Perhaps one of the most consistent aspects of the video game industry is the annual release of sports games for all the major spectator sports, at both the professional and college level. These annual releases allow for a gradual, but noticeable evolution of some of the most popular games on the market.
Crosse Studio’s College Lacrosse, in its third iteration, is no exception to this trend. Originally released in 2009, the College Lacrosse franchise has seen vast improvements in most areas of the game, with noticeable improvements in both gameplay and graphics. For now, however, the series still has a long way to go to meet match games like Madden, NCAA Football, or the NBA 2K franchise.
Most notably, College Lacrosse lacks the managerial aspect of its disc-based counterparts, which can occasionally give it more of an arcade feel. For now, this is what should be expected. Building a sports management game from the ground up is hard work, especially for a small development team. And what the game lacks in managerial or statistical, it makes up for in efficient, addicting gameplay.
Simply put, the game itself is intense. The game shines on offense. The controls are simple and fairly intuitive, with virtually no learning curve. The game is simple enough to comprehend that even non-lacrosse fans should be able to pick it up and understand it fairly quickly.
The ball moves around the field fluidly and some of the goals look spectacular. The game can deliver some truly spectacular moments, and isn’t that why we really play sports games anyway? Pulling off a successful dive-shot to win in the final seconds of the game? Priceless.
Goals are, admittedly, easy enough to come by. Goalies, even five star ones, are barely there. They make the occasional save, but not many. Still, scoring seems to be typical for real lacrosse games, and the games difficulty can be adjusted to suit your playing style.
College Lacrosse 2012 also benefits by being quick. This speed is where the game shines. With quarters typically lasting just minutes, the goals come quickly and the ball moves even quicker. It’s not all that hard to follow the action, but a lot happens in the 10-15 minutes of each game. Most modern sports games could be somewhere between a 30-45 minute commitment. In that same time, you could fit two or three games of lacrosse.
The only issue with the speed of these games comes with the lack of a break between quarters or halves. Once the clock hits zero, the screen fades to black and then quickly back into the next quarter’s face-off. If you’re if the middle of shooting a goal just as the clock expires, you might find yourself getting a face-off penalty to start the next quarter.
The biggest flaw with gameplay comes at the hands of the defensive AI. Players can often be found standing around, even if an attacker is running straight through them to the goal. And once an attacker has a shot on the goalie, it’s pretty much over. This can lead to some frustrating goals on both sides that feel cheap at best.
Graphically, the game is comparable to Madden games a few years ago, which, while not on par with modern graphic expectations, creates a sort of nostalgic charm for avid sports video gamers. There’s the occasional running animation that distracts you from the actual game, but it’s usually easy to overlook (and what sports game doesn’t have sloppy running animations?).
The biggest complaint graphically is more of a presentation issue. It can be confusing to figure out who exactly has the ball. When there are only a couple of players at the center of the screen, it’s usually okay, but if there’s a crowd around the ball, good luck. It doesn’t usually take too long to figure it out, but it can be frustrating if you think you have the ball, only to have the screen start moving the other way.
Beyond that little complication, the presentation is pretty well done. The screen is laid out nicely with virtually no distractions from the on-field action. The score ticker is small and non-invasive, often becoming invisible during the game. There’s a fairly nice replay system that shows important moments like penalties and goals, although this does happen a little often. You won’t find fancy sponsored graphics like mainstream sports games, but you likely won’t miss them. Perhaps the most surprising presentation feature is the ability to have a commentator. His lines are pretty repetitive, so you’ll likely turn it off, or not even turn it on to begin with. Still, it’s a nice feature to have, and one I hadn’t expected in an indie game.
College Lacrosse does emulate the modern sports management games with its Season mode, but for now this acts as more of an extended Play Now mode, offering little in the way of additional tasks. For an indie game, a things like recruitment and NCAA sanctions and things like that are probably a bit ambitious, but hopefully future versions will include some improvements like tracking player stats from game to game and multiple seasons.
The (likely) unintended benefit of the missing franchise-esque features is that ‘college’ label attached to the game is mostly irrelevant. Paired with an impressively robust create-a-team mode, season mode could be used to emulate (though not perfectly) non-college lacrosse, too. The create-a-team mode allows you to create teams and players however you want. You could name them after schools (a plus, since College Lacrosse is not officially licensed by the NCAA), cities, or professional teams. You can customize the colors of both the home and away uniforms for each team, including a color matching feature for those who consider that important. Unfortunately, there is currently only one uniform design.
Unfortunately, creating individual players is not as impressive, but still a nice feature to have. The game allows you to edit surnames, height, weight, and skin color, all of which appear to be mostly cosmetic changes. For abilities, each player is assigned an overall star rating from one to five stars, rather than individual ability stats. This can make the players feel less unique, which adds to the arcade feel of the game.
Future additions might hopefully include individual stats for things like shooting or passing, but the star system works well enough for now. The groundwork for individual abilities is seen in the upgradable equipment that you can buy with money earned from each match. This feature, again, makes the game feel more arcade-ish, but provides at least some sort of goal-based system to the game. Each piece of equipment gives your players a boost to a particular ability, like shooting or picking up groundballs.
Crosse Studio’s attempt to launch lacrosse into the world of video games is heading in the right direction. Following the trend of traditional sports games, they’ve created a fun, arcade-style game that has a promising future, potentially evolving into a management sim that’s found a niche with mainstream gamers.
Final Rating: 7/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: XBLIG
Time to completion: N/A (Play Now and Season modes have customizable times)
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: 400 Microsoft Points ($5)
Current Price: 400 Microsoft Points ($5)
Recommend Purchase Price: 400 Microsoft Points ($5)
Why you should buy it: If you’re a fan of lacrosse or sports video games.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: If you’re looking for a deep statistical or managerial experience.