Back In A Bit

Off on Holiday for a few weeks, so won’t be updating the blog for a while. Hopefully I’ll be back posting by early August!

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NCAA Football 13 Review

I moan about games being produced annually,  on a fairly consistent basis. Obviously, there is not much you can do with sports franchises, as leave it one year, and your game is already out of date, with the latest set of licensing and the influx of new players. However, that shouldn’t be enough to warrant a $60 or a £40 purchase every year. If a developer wants me to keep coming back every year, they have to show they have put in the time and effort, that would warrant the investment. Is NCAA Football 13 worth it? Not Really.

Starting off with the main aspect off the game, which is Dynasty mode. The game has already added a fair few layers to the mode this year, so any improvements made this year were obviously not going to be revolutionary. However, there are quite a few nice additions that add even further depth, to a franchise mode which in my opinion, was already superior to its sister franchise, Madden. Dynamic Ratings have finally been introduced, meaning as your team progresses or declines up the BCS ladder, certain ratings will be impacted by that change. There is a set of circumstances, in which each rating can be altered over time, and is a nice little feature, to motivate you to keep going with your dynasty.  On top of that, the recruiting has been made much slicker, with the new-scouting system which works very effectively as a new enhancement for the mode whilst the actual pitches themselves have finally been altered, now enabling you to choose which topics you wish to pursue with a certain prospect. As I said, there was never going to be anything revolutionary with dynasty this year, but all of these new features go a long way, in enhancing the college football experience.

Heisman Mode is the only completely new game mode for NCAA Football, this year and it’s relatively lacklustre. The idea behind it, being that you get to take control of previous heisman winners with whichever team you wanted.. That is literally it. It is a poor attempt by EA to extract some more money from their consumers (yes you have to pay for some of the Heisman “challenges”). My advice? Go find your old NCAA games, and actually PLAY WITH THE PLAYERS ON THAT GAME. There is literally no difference, apart from the obvious gameplay improvements that have transcended over time. Seriously, don’t bother with this.

As with every year, NCAA Football 13 brings with it a host of new presentation improvements. Yeah you get the odd new mascot or whatever, but the main feature this year, links in with the dynasty mode. Now, the game utilises broadcaster Rece Davis to bring studio updates, whilst you are playing your game. That is not the end of it either, as the ESPN ticker will be a prominent feature in the bottom of your television screen, as it constantly gives updates on any upsets or ‘priority games’ that are currently occurring at the same time as your game. On paper, it is a really cool idea in creating an even more immersive experience but unfortunately, the execution isn’t fantastic. The studio updates lack content, and the ESPN ticker at the bottom of the screen, is quite frankly, a distraction. If this can be improved for NCAA Football 14 however, then this is definitely a worthwhile feature to have implemented in the game. But for now? Fairly poor execution hinders the overall experience, rather than enhancing it.

But no matter how well done the previously referenced aspects of the game this year are, it is ultimately gameplay that will be the defining  factor in determining whether or not NCAA Football 13 is worth the money. The new improvements this year, are the inclusion of 20+ new passing trajectories, ensuring superman linebackers will no longer be swatting the ball whenever you try and pass over the middle, and a read-and-react mechanic, which ensures defenders and recievers alike, must be making eye contact with the ball before making a play. Both are fundamentally sound ideas, and both are executed fairly efficiently but where the features falter, is unfortunately, by making these improvements the balance of the game has been fairly dramatically changed. The offensive side of the ball, is simply, far too easy now with defenders biting far too easily on play action and pump fakes, meaning the deep ball is always far too easy to complete.  In one game, my QB had 10-30 completed passes for over 400 yards, that is how much the balance of the game has been distorted.

Overall, this is still a fairly solid outing by the NCAA franchise. You can tell, they have put in the effort with numerous new enhances, which in principal should be fantastic. Unfortunately, the execution lacks, meaning the overall experience is slightly tainted. Still, if you have never played an NCAA game before, go and buy it, it’s definitley worth your money. As for returning players from NCAA 12? Well, if your willing to spend the money on some admittedly fantastic improvements to the recruiting mechanic and new rosters, then go for it. My advice? Don’t bother.

