As a kid, I remember going to and watching the Bayou Classic in the Superdome every year between Grambling and Southern. While I enjoyed watching the hard fought games between the two teams, I was struck by the additional pageantry that surrounded the matchup, like the Battle of the Bands, the halftime shows and choreography that was as entertaining as the action on the field. While other college sports games have been known for providing a large contingent of schools and stadiums, none have really tried to capture that spectacle until now. Nerjyzed Game Studios and Aspyr have partnered to produce Black College Football: The Experience – The Doug Williams Edition. However, the game is so poorly designed and implemented that everything from the sideline action to the on-field play completely falls apart, which would make it hard for even alums of black colleges to enjoy this game.
To start with, the selection of teams within BCFX is relatively good; there are more than thirty historically black colleges and universities included in BCFX, such as Southern and Alcorn State. It also provides additional information on these schools and their contributions to sports with their Legacy Museum, which covers pro players like Jerry Rice, Bullet Bob Hayes and Donald Driver, as well as the history of these programs. Like other college sports games, you’re able to select your favorite team as a preference to immediately be selected for quick play games or the few modes included in the game, but be aware that not every school has individualized screens, so you’ll be treated to generic conference images instead. While the number of teams is impressive, the options for play aren’t. Road to the Championship is a basic season for your school as you try to make the playoffs to contend for the Black College Football Nation Championship trophy. Classic mode launches you into one of the seven Classic perennial rivalries between schools, with the Bayou Classic being the grandfather of them all. Outside of that, you’re provided with a Practice mode to work on your offensive and defensive skills to get ready for your opponents. If practice actually worked to improve your chances on the field, I’d wholeheartedly endorse it. The same could be said about any experience that you have from previous football games. However, BCFX presents an extremely sloppy game on both sides of the ball, which will frustrate any football fan.
The on-field action isn’t the strongest football ever made.On the offensive side of the ball, the plays feel extremely limited and basic. There’s no way to run an option play at all, sending someone in motion is forbidden, and trying to draw your opponent offsides by way of the snap count isn’t available. While you are allowed to call audibles, you never have access to a playbook, so you’re stuck with experimenting at the line of scrimmage to know if you’re choosing a run or pass play if you haven’t messed around with your team in practice. Passing is particularly hit or miss for three reasons: first, your offensive line will frequently let defenders through when they should be blocking, forcing you to take long drops at the snap to have a chance to throw the ball. Second, your quarterback holds onto the ball for an extremely long time before he throws, giving defenders easy sacks. Finally, your throws are rarely caught by receivers, and the ones that are should not be based on body positioning or where their hands are in relation to the pass itself. Trying to take over players can sometimes fail horribly, as the game refuses to recognize your commands. Receivers will fail to put their hands up or will knock passes down instead of catching the ball, and frequently, a pass that would be a perfect sideline catch automatically goes into a canned animation move that forces you out of bounds. There’s also very slow acceleration once a ball is caught, even if it’s in stride.
Canned animations can also shatter the believability of play on the field, particularly when it comes to hurdling defenders. One play that I saw the computer run allowed a running back to fully hurdle three or four defensive backs as well as cover five yards through the air before he landed on his feet well in the secondary and took off running without a loss of speed. On top of these issues, whenever your players fumble the ball, it can be almost impossible to track where the ball is on the field. In fact, you’ll frequently find the camera following the former ball carrier, only to swing back to where the ball happens to be (which is frequently beneath the feet of someone else). At times, the only way to successfully recover fumbles is to continually push forward on the analog stick and hope that someone on your team chooses to pick the ball up. Frequently, you’ll see these guys simply standing around without paying any attention to the action on the field, which brings up a further problem: the AI within the game is atrocious. Defenders will sometimes stop pursuit of a receiver even if they have a chance to tackle him. Other times, defenders will simply stand around and watch as a ball is thrown, only reacting once it gets to a specific area of the field.
