Other tweaks have been made to the control scheme in NCAA 06 relating to the right thumbstick. Though the series has yet to adapt the playmaker controls from Madden, NCAA has adopted the hit stick from the pro football sim. Now, as you close in on the ball carrier, you can tap the right analog stick in the direction of your target to apply a bone-crunching tackle, which increases the chances of a turnover. The swim, spin, and bull-rush moves for defensive linemen are also mapped to the right analog stick, making line play more intuitive than before. On the offensive side of the ball, you can use the right analog stick to juke or sidestep left and right as the ball carrier, or you can even do a little stop-and-go move if you tap in the down direction. That particular move is great for getting past defenders approaching you from a steep angle. Overall, the use of the right analog stick for various moves in NCAA 06 improves the game a great deal, making jukes and other spectacular plays more intuitive to pull off.
Impact players are immediately noticeable because of the white shadows underneath them.
The inclusion of impact players is also worth mentioning. Your impact players on both offense and defense are denoted by solid white shadows underneath them. These players are basically your go-to guys--the ones you turn to when you need an important first down or need to make a key stop. From time to time during a game, your impact players will get "in-the-zone," and their white shadows will pulsate. It's never quite clear why a player will get in-the-zone when he does, because the timing seems unrelated to recent performance. It just seems to happen at random. But when it does happen, the player that's in-the-zone will be capable of performing even better than normal. A ball carrier, for example, may be able to break a tackle that he normally wouldn't be able to evade. A linebacker who's in-the-zone may be more likely to force a fumble upon contact. Sometimes these special plays will result in brief pauses in the action, and the camera will then zoom in to show off the feat. These Matrix-like camera tricks don't happen all too often, but when they do, they always highlight something pretty cool. Over the course of a dynasty, it's possible for impact players on a team to change. For example, while playing as Cal, the quarterback became an impact player in the middle of our season because he piled up great statistics over the first six games.
Graphically, player models have been tweaked to look skinnier than players in Madden, which helps reflect the young age of college football players, most of whom haven't fully filled out yet. There have also been a lot of additions made to the animations in NCAA 06. Gang tackles, pancake blocks, and other new animations have been added, further refining the game's looks. The base engine remains pretty much the same, though, so don't expect quite the same level of visual polish as in the Madden games. A new College GameDay-like pregame show has been added, starring the announcers Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso. While new commentary from the trio helps with the audio presentation, the actual character models for the three look rather rough, and they don't animate very well at all.
NCAA 06 is a great game overall, and it belongs in every college football fan's collection.
The sound effects in the game remain good overall, but, unfortunately, EA has decided to include EA Trax to score the menus. As a result, the songs in the soundtrack are a mishmash of different genres. You'll be grooving to De La Soul's "Me, Myself and I" one moment, and the next you're feeling angst while listening to the Clash's "Train in Vain." How do those go together? We're still wondering. The other tracks are primarily commercialized pseudopunk that were probably rejected from the Burnout 3 soundtrack, as none of them evokes a college football mood. Thankfully, you can switch to traditional fight songs in the settings, but if you want to play the spring drills minigames, you're still forced to listen to the mess of EA Trax.
Online play is included on both platforms, and it seemed to work well in our testing on empty test servers. Gameplay was generally responsive and lag-free, so hopefully this situation will continue on the retail servers as they fill up with players. You'll need to create a login on EA's servers, and there you'll be treated to the usual array of features, including ranked ladders, lobbies, news, periodic tournaments, and more.
As far as the differences between the two platforms, the PS2 version has superior control over the Xbox version because all the buttons are more easily reachable. If you play a lot of option offense, for example, you won't like that the pitch and fake-pitch buttons are mapped to the black and white buttons on the Xbox controller. The control issues relating to button placement are, in fact, appreciable on both sides of the ball. However, the PS2 version of the game suffers from really long load times for menus, as well as when simulating weeks during the dynasty and race for the Heisman modes. The Xbox loads and simulates many times faster, so if you envision yourself spending a lot of time in the career modes, you may want to consider the Xbox version, even with its control issues. Finally, the PS2 version does suffer from slowdown in some circumstances. The frame rate drop seems to happen the most on kickoff returns and other low-angle situations, but in general, it's not nearly the big problem that the Xbox slowdowns were on last year's game. It's difficult for us to determine which version is better, so deciding between faster load times and slicker in-game controls is likely to be a more personal decision.
The licensed soundtrack tends to take away from the overall feel of the game.
While a bevy of nifty new features has been added to NCAA Football 06, the best aspect of the game is probably its re-tweaking of the usual NCAA game balance. The actual nuts and bolts of playing a game of NCAA 06 make it feel just right, and for veterans of the series, playing will evoke warm memories of NCAA 04. Combining that great gameplay balance with all the new features added over the past two years results in a game that every college football fan should have in his or her library.