward or backward, which is more useful in one-on-one situations as opposed to stomping through the defensive line. Also, because of improved collision detection between players, there's a much greater feeling of being able to fend off a tackle with a spin or stiff arm if you're timing is right. That being said, there's still some questionable run blocking as it's not completely uncommon to see a lineman or receiver run back toward the line of scrimmage instead of make a downfield block on a defensive back or linebacker, but it's certainly improved over last year. There are also moments when running backs (albeit very good ones) seemingly gain superhuman strength and shed tackles from 250-plus pound linebackers as if they were drops of water.
NCAA Football 11's passing game has some similar quirks that are mostly just unrealistic. Two receivers running a slant route across the middle of the field run into each other far too often, thus disrupting the timing on a pass. It's not unreasonable to see this happen once in a long while, but its frequency suggests that these receivers probably shouldn't be playing football. Likewise, there's some inconsistency with the long ball. Normally, if a receiver is unable to reliably make a catch on a short six-yard route, you wouldn't necessarily expect him to make the catch on a 40-yard pass, but it happens--more than it should. On top of all that, quarterbacks can still make some ridiculous throws when scrambling, specifically when running to one side of the field and throwing the ball in the opposite direction against their natural motion. Still, the quality of the defensive AI really forces you to make smart decisions about where to throw the ball, and the fact that receivers generally try to stay in bounds (thanks to some new feet-dragging animations) when catching the ball near the sidelines opens some new opportunities, especially when the clock is ticking and you're close to winning a game. At any rate, it's a great feeling to read coverage and pick it apart with a smart pass.