Early impressions of NCAA 14 (with a PSU perspective)

So I got NCAA 14 and figured I'd give everyone a (very early) rundown of how I feel about it, especially for those who are deciding whether to get it. This is just after playing a few games as PSU, although I've played hundreds and hundreds of games in past years. The game has a new physics engine and some new gameplay features. I'll cover a little of that stuff, and also my feelings on how well they represent the PSU squad as a whole.


One place where the Physics engine really shines is on tackles and hits. You are not going to have your 240 pound fullback drop like he was shot if there is a 180 pound CB hitting him. Instead, the little guy will sort of grind him to a halt and then fall forward with him (assuming he completes the tackle at all). Tackles with several people involved look much more real than in years past, and it seems like there are a zillion animations and different ways guys can ping off of each other. Also, there's a nifty stumble recovery mechanism (which I haven't totally figured out yet) where your ballcarrier can put his hand on the ground and regain his balance. It's really cool when it works.

For those who haven't played in many years, the "magnetic tackler" effect where a guy just sort of gloms onto you from any angle is mostly out of the game now. You'll still see it occasionally, but not often, and not as blatantly bad.

Running has changed as well. There's less difference between regular running and "speed burst" running. And the way a ballcarrier changes direction is really different. It used to be your guy would just sort of turn while maintaining speed, and how well you turned had to do with your agility ratings. Now when you make a hard cut, the guy actually plants his foot, and it's a much more natural movement. But that being said, it is very difficult to get used to. It especially comes up when you run between the tackles. On those types of runs, the game now does a much better job of rewarding patience and timing, and vision to see cutbacks. You can't just go full speed to where the hole is supposed to be.

Read options have gotten pretty impressive, with a whole suite of midline/veer reads, frontside and backside reads, and triple options. The game will highlight who your read is pre-play. I'm starting to get the hang of it, and I find that you have to be patient with the QB on speed option. Sometimes the pitch read is just sort of hanging halfway between you and the RB, which means you should be cutting upfield, but then the guy kind of magically turns and gets you. The read for the inside exchange on midline or flexbone happens really quickly—as it should be. If you hesitate, your fullback is already gone and you're stuck with the ball.

Pass defense has some of the old issues. They fixed the linebacker with the 10 foot vertical leap a year or two ago, so now you can throw intermediate crossing routes that actually work.

Zone coverages are a mix of good and bad. Guys who drop back do a good job of tracking players rather than just standing there like statues, and they also lose track of guys who cross behind them, which is really cool when you start seeing it. Safety play is still all screwy. They don't flow they way they're supposed to. But then when you're on offense, it seems impossible to get a ball over the top without the safety easily tracking it down.

And Cover-2 is still broken in the sense that the corner route is often open by 20 yards, because the safeties sink too far towards the center of the field. I mean, a corner route is supposed to be open against that coverage, but it seems like it's too open. I think the CBs should be carrying guys deeper when they release up the field, and giving up the flat more often. Man Under works pretty well, though.

There is a new "ball hawk" feature where you can manually switch players and then hold down the triangle button to track the ball and try to highpoint it. You have to do it all after the ball leaves the QB's hands, and if you time it right, you get a pick. I think this is going to make it too easy to get interceptions.

Pass offense is pretty good, and you can lead a receiver into space or do things like throw a back-shoulder fade just by moving your left stick when you release the pass. It also helps on certain hitches and curls, because you can give your receiver a jump and allow him to not get plowed by the charging defender (where if you throw it right to him, he has to get going from a standing start). It's a very natural way to control it and easy to get the hang of. I give this feature an A+.

Receivers still run their routes with no awareness. They'll just barrel right through a zone coverage when they should be slowing down or even sitting in the holes. If they're going to fix how the defenders move in zone, they need to fix the way the receivers run their routes in order to reestablish some balance.

Overall, in terms of gameplay, for those who wonder if it's different enough to be worth buying, I'd say there are some fairly significant differences. Some are for the better, and some are just different, but a fair number of them are for the better.

