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Electrnic Arts
The University of Utah's third color alternate Under Armor uniforms are part of the amazing detail on 'NCAA Football '09'.
"NCAA FOOTBALL 09," by EA Sports, for Xbox 306, rated "E" for Everyone, reviewer's rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

The gameplay in "NCAA Football 09," which has been solid and untouched for a while, gets some freshening up this year.

For the past few years, it was seemingly impossible to run around the defense; this year, the offenses are hard to keep contained. There seem to be way too many big-yardage plays. Once an offensive player gets a step on you, he's gone. And if the player is a star, it's even more pronounced.

I'm still reeling from an Iowa State running back who was constantly getting screen passes and disappearing for touchdowns.

But, when you are on offense, the game is slick and a lot of fun. And when you are playing against friends and looking at your patterns, you can move the joystick to show "bluff" or fake plays. That way you aren't giving away whether you are running or passing as well as the player patterns.

It's also possible to go from a run to a pass without changing formations. And when you score a touchdown, you can celebrate with your school's mascot, which is fun once, maybe twice before the joy passes.

Home-field advantage is another interesting feature. When you are playing at a stadium with a "hostile environment," your quarterback or the opposing quarterback may lose their composure, which causes the usually straight lines for wide receiver routs to turn into a squiggly mess. You can also ice the kicker before a big field goal. When that happens, the kicker's heart starts beating fast and the controller starts to vibrate, creating anxiety and a missed field goal.

Hard-core fans will cough up hard-earned money for Dynasty Mode, which hasn't changed much over the years. You pick your team, recruit kids out of high school and run the football program.

Recruiting got a boost last year but was barely touched this year. It may be a case of "don't fix what isn't broken," yet one fix that could be made is a better indication of your chances of recruiting a player. A red arrow pointing downward isn't the greatest indication. How about giving us a percentage of your odds of recruiting the player?

It's frustrating to waste time if there isn't a chance of getting a top recruit. There needs to be more data and some real-time interaction.

Campus Legend is another interesting playing mode. Essentially, you create a player who will finish high school, go to college and hopefully become a legend. There is a lot of work involved with practice and other aspects of the college career.

Graphics: Not much has changed since last year. Stadiums are as fantastic as ever. The biggest additions come in the way of saving highlights.

Frankly, if I weren't reviewing the game, I'd never do it. It's not the most exciting thing in the world — it's not like watching a real highlight reel. Newspaper headlines and images are interesting mostly because they contain images that appear to come from real games with real cheerleaders and fans.

Audio: Between the songs from the marching band to Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and Brad Nessler, you feel just like it's Saturday afternoon at the stadium.

Parent's take: "NCAA Football 09" is good clean fun. However, it isn't an easy game to play. Kids may not get the most out of the gameplay and strategy. Then again, it's so much fun that they may not care — or know the difference.

Final word: The Online Dynasty Mode is great. Twelve players can go head-to-head and there's one nominated commissioner who sets the rules and manages game play. There are even files available online where you can download all of the players' real names. Talk about a bonus! No more playing as Fred Smith and Jimmy Sneakers.

If you don't plan on playing online, you might be a bit underwhelmed by the new release. There aren't really enough big improvements to force those who own the '08 version to spend $60 for the '09 version.

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