Game Modes – Dynasty is improved with the new recruiting system but Road to Glory sees very little improvement. As for Heisman Mode? Don’t Bother. 7.5/10

Gameplay – Markedly worse than last years iteration, with the offensive side of the ball being far too easy. 7/10

Presentation – The game has made some fantastic additions, unfortunately the execution in some instances, lets it down. 8/10

Total Value – Some nice improvements, but not enough to warrant the price tag. 6.5/10

OVERALL – 7.3

Spec Ops: The Line Review

‘The Line’ may borrow the title ‘Spec Ops’ but when looking at its predecessors, they bear no semblance of similarity, and that’s a good thing. ‘

The Line’ is a third-person shooter set in post-catastrophe Dubai. You play as Captain Walker, the man sent in along with an elite delta force team, to aid the ‘evacuation’. Obviously, things aren’t going to be that simple. As the game progresses, you and your squad are going to be placed under increasingly desperate circumstances. Choices such as having to decide which man hanging from a bridge to kill, may not have a direct impact on the end of the game, but it does go a long way in defining your character and his squad-mates. Lugo, a soldier who at the start of the game, is your typical fun-loving guy, becomes more and more serious as the story develops. Conflicts on the battlefield, lead to conflicts between squad-mates and the overall tone of the game is directly impacted by the severity of the circumstances your squad is placed under.

This is not your typical third-person shooter. If your a fan of Michael Bay-esque games like Call of Duty, this probably isn’t for you. In Spec Ops, the narrative takes precedence, and what you are presented with, is a wonderfully told story.

The gameplay itself, isn’t the most enjoyable. It uses tried and tested methods, that are possibly ten years out of date with a fairly clunky cover system, that can be infuriating at times. But there are aspects which extract some pleasure. The one gameplay feature that seperates Spec Ops from it’s counter-parts, is the use of the environment. Destructible environments are prevalent, with the sand itself playing a major role. If you see a group of enemies underneath a roof covered in sand, you can shoot at that roof, so that the sand engulfs your enemies. The sand itself, also adds unpredictability to the gameplay, as at any point, during the campaign, your mission may be halted by an inadvertent sandstorm. This completely changes the dynamic of the gameplay, as soldiers become silhouettes and your vision is distorted.

Along with that, your squad members WILL ACTUALLY KILL PEOPLE! Yes it is pretty unbelievable that this is a plus point in a next-gen title, but still to this day, I play far too many games where your squad members do essentially nothing on the battlefield. But in Spec Ops, you are able to order your squad members to take out certain targets, it may not be on the level of Operation Flashpoint, but it still provides a different perspective on the battlefield.

The AI itself, can be quite challenging, but gameplay feels stagnant and repetitive. The main ‘boss’ on every mission will be the same ‘heavy’ that takes about twice as many bullets to kill. You do get the odd variation, with enemies running at you, knife in hand, providing you with a different type of enemy to worry about, but essentially, every single Spec Ops mission consists of the same formula; Soldiers, tons of grenades, heavies and Turrets. That’s it. But as I referred to earlier, if your playing Spec Ops, it’s not going to be because of the gameplay.

As for the multiplayer, I think limited would be the best way to define it, with four fairly standard game modes, that whilst enjoyable, don’t really do much to enhance the game’s lasting appeal. If that wasn’t bad enough, people seem to have already deserted the servers, as it is virtually impossible to find a game with more than 4 people online at once… That’s a problem.

Overall, this a fantastic game. The gameplay? Average at best. The Multiplayer? Virtually, non-existent. But the story, the story is what sets this game apart. This is, as compelling a narrative as I have ever played in a video game, and with multiple endings, you can decide the way you want YOUR character to end the game. Spec Ops: The Line, is worth the wait.

Story 10/10

Gameplay 7/10

Presentation 9.5/10

Total Value 7/10

OVERALL : 8.5

NBA Off-Season Part 1: Playing Matchmaker – Top 20 Free Agents

When a player finds himself in Free Agency, he usually lies somewhere within three distinct categories.

Category A: The ‘Marquee’ Player, the Game-Changer, the Franchise savior.. I think you get the point.

Category B: The instant starter, who along with a few other pieces, can go a long way in transforming a franchise. This player could also have the potential to one day become a ‘Marquee’ guy. Also 6th men who would start on most teams in the league, think James Harden.

Category C: The Role Player. The player who puts a team ‘over the edge’. A player who is a nice piece to possess coming off the bench but isn’t necessarily going to transform your franchise, and should by no means be a starter, and thus should by no means be recieving a starter pay-cheque.

Whatever the Category, free agency is a time for teams to find solutions to needs that were not addressed in the draft. Free Agency is a time for teams to take that next step, be it from a lottery to a playoff team, or a playoff team to a Championship contender. They might  secure multiple pieces, or they may look to go after that marquee guy who is able to transform their franchise. Sometimes, teams won’t be active at all in free agency, they might already be content with the team they have or they may simply lack the finances or allure to attract high-calibre free agents.

