'NCAA Football 14'

From: EA Sports

Rated: E

Who it's for: Those desperate to get a current college football fix

Console: Xbox 360, PS3

Grade: C

It seems a little strange to be talking about football in the middle of summer. Perhaps it's because the Colorado Rockies are doing OK this year, or the fact it's been so hot outside the thought of putting on pads and a helmet seem daunting.

But it makes sense that as college football teams begin to gear up for the 2013 season, which starts in only six weeks, and NFL training camps are about to open, gamers also should start practicing their skills on the latest football games.

The season kicks off with "NCAA Football 14," Electronic Arts' college gridiron offering. But enjoy it while -- and if (more on that later) -- you can.

The NCAA announced Wednesday it would not renew its license with EA to create future installments of this series, so "NCAA Football 14" will be the last of EA's college football games to carry the NCAA logo and statistics. However, because every college team represented in the game is licensed separately, it is possible EA could move forward with a non-NCAA collegiate football game in the future. No decision regarding this possibility had been made as of press time.

Unlike "Madden NFL" -- which hits in August -- "NCAA" has struggled mightily to bring football to life for gamers. And while this year's edition offers some improvements, it still doesn't quite reach the end zone.

Some of the problems with "NCAA Football" can't be fixed. Unlike the NFL game, college players cannot be used directly in a video game. Though the game programmers do their best to offer players with the proper corresponding statistics, not having accurate animations and names on the backs of jerseys undercuts the realism today's games are striving for.

Some of the game's other problems, however, seem to persist year after year, even in the face of some significant improvements.

I still found frequent problems with the hit-detection in "NCAA." Players will escape tackles even when they're completely wrapped up, and that's without executing any of their elusive jukes or hurdles.

Another issue is the artificial intelligence, which must be excellent when trying to portray a sport of this nature. In "NCAA," players sometimes will line up incorrectly and consistently will blow easy assignments, making the overall game uneven and frequently not that much fun to play.

Finally, the game's graphics are curiously dated. While the upcoming "Madden" installment looks beautiful, "NCAA" frequently appears choppy and has muted colors.

It's disappointing to see "NCAA" lag so far behind "Madden" since the two share a developer and publisher, even though the latter clearly is the company's cash cow.

All this makes "NCAA Football 14" sound like a bad game, which is unfair considering five years ago it would have been touted as a triumph.

There's still fun to be had if you have an affinity for college ball over the pros, and actually the tweaked Dynasty Mode will please players wanting to try their hand at team administration.

The recruiting process has been updated, and the cumbersome (and wholly unrealistic) phone call system was removed entirely.

Recruiting now uses a points system that can be adjusted week to week, depending on everything else happening within the organization. Vying for popular recruits, battling other schools and eventually winning is exhilarating.

Players earn "experience" points for everything the coach does, and these points can be spent on recruiting or on-field enhancements, so there's plenty of strategy in figuring out the best place to spend your points and enhance your program.

Despite the problems once the game moves to the field, the improvements over last year's version are evident.

"NCAA 14" uses a modified version of the "Infinity Engine" of "Madden." This has improved the game's physics overall, giving the hits more weight and a more realistic feel. Collisions (when detected correctly) seem jarring, like a 300-pound tackle actually hit that 200-pound tight end. It's quite satisfying.

Finally, I enjoyed the "Nike Skills Trainer" and felt as if participating in the drills here actually improved my playing skills and knowledge of what to look for regarding formations and potential threats.

Like "Madden NFL," college football fans really have no choice other than "NCAA Football." But unlike "Madden," the lack of competition here seems to have stunted the game's progress.

Regardless, "NCAA Football 14" doesn't quite make the cut. So unless you think college football is the be-all, end-all in sports, you might do better waiting a month for "Madden."