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NCAA 14 throwback review: Denard Robinson the symbol of a better time for sports gamers

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The last entry in the franchise has ties to the Michigan Wolverines.

EA Sports

Video game week at SB Nation is wrapping and seeing as we are college football and Michigan Wolverines fans here, there’s one title that stands above the rest that we pledge ourselves to.

As of this posting, EA Sports’ NCAA Football 14 was the last in the series and was released in July 2013. This occurred due to controversy over the usage of player likenesses and lack of compensation. This has made the title iconic for being the last in line of what had typically been a pretty solid entry year-in and year-out. And for those of us who follow the Wolverines, it also featured quarterback Denard Robinson on the cover.

Sports video games typically become obsolete after the newest version comes out, but we are going on seven offseasons without a college football title on any of the platforms.

That said, the game is as part of the sports gaming lexicon as it ever has been. Due to the ability to share rosters online, a group of individuals keep the game fresh every single year by updating all of the schools in the game. This breathes fresh air into the game with each season and gives you a chance to play with the faces you would see on the field for your team in the fall.

The pandemic has furthered the popularity of the game. Those who still own it are sitting on a virtual goldmine as it pertains to the used game market. I still have my copy for the PS3 and it works just about as well as ever (with a few glitches we’ll get to later on). However, you’ll rarely see it on the shelves of your local GameStop or used game store. There are some postings on eBay that have used copies on sale for as much as $130.

The popularity has also increased via Dan Katz of Barstool Sports streaming games on Twitch under the “Coach Duggs” persona. His most recent stream had an upwards of 150,000 viewers tuning in, which is enough people to fill Michigan Stadium twice over.

Long story short, the appetite for a college football video game is as high as it has ever been. But does it hold up with all of the years that have passed since it has been released?

I’m proud to report that it does for the most part.

This is not like revisiting your copies of Tecmo Bowl or RBI Baseball. NCAA 14 is a legitimately good football game and I would argue it is better than just about every version of Madden that has been released since it, including titles for the PS4. There are a few glitches and presentation issues throughout, but it mostly still works.

We’ll start with the gameplay. It is so much fun to play offense in this game. Whether you’re running the triple option or running a pro-style offense, it’s a blast, and often when I fire this game back up, I just play offense and super sim the defense. Defensively is where the bulk of my frustrations come. Unless you are playing one of the FCS schools, you cannot stop anybody. Rutgers will run and down the field on you like they are Oklahoma. Now, if you’re good on offense, you’ll go tit-for-tat with them, but it is still frustrating if you’re looking to play a laugher against a team that you’re much better rated than.

It is impossible to stop the pass in this game without adjusting sliders. You will press the button to switch defenders to try and swat a pass away and usually wind up falling and giving up a big play. It is also absurdly difficult to come down with an interception, yet on offense, the slightest slip up results in a pick for you. Also, you can have the fiercest pass rush in the world, but it seems like the QB always gets rid of the football a split second before you get there. It has been the subject of a lot of expletives screamed in both my college dorm in years prior and now in my home, where a single F-bomb will have my dog grunt at me and head back to her cage. Those are the gameplay gripes I have.

The presentation is pretty stock and Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit’s commentary does not have a lot of variation to it. Because of this, I typically turn them down and turn the crowd noise up to simulate more of an in-game feel. There are also times where the score bug and statistics will disappear from the bottom of the screen entirely, which has resulted in me running out of time on fourth and goal with the game on the line in a few cases.

I’m not going to review some of the other features of the game because I have always been pretty strictly a dynasty person. I have an absolute blast with this mode. The recruiting is simpler than it was in the games that came before it and you can assign a set number of points divided amongst your recruits to build your classes. The ability to hop from school to school and build dynasties in ridiculous spots is tremendous. It makes for a good time when you can take Rutgers to the national title game running an option-heavy offense. I also like the coaching skill trees and the RPG-style approach to building your career and earning XP for your on-field achievements.

The biggest frustration with this game is the autosave feature, which seems slow and makes getting through your dynasty quick a lot more difficult. I turn this off when I play, but sometimes you forget that you did and lose a ton of progress. So if you find yourself forgetful or a rage quitter, leave it on.

Every once in a blue moon, you will play a game and then the end-of-game slideshow will freeze. This is particularly frustrating if you just put up a 70-burger on Michigan State. You’ve no choice but to restart your system and your ass-kicking all over again.

At the end of the day, this holds up and is a perfectly fine entry until we get something different down the road as player likeness issues are sorted out. There are certainly issues with it and things I wish that EA was given a chance to improve on, but there’s not many games I own for PS3 that I willingly fire back up. When I do, they don’t hold up as well as this does. The graphics leave a lot to be desired with us being spoiled by what modern games look like, but once you get over that, it is pretty easy to get absorbed.

Grade: 75/100