At first glance, not much seems different with NCAA Football 14, but it's what's under the hood that counts. Based on appearance alone, you'd think EA was content with repackaging last year's version of the game; it's when you go hands-on with the latest college football game, though, that you really begin to appreciate the improvements that have been made.
New to the game is the Infinity Engine 2, an upgrade to the physics engine that made its debut in Madden NFL 13. Players in NCAA Football 14 now move with the same realism as in Madden, with real weight and momentum; however, NCAA 14 expands on this engine and with the inclusion of the Force Impact System. Now all those little nuances – speed, weight, momentum, mass – are taken into account when determining the outcome of a collision.
The improvements made by the Infinity Engine are noticeable, but not to the effect that it feels like you're playing an entirely new game. Player movement is noticeably smoother and the cutbacks, specifically with some of the more elusive players, are fluid and seamless. Of course, anyone who has played Madden already knows the engine is susceptible to some wonky outcomes, and some strange animations as a result should be expected. It's all funny until it leads to a game-losing touchdown. Animation issues aside, the Infinity Engine is still a major improvement over predetermined outcomes.
Speaking of improvements, the running game in particular has seen the most. In addition to the hard run cuts for changes of direction, NCAA Football 14 features a revamped blocking AI system. Blockers are more intelligent, picking up the blitz and recognizing which defender to pancake.
The more intuitive AI is even more appreciated when you take into account NCAA Football 14's renewed emphasis on the Option, which now has over 30 types in the game. There's no denying the Option is a staple in college football (even spreading to the NFL now), so the inclusion of an entire playbook dedicated to this scheme is welcomed. I personally don't run this scheme, but I've had it run on me several times by the AI opponent. It didn't always work, but the computer's ability to read the defense and react accordingly was much improved.
Ultimate Team is easily my favorite addition. Admittedly, I've never been fond of this mode in other EA sports titles, but the idea of playing a team composed of some of college football's greatest legends really appealed to me. Because EA's servers are not up and running yet, I've only had a taste of this mode – opening up the initial pack of cards and playing a few games against the AI.
EA boasts "imagine Peyton Manning throwing the ball to Randy Moss" as a possible dream team. Well, my initial roster has the rookie version of quarterback Mark Sanchez. That's really the point of the mode, though. Play some initial scrimmage matches, earn coins, and purchase new packs of cards comprised of better players. Since EA's servers are not yet up, I haven't been able to purchase any new players, but I did get a taste of what to expect in the Gold packs. As a free bonus when first creating my team I was awarded the Gold-rated card of Bo Jackson, the running back stud out of Auburn (who later went on to play professional baseball).
Ultimate Team offers two types of gameplay – a Head-to-Head seasons mode, which puts players in a 10-game "season" in hopes of making the playoffs, and Solo Challenges, which are a nice way to learn the ropes and earn some rewards as you progress through the conferences. The more you win (in either mode), the more rewards and prizes you'll get.
Dynasty mode also makes a return this year, but EA has tweaked and added a few features. The big addition is Coach Skills, which adds a RPG-like progression system. Completing certain goals – winning games, signing prospects, etc. – will earn you XP which, in turn, you net you skill points. You can spend these skill points on 18 upgradeable abilities spread across two skill trees; Game Management and Recruiting.