Whatever the strategy, free agency will ultimately decide where the balance of power in the league will shift. It will indicate which teams have managed their salary cap effectively and which teams have been quite frankly, idiotic. Will parity be restored? Or will the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer? This years Free Agents class doesn’t possess many ‘game-changers’ but the next few weeks will go a long way in giving us a brief preview of the landscape of the NBA for the upcoming season. So lets preview this years free agency, and take a look at the Top 20 free agents for 2012. Who will become immediate title contenders? And who will become the next Charlotte Bobcats (Ok I slightly over-exaggerated)? Lets find out.

1. Deron Williams (UFA)

Category: A

Potential Destinations: Nets, Mavericks.

Best Fit: Mavericks

Summary: The top name in Free Agency this year, and if he had any sense, he would have already signed for the Mavericks by now. You know, that classy franchise that actually know what they are doing. Unfortunately it looks inevitable that he ends up staying in Brooklyn along with his buddy Dwight Howard (via trade).

2. Steve Nash (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Knicks

Summary: Possibly the most compelling storyline from Free Agency this year, as for the first time since joining the Suns, Steve Nash finally looks set to move on. The Heat, Knicks and Raptors are all possible destinations, all would make a ton of sense and all would be incredibly fun options. Steve Nash with Lebron and Wade? Fun. Steve Nash playing mentor to Jeremy Lin whilst trying to bring the Knicks back to relevancy? Fun. And Steve Nash returning to Canada? Very Very Fun. All fit, I said the best fit was the Knicks, but ultimately I see him taking his talents… to Toronto, who will wind up bidding the other teams out of the water.

3. Eric Gordon (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Hornets.

Summary: This would have been a lot more debatable if the Draft had not been fixed granted the Hornets the Number 1 pick, Anthony Davis. But unfortunately, the draft has been fixed granted the Hornets Number 1 pick, so New Orleans (just two years after Chris Paul’s departure) should be ready for another run with a solid foundation in Gordon, Rivers and Davis.

4. Roy Hibbert (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Pacers.

Summary: The man who has been attracting the most attention in Free Agency so far, with the Blazers and Pacers both offering Hibbert max deals. It is quite clear, the Pacers are not willing to let Hibbert go and with him being a restricted free agents, I see nothing preventing this from occuring.

5. Tim Duncan (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Spurs.

Summary: The only way Tim Duncan is not performing in a Spurs jersey next year, is if he has decided he’s done wearing jerseys.. I have now realised how bad this sounds.. Lets move on.

6. Brook Lopez (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Trade to the Orlando Magic.

Summary: Dwight Howard.

7. Kevin Garnett (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics.

Summary: This has already been confirmed. Much like Tim Duncan, there was no way Kevin Garnett was going to be seen in any other Jersey, than a Celtics one (I think I phrased it better that time).

8. Lou Williams (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: 76ers

Summary: The fact Lou Williams a) opted-out of his contract and b) wants to be a starting Point Guard wherever he ends up, makes me think he doesn’t end up in Philadelphia at the start of the season. Lou Williams fits perfectly into Category B, he is a fantastic asset to possess, for a team looking to take that next step. He is first and foremost a scorer who can ignite an offense, be it coming off the bench or being a starter, and wherever he ends up, I see nothing preventing him from being very productive.

9. OJ Mayo (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics.

Summary: Ray Allen looked all but gone when I started writing this. Who better to replace him than OJ Mayo, one of the best 6th men (Is that how you say it, or is it ‘6th Mans’?) in the league.

10. Goran Dragic (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Rockets.

Summary: Another player who replicates the scenario of Lou Williams. A young, talented scoring point guard who hustles, who will immediately improve any team he is on. Unlike Lou Williams however, I see the best fit actually coming to fruition. Why? Because the Rockets are going to make at least one trade before this season begins. It is simply, inevitable. Does that mean Dragic himself could wind up being traded? Maybe. But it’s just as plausible that Kyle Lowry gets traded, and Dragic gets the starting gig. I see him staying in Houston.

11. Ersan Ilyasova (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Nets.

Summary: I have already stated that I believe Dwight Howard will be a Brookyln Net this season. That almost certainly means Humphries and Lopez are gone, so who better to pair with Howard than Ilyasova? A guy who consistently averages a double double, hustles, crashes the board and is generally a nightmare. You put him in a starting lineup with D-Will, Gerald Wallace and Dwight Howard, and all of a sudden this team looks capable of competing in the East. I don’t see a scenario where this doesn’t happen. Double-negative aside, I have never been this confident making this many assumptions for one NBA team.. ever.