That’s right, add another six to the scoreboard.Defense has its own issues as well. Spinning and swimming aren’t particularly effective for linemen, and it’s possible to watch your players get pushed backwards, only to watch them stand still for half a second or so before trying to get into the background. Tackling can also be somewhat odd, since the game will frequently allow horse collar tackles without calling that as a foul. On top of that, these tackles can occur without your defender touching the ball carrier. Another issue that arises on the defensive side is switching players. In most football games, you instantly switch to the nearest defender to the ball carrier so you can make a play on the ball. However, if you hit the switch player button in BCFX, you’ll frequently have to rotate through a couple of players, allowing your opponent to gain a few more yards before you take them down. Finally, interceptions seem to be a random occurrence as well. You’ll frequently run into game situations where a defender is out of position, only to suddenly have them snag the ball out of the air and start to run the other way. I could go on and on, but let me just say that while BCFX essentially runs, it’s not particularly well put together or well done.
It’s also not very sim-like, thanks to the inclusion of what’s called Nerjyzed tokens, items that you can collect by hard hitting tackles or by playing through the half-time mini-game (more on that in a bit). Only the offense can use these tokens to boost the play of the offensive line, quarterback, wide receivers and running back, supposedly making them better at their position for one play. However, while you get a bit of a speed boost if you’re running the ball, your receivers won’t necessarily catch the ball with this token on. Since the defense can’t use the tokens either, this feels completely unbalanced.
Now, it’s frequently been said about HBCU games that halftime is just the start of another show. BCFX tries to embody this with a drumline gameplay sequence as well as a halftime show. The drumline features two school bands facing off against each other as they try to play fight songs or instrumental versions of pop songs like Lose My Breath, Low and Cold Hearted. The Halftime show, by contrast, features the entire performance of one school band, including the drum majors, majorettes, dancers and band members moving through formations and performances. While both performances play out differently, they’re handled in much the same manner: players use a rhythm game mechanic to hit buttons that are supposed to correspond to notes for the songs. Conceptually, the idea makes sense, but in implementation, the gameplay falls flat.
When it’s halftime, it’s gametime — or is it?For one thing, the rhythm sections will frequently throw a ton of “notes” at you, even on beginner difficulty, and the game won’t necessarily recognize all of the button inputs you make. Another issue is that there isn’t really a penalty to failing either feature; your players aren’t depressed by their band playing badly, nor will the crowd get quieter during the game because you fail. The only supposed penalty is losing one of those Nerjyzed tokens, which is virtually useless. But perhaps the largest thing about these two modes is that there’s no impact or reason to play the games. You won’t unlock additional performances or songs, nor will you get anything for performing here, so while you’ll possibly be interested in checking out the shows for one school, after the first time, you’ll skip these to save your time.
Animation wise, BCFX looks particularly rigid and stiff, and the movement feels lugubrious and clunky. It’s rather surprising, considering that the game is powered by the Unreal Engine, that the character models aren’t particularly defined or well animated, but perhaps this can be chalked up to the fact that the game has a ton of slowdown. Whether it’s your players approaching the line of scrimmage, trying to catch the ball or running up the field, the game suffers frequent framerate drops that slows down action and makes the on-field action crawl. I’ve already mentioned a couple of the canned animation issues on the field, but there’s one thing that really stands out that also doesn’t make any sense, particularly if you’ve seen college entrances. Both teams wouldn’t enter the same way, especially if they happen to be rivals. However, every single match features the same entrances by the band and dancers as well as the same drumline moves, which would raise hell between schools, not to mention teams. While there are some decent dance steps that the various schools will perform during halftime shows, for the most part, this is extremely bland.
Prepare for the band to storm the field … and dominate you with rhythm games?Music, on the other hand, is particularly strong, especially with the numerous renditions of pop songs. There are more than sixty fight songs, drum cadences and other tracks scattered through the game, and they are handled quite well. However, while the music is strong, the commentary for the game, provided by Jonathan Coachman and Donal Ware, is practically non-existent. In fact, it’s pretty obvious that the two weren’t in the same room when their dialogue was recorded, because there is no banter whatsoever, comments only happen at the end of plays, and what’s said is extremely boring.
It’s unfortunate that Black College Football: The Experience – The Doug Williams Edition is such a horrendous collection of bad gameplay and features. Both the alums of these institutions as well as the students would gladly pay for a game that accurately captured the spirit and the excitement of gameday for HBCUs. However, this is not the way to approach this demographic, and on top of this, the experience is so poorly done that it would probably infuriate them. Given that this isn’t the first attempt by Nerjyzed to make these games, it seems that capturing the real black college football experience is still far from being accurately presented any time soon.