At first glance, the differences between Electronic Arts's NCAA Football 2005 and last year's edition are minimal, as one of the industry's highest-selling sports video games returns with its stellar graphics and smooth game play for another virtual season.
But what gives NCAA Football 2005 ($50 for GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox) its own identity is how the game incorporates the little things that determine the game's outcome in real life. Playing inside your team's virtual stadium never used to mean much. But now, you can whip your crowd into a frenzy. Crowd noise affects each player's composure, so suddenly your confident senior wide receiver has no trouble getting past a nervous freshman cornerback.
And when you find the end zone, you now get to create your own celebration. Tossing the ball to the ref is nice, but you also have the option to signal, say, the "Gator Chomp" as your school's mascot and crowd go crazy.
But nothing is better than the game's Dynasty Mode. You are in charge of everything. Recruits must be persuaded to attend your school, top underclassmen must be convinced to stay in college instead of jumping to the NFL and when the system alerts you that one of your players broke a rule, you must decide on a punishment, or the NCAA will penalize your program.
If all goes as planned, your team will win the national championship, produce the Heisman Trophy winner and you'll be rewarded with a lucrative contract extension. But if your team struggles, you can create signs for your fans to bring into the stadium asking the school administration to give you a second chance, or you may just get fired. Though last year's version of EA's NCAA Football set the bar high, this season's edition establishes itself as the best college football game on the market.
-- Jon Gallo