What We Liked
Team Building Exercise: We've all customized our own characters down to the shade of their nose hair, but NCAA Football 10 ups the ante this year. Rather than just create your own player, EA challenges you to start up your own university. No detail goes unturned. Unleash your inner-Project Runway desires by picking uniform colors and designing logos for helmets and jerseys. Build your own stadium with your new logo plopped down on the 50-yard line. (Minor drawback: You have to do all of the customization on your computer, then upload it from your console. Truth be told, it's easier to handle all of the options with a keyboard and mouse, but it's still worth noting.) You can even upload other gamers' newly created schools. Pretty deep and pretty awesome.
School Spirit: The new Season Showdown mode prompts you to pick a school and stick with it throughout the real college football season. Every time you play as that team, whether it's online or against the CPU, you'll tally points for your school that will display online. Winning counts, but so does loyalty and sportsmanship (yeah, so it's not that realistic). At the end of the season, EA will crown the best gaming university in the country by pitting the 32 top ranked teams against each other in a single-elimination tournament. The last two universities standing will be pitted against each other during college football's real championship week. (We're sure the BCS is thrilled about fans getting the opportunity to see a college football playoff system in action, regardless of whether it's real or imagined.)
We've Been Set Up: The new Set Up Plays option lets you make decisions with more than just one down in mind. As you scroll through the offensive playbook, you'll notice adjacent plays joined by links. Pull off one of the linked plays and it'll set you up for a big play on the next hike. The game even provides a percentage on the second linked play to let you know how vulnerable the defense will be if you call that play next.
CPUniversity: An upgraded and adaptive artificial intelligence will keep you honest. It's been a while since a sports game featured one play you could exploit over and over again, but NCAA Football 10 has really amped up their AI. Repetitive playcalling results in sacks and interceptions by the second quarter. An overreliance on one play will also put you up against a defense that shades to the correct side of the field and places defenders where you're trying to place the ball.
On the Defensive: You may not think defense wins championships, but it looks like EA does. Man-to-man, zone, combos -- NCAA Football 10's got all the options you need to stuff a high-powered offense. Once you choose your play you can change how your linebackers and defensive lineman line up with more audibles at the line of scrimmage. Hit the triggers to control either the defensive line or the linebackers, then flick the left and right toggle sticks to pick which side to load up and whether or not to bring heavy pressure.
See more on the Road To Glory feature and the official trailer ...
What We'd Change
Control Bored: All of the major additions listed above have upped the replaybility factor for NCAA 10, but one nagging issue remains: the gameplay still isn't that smooth. The action on the field is more natural than last year's edition, but there's still very little control over the players once you set a play in motion. The blocking needs to line up perfectly on the exact right play call in order for a big play to spring and you rarely find room to maneuver in the open field. This is one of those cases where NCAA Football 10 falls on the wrong side of the fine line between realism and frustration.
Delay of Game: It seems like every three snaps, another player goes down with an injury. In an effort to keep you honest, you're sometimes given an option to either rest that player or bring him back on the field, risking further injury. The problem here is you rarely see any drop off in performance from a starter to his replacement, so there's no real function behind this feature.
Flag on the Play: Random penalties will halt your drives, keep your opponents' drives alive and come and go whenever they please. Don't you dare try to string together more than a few running plays in a row lest you want to see your drive stuffed by a ten-yard holding call. Holding and facemask calls seem to pop up the most, while off-sides and pass interference seem to have been left with NCAA Football 09.
Squawking Heads: Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso handle the announcing duties from the booth and they're joined by sideline reporter and online tabloid target Erin Andrews. Between miscalling plays and falling behind the action, the trio in the booth do little more than spit out an annoying string of repetitive and misplaced clichés. Andrews' headshot pops up to alert you of injuries, but her reports are long and usually cut into the next play. Sideline reports are annoying enough during real broadcasts, we hardly need them added to our video games.
Between creating your own player and program and having the ability to control your school's national gaming reputation, NCAA Football 10 divvies up the ways you can stay occupied with this disc. I still can't shake the feeling, however, that in putting so much effort into the game's peripheral features, the action on the field has taken a backseat. Once they learn to combine the extensive extras with slick gameplay, this title will be impossible to put down.
--Reviewed by Paul Ulane