At the eleventh hour of the current console generation, EA Sports manages to make the right amount of tweaks to their college football formula to ensure that the franchise feels fresh and is fun to play.
In my review of last year's NCAA Football 13, I was underwhelmed at how much the game had changed from the previous year's incarnation. I was hesitant to give it any sort of recommendation since I felt that you could just as easily purchase NCAAF 12 and get the same overall product.
This is not at all the case with NCAAF 14.
While it may look the same as always, the gameplay and what you can do has changed drastically. Gone is the Season Showdown and all of the point scoring bits that would have been included (so no more inane, annoying "Running up the Score" point deductions). The system still somewhat remains, but it was reworked into an XP system for Dynasty mode where you can level up your coaching staff ala RPGs like Skyrim by making sure your team performs well in a game.
A points system is also now in place for Recruiting in Dynasty mode, replacing the more realistic, but also far more tedious time management system. It has been streamlined significantly, almost making it work for you automatically. I personally feel that they slimmed it down a bit too much, but for the most part I'm glad that I don't need to sit in menus for hours at a time just to make sure I have good recruits coming into my school for the next season when I'd much rather be playing football.
Menus aside, the biggest noticeable change in the game this year is the actual gameplay. EA announced that this game would fully implement the same type of physics engine used in their FIFA and Madden titles, and it shows. Tackle animations are more realistic, noticeable clipping is almost nonexistent when compared to previous years, and the overall feel of the game has made a turn for the better. The running game is far more satisfying than any previous football title I've played in recent years, as the O-line now actually blocks the attacking defense with some gusto instead of just seemingly giving up whenever a lineman gets around the corner. Plus the running back acts far more realistically by brushing off weak arm tackles and actually being able to weave through the line, rather than getting automatically tackled when a defensive player warps right in to tackle the ball carrier.
NCAA Football 14 Gameplay (via Swamphunter)
One particularly fun, new feature is something called "Ultimate Team." Basically, it's college football trading cards coming to life. You can get a set free at first, and then another set if you pre-ordered the game. After that, you trade or purchase more to build up your team. They bring a new angle to playing against someone online, and it's rather cool to see players from different teams coming together.
On the same team.
EA gives zero fucks about their college naming rights lawsuit, and uses the full power of their NFLPA licensing to bring this feature to NCAA Football 14.
It's not all sunshine and rainbows, though. Odd bits of quirkiness are still present once in a while, such as a bug that's new to this version where using Custom Stadium Sounds causes the audio to cut out for a second or two. The team tunnel entrances are replaced by a generic ESPN-style pre-game hype video (where they get our saying "This is Bear Territory" incorrect with, "This is Bear Country") using the same canned animations that we've seen for the last four or five years now. Also, while the defensive secondary is no longer the most feared group of players on the field, they can still have random bouts of both overpowered-ness as well as severe stupidity.
At least the linebackers that can leap tall buildings in a single bound are (seemingly) gone for good. Plus, Road to Glory is largely untouched, so if you're a fan of taking a player all the way for four years of college, you will find nothing different here. The commentary is also starting to really show it's age, as it is pretty much unchanged from the last couple of years, only with an added halftime bit (that you can see near the end of my attached gameplay video). It's time to get some new blood in the virtual announcing booth.
NCAA Football 14 Real Time Physics Big Hit (via JohnDevin2011)
Overall, while the paint job is obviously fading on this generation of NCAA Football, NCAA Football 14 makes the right changes underneath the hood to ensure that the gameplay is the freshest it has ever been in the series to date. What the future will hold with the new IGNITE engine on next-gen consoles is yet to be seen, however with the advances EA Sports is making with this current generation as it heads out the door, one can assume that it is in good hands. My recommendation? A definite buy.