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In our inaugural Xbox 360 review, it would be wrong of me to be comparing titles on Microsoft’s new platform with last-gen systems, so I’ll just stick with what I can on the 360. And, I can say for sure, that I had a ton of fun with NCAA 08. It’s not perfect, but it’s the most fun I’ve had with a game since I finished Shivering Isles, and that’s saying allot.I naturally booted it up and went straight for the Campus Legend mode.  My halfback legend from Madden 07 on PC was going to reprise his youth! I built up Bud Daniel and sent him to my high school to see how he’d fair. To be honest, he faired a little too well. Seeing how it was my first game, his domination was over-the-top and a seemed out of proportion.  I later found out that, other then the quarterback, the halfback is the easiest to dominate with. When I played a receiver, I was frustrated at how many run plays were being called, which I didn’t notice – or rather, didn’t mind – when I was playing running back because, y’know, I was getting all the carries. In the end, Daniel was a 5-star prospect and went to Ohio State as a fourth-string back.  In about three weeks time, I made it to 1st string, which is way too fast to be real, but come on, who wants to sit on the bench? I didn’t get NCAA 08 to watch games, I got it to play them. Once on the field, Daniel continued his domination as 80% or so of the plays called were runs. I ran us to the National Title game, and we promptly won it, over the Texas Longhorns. I enjoyed my success, but it was a little too easy. Other positions were more balanced, however (thank goodness). To be honest, I actually preferred my time during the high school playoffs to my Freshman season, which was a surprise because I couldn’t wait to get past them and into the collegiate ranks while I was playing the State Finals.

I’m a nut for keeping records of my play on the PC, using FRAPS to capture screenshots and videos of great moments. NCAA 08 feeds that love with the ability to save highlight videos and pictures from your games. I also liked the trophy case for showing off what I’d done.

The highly-touted Dynasty Mode was lost on me. I found I wasn’t compelled to go through seasons for little reward. Recruiting prospects was more tedious then fun to me., and playing a roulette game to talk to prospects over the phone was unnecessarily frustrating.

The sounds were decent, but the music was rousing, and very reminiscent of a college game. The commentary was fun for the first game or two, but even that early I started hearing the same comments over and over, to the point I wanted to turn it off. The replays are nice and plentiful, but I’d appreciate a way to skip them more easily. The biggest change I noticed in graphics when going from last-gen to this wasn’t the higher poly counts, the greater detail, or the improved animations, it was the shadowing. The absolute lack of light play in the last-gen efforts have bothered me for years. I guess it’s an artists point of view, but it mattered to me when players displayed the same level of brightness all around, regardless of any and all light sources. Still, the animations did catch my eye. Seeing Daniel, my running back, pinball off of defenders only to get plowed head over heels by a strong tackle was impressive. I laughed at a number of big hits, so real and so violent were they.

I had a great time playing NCAA 08. The controls are tight and sharp, with no sliding of players and the ability to make quick cuts on a dime. The right stick makes for great jukes with the ball and powerful tackles without. It was easy to use the right stick during play with the turbo on the right trigger as opposed to a face button like in Madden on PC. For such big models the players didn’t clip each other too often, though there were – naturally – some glitches to be had. The best graphics-enhance-game play example I can think of from my time was diving over the line on a goal line drive for the score. My ‘back bounced off the other players until he finally hit the ground with a thud. The AI was sound as well, because when Bud Daniel was running over defenders, the AI learned to cut his legs out from under him on a regular basis, making me work harder and think more to get my yards.

NCAA 08 is a great sports offering for the 360. I really got into the game and could play for hours, which is always the mark of a great game. I’ve played a few older sports titles for the 360, included Madden 07, but NCAA 08 is so far the best football title I’ve played. We’ll find out whether that holds when I review Madden 08 for the 360, but big John has his work cut out for him. Alphasim out.

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