12. Ray Allen (UFA)

Category: C

Best Fit: Heat

Summary: Doesn’t this just make perfect sense? We saw it in the Finals, with the Lebron/Wade pick and roll, driving to the basket, the Heat relied heavily on perimiter shooting from guys like Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller. With Ray Allen, you get a guy, who gives you Miller’s Game 5 production, on a consistent basis. In Boston, Ray Allen had to work for his looks. In Miami, with Lebron and Wade, he will be shooting Wide Open looks almost all of the time. The Celtics have reportedly doubled the Heat’s offer, now it comes down to whether Allen wants the pay-cheque or the Championships.

13. Jeff Green (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics

Summary: David Faulk, who coincedentally is Jeff Green’s agent, stated that Jeff Green was the 2nd best free agent on the market. Obviously that is not true, especially coming off Heart-surgery, but he is still a valuable nonetheless. I see him returning to the Celtics, who if healthy can add another component to a team whose lack of depth was evident in the post-season.

14. Brandon Bass (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Celtics

Summary: Brandon Bass was a revelation for the Celtics this past season. The combination in the front court, between him and Garnett should prosper again this season. As referred to in the Jeff Green summary, the Celtics severely lacked depth last season, so if they can ensure that Bass, Garnett, Allen and Green all return this season, they should be contending again.

15. Chris Kaman (UFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Heat

Summary: Can the Heat afford him? Maybe not, but there is no disputing that this is the best fit. Chris Kaman, contract aside, is severely underrated. Any guy that produces a double-double is valuable to a team, especially one that lacks a true center. This makes a ton of sense, unfortunately it is very unlikely that the Heat have the cap space to turn this into a reality.

16. Jeremy Lin (RFA)

Category: B 

Best Fit: Knicks

Summary: Linsanity was a great story last year, and there is no disputing his potential. Even without all of the conjecture from the media, Lin proved he was a top 15 point guard, worthy of a starting job. He should return to the team, that (sort of) helped establish himself. After all, who wouldn’t want to play with Carmelo and Amare? Now that they are all healthy.. ermm, I’m struggling to make anything of this, er… lets just move on.

17. George Hill (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Pacers

Summary: A combo guard who, much like Lou Williams, isn’t your typical point guard. He can play the 1 or 2, he can score and can consistently be the 3rd best scorer on a team. The Pacers have obviously been focusing most of their attention so far on trying to re-sign Hibbert, but they have also expressed an interest in Hill. He should end up re-signing.

18. Jason Terry (UFA)

Category: C

Best Fit: Mavericks

Summary: Jason Terry is the perfect, if you can’t get Ray Allen, option. He is a fantastic 6th man, who can explode at any point and re-energize a stagnant offence. If Allen ends up going back to Boston, then the scenario I just made reference to, could surface, but ultimately I see Allen in Miami, OJ Mayo in Boston and Terry returning to Dallas.

19. Brandon Roy  (UFA)

Category: Dammit, he ruined my category theory!

Best Fit: Timberwolves

Summary: Brandon Roy has had a tough time of it. A 3 time all star, forced to retire through injury. However, he claims his injury has been given the all-clear and he has returned to give it another shot. I repeat, this man is a 3-time all star, he isn’t some scrub. If he can come back half the player he once was then your happy. Minnesota with Ricky Rubio as the Point Guard, is the perfect fit for him and with it being a small-market team, can return without the pressure of say.. Chicago (who are also interested). This move makes almost too much sense.

20. JaVale McGee (RFA)

Category: B

Best Fit: Nuggets

Summary: Three words can summarise JaVale Mcgee’s career so far. Incredible talent, disruptive. Sure he entered the league early, but by now he shoud have matured. I see him returning to Denver, where at times he showed flashes of that incredible talent.

Let’s just put that into perspective. This Free Agent Class posesses just the 1 Marquee player, 16 Category B player, 2 Category C players and 1 “Dammit, he ruined my category theory”… category. In short, this Free Agent Class isn’t spectacular. We are not going to get anything that rivals The Decision, what we are getting are a lot of solid players who will make immediate contributions. It isn’t exciting, but a lot of teams, are all going to slightly improve, and if the NBA can replicate anything near to the NFL’s parity, then we can be satisfied going into this upcoming season. We are after all, getting another off-season of Dwight Howard telling people where he wants to go before he ends up staying in Orlando… Excited? Yeah, me too.