PSU Roster and player ratings:

This is where it gets weird. I will preface this by saying that I'm sure every fan base has issues with their team that have them frothing at the mouth on a yearly basis, and a lot of this can get fixed with roster downloads, and editing your personnel groups. I think a lot of the strange stuff going on with the PSU roster has to do with our odd personnel groupings and the weird places we align our TEs. But here goes.

Hackenberg is the default starting QB. I guess not surprising, because on pure throwing ability, he's going to end up with a better rating than the other options. The surprising thing is that he's pretty fast! Not like, run him all the time fast, but he can get pretty decent yardage on read option plays. That being said, I'm not sure why we have that many read plays in the PSU playbook, but oh well.

Zwinak is pretty beastly. They didn't make him a slow plodder, to their credit. He can get away from all but the really fast guys, which is about how it should be. I think maybe his trucking should be a touch higher, but it's pretty good out of the box.

Belton, on the other hand, is nowhere near as shifty as he should be. I guess his stats don't back it up? I don't know how EA agrees on their ratings for guys who don't play a lot. I haven't used Lynch yet.

The tight end/wide receiver depth chart is all jacked up. Zanellatto is the second tight end, and Lehman is the third wideout. I can see why they did that for Lehman, because he rarely lined up inside. Maybe they actually thought he was a wide receiver. No idea what the deal is with Zanellatto, though. What all this means is that Jesse James is the #3 TE and never sees the field except in goal line situations. You have to tweak your personnel groups to get him out there. Not sure what he's lacking in ratings that drops him so low.

Zwinak, Carson, and Amos get stars. A-Rob and Barnes do not. A-Rob is good, though, but should be better on high balls. It's hard to get him free down the sideline. This has always been a problem for me with NCAA games, how the best receiver just gets sent on deep routes in a lot of the playbooks, and so it's difficult to take advantage of him.

The whole lack of love for Barnes has been discussed. I personally think EA just whiffed on it. Playing as him on defense, he just doesn't come off as dominant, or even that good. Total oversight. Baublitz and Jones are the starting DTs. When I played as Jones, he seemed to get double teamed on every play, so it's tough to say how good he was.

At linebacker, Carson is a monster for some reason, and seems faster than he should be. Hull is massively underrated, and doesn't even show up in nickel and 3-2-6 personnel. Instead, Kline is the second guy. Wartman is buried in the depth chart.

Amos is a beast. He intercepts or knocks down everything, and he kills people when he hits them. They have him listed as a corner, which is understandable. SOA also was all over the field, but my experience is that the SS often ends up being a huge playmaker in these games, regardless of whether they're a super talent.

PSU Playbook:

As far as the playbook goes, they did a decent job given the framework of the playcalling system. I'm not sure how you recreate a playbook like BOB's within the user interface of this game. They just don't have a way to program it so that both your starting tight ends are lined up outside the numbers on certain spread plays, but not in others.

But the playbook is fairly representative of the kind of stuff we run. Your staples are there. We have the stick and spot plays from about a dozen different formations. We have that quick pass we ran all the time from a tight formation, where the WR ran an out cut and the TE ran a flat/quick out underneath him. That play is pretty unstoppable in the game.

There are some neat plays from Ace formations including a number of them where both TEs are on the same side, and one goes in motion. In particular, there is a combo with a Power-O play and an outside toss out of this set where everything looks the same pre-snap. In one the motion tight end leads straight up, and in the other he keeps going outside, and the playside guard pulls with him. I ran the power play a couple times and then came back with the toss later, and all the defenders got swallowed inside, and ZZ scored a 30 yard TD.

There are too many I formation plays with a fullback, when there should be a bigger variety from one back sets. But I think that comes from BOB putting TEs in the backfield so much toward the second half of last year. But, guess who shows up as the starting fullback? Akeel Lynch! just when you think the personnel weirdness is finished.

Overall, my feelings are mixed, as they always tend to be with these games. Serious gamers tend to freak out about what's not right and discount anything that isn't perfect. But there is a lot to like about it. I think this game has a chance to grow on me as I get some more hours.

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