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It's that time of year again when I get to do some sports gaming. In this case just doing a rental via Gameznflix.com (see other articles by me about that company if you are interested) as I figure that after a few weeks (at best) of playing the game I'd be fed up with it and want to trade it in (and take a huge loss if I went to Gamestop/EB Games) or sell it used (via eBay or similar). Better to do a rental and save my money and just get my enjoyment with much less wasted up-front cash.
As it turns out, I'm pleasantly surprised at this year's NCAA football entry, put out by the usual folks at Electronic Arts. Some people consider the game "Madden, Jr." or "Madden Lite" (or more appropriately, Madden with the option play included), but it does of course have a good deal of college flavor. EA's NCAA game this season, at least on the Xbox 360, has added some nice bonus "eye candy" with mascots for the teams, and land marks and special characteristics from the stadiums and locations included. If you are playing on an HDTV screen it looks great, and I'm told that it doesn't look too bad on standard definition screens either.
The gameplay is typical college football though. Option play for those that enjoy it, and play books from the colleges that are included (most majors) in the game.
What I'm gonna fault in the game -- big time -- is the apparently completely stupid Artificial Intelligence, or application of AI in the game. EA has failed in this area for years, and choose not to break the streak this season. I'm not necessarily talking about the basic AI in the game when a human plays the game. Those settings revolve around a difficulty setting that is fairly easy to control and does scale the game difficulty when you are playing the game against the CPU. Where it doesn't scale at all is when you decide you want to be a sim-monkey and just simulate your way through some seasons doing the Dynasty mode.
Rather than applying the settings that a player has invoked, the defaults seem to go into play and the favoritism and weighted scale that was granted when the game was created is used to determine who will win the games that simulated.
I fault this on several fronts, and believe it's just absolutely lazy programming. If the sliders and other settings that are used for adjusting difficulty will be applied to games under a human's control, then they should also apply when a human "sims" the game. It only makes sense that whatever settings you put into play when you are controlling the individual players should be in effect when you simulate through a game.
The bigger issue in this area is that the game completely fails -- at all times -- to take the current team streak and any prestige or honor that should come with a good winning streak and factor it into games in the future, most especially not in simulated games. Again, if you have a team that has been crushing it's opponents while under manual control, then it should be doing the same thing while simulating games. If you just rolled off say a 6 game win streak and were handily beating your opponents, then the game should factor that into your remaining games and you should probably wind up winning most, if not all, of those games by similar margins.
2KSports had made some serious progress in these areas, or at least gave serious lip service to making progress in these areas. Thanks to their VIP technology, they created virtual intelligence packages that were built using an individual players tendencies and game history. As you played along and built up a VIP history, you could then trade/upload a VIP to another person and they could play a game against a player that was using your tendencies and strategies. It was a very interesting concept and fairly well implemented.
Unfortunately, EA opted to make very expensive deals with groups like the NFL and apparently has paid away so much money for their exclusive deals that they didn't have any left to pay the developers to work on the a.i.
I expect Madden will similarly disappoint me, and am leaning ever more towards a rental of that game rather than a purchase this season. I expect that after a few weeks I'm going to be completely bored with that game too and want to trade it for something else. Hopefully the rental company I deal with will have a copy for me in a reasonable time frame.