NCAA Football 2002
When EA Sports first announced that they would be releasing a college football game for the PS2 somewhere at the end of July 2001, my initial reaction was one of mixed emotions. Pleased, well, for obvious reasons -- I'm a big fan of college football and a sincere follower of EA Sports' past endeavors on the gridiron. Angry, because it was taking an excruciating nine months for them to finally deliver the goods. Suspicious, because as we all know, release dates are about as reliable as a screen door in a submarine, and July seemed to be curiously early for a college football game to be making its way to retail shelves. And apprehensive, that the game engine itself -- like most collegiate games -- would be running on a derivative of last year's pro rendition (As you recall, last year'swas a fine game, but one that was not without some serious issues).
But as June rolled into early July, and the cool evening skies of spring gave way to the dog days of early summer, feelings of resentment and angst were eventually replaced with relief and anticipation. After all, the latest news from EA once again confirmed the July release date, and hey, at least this year we college groupies were finally getting our game! Alas, amid the perpetual ebb and flow of my changing emotions (sorry, I'm not usually such an emotional guy... no, really!) came a wave of perplexity, when the very same news also confirmed that NCAA Football 2002 would indeed be a rehash of last year's Madden with some minor enhancements. 'How could that be'? I thought, 'This year's college and pro editions are being released less than four weeks apart!'?
Nonetheless, the game is here my friends and I'm a happy camper. Complete with audio/visuals to kill for and stuffed with yards and yards of options and features, NCAA Football 2002 takes the field and plows the turf like an angry fullback on steroids. So is it a bonafide candidate for the Heisman Trophy? Or is it a fifteen-yard penalty for unsportsman-like conduct? Well, tighten your jockstrap and put yer mouthpiece in, the band is playin' and we're comin' outta the tunnel!
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Aside from the standard play modes of Exhibition, Season, and Practice, you'll discover a Dynasty mode, which is deeper and more engrossing than ever before. Like previous iterations of the game, Exhibition mode allows you to choose your team and opponent for an all-out battle on the gridiron. Or play a whole year's schedule in Season mode and take your team to one of 26 bowl games, including the Rose Bowl, Nokia Sugar Bowl, FedEx Orange Bowl, and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Dynasty mode is back, and its debut on the PS2 includes support for up to twelve players. As head coach of your team(s), you'll be called upon to build a successful program, with your sights aimed at an eventual national championship. But watch your hindquarters -- if your team does not perform up to snuff, your reign as head coach may come to an abrupt end. See where you rank in the BCS poll, track year-by-year stats or cumulative career stats for any player. With the addition of a host of new offensive, defensive, and special-teams statistics, simheads are sure to be pleased. At the end of each season, you'll be able to save your draft class (which can be uploaded into Madden 2002) and take part in a recruiting mode that's more intimate than ever. You'll be privy to personal player information such as hometown, GPA, and time in the forty-yard dash. During the off-season, replace your graduating seniors with new young recruits and strengthen the weak spots on your roster. With the possible exception of text-based PC simulations, NCAA Football 2002 offers the most complete college football stat model you can find.
NCAA Football 2002 comes loaded with a stadium full of options and features. Choose to play with one of 144 teams; 117 Division 1-A and 27 Division 1-AA. Check your team's weekly status in the Top 25 and BCS standings. And even if your team is not doing well, your players can still win individual honors such as All-American or All-conference, and of course the granddaddy of 'em all -- The Heisman Memorial Trophy. A full-featured create-a-player option allows you to create players and actually recruit them after the season. The game also features brand new team-specific playbooks that emulate actual college plays run by your favorite schools. New to this year's version is the Campus Challenge -- a reward-based system that awards credits by completing a host of specific tasks such as running for over 100 yards in a game, completing three passes in a row, or sacking the quarterback three times in a half. Credits can then be exchanged for campus cards, which unlock different rewards (such as fantasy teams, stadiums and various other boosts and cheats). The Campus Challenge offers a unique and interesting component to an already feature-rich game and adds a ton of replay value.
As every sports videogame fanatic knows, lush graphics, great features, and an abundance of options and play modes are fine and dandy, but they don't mean diddly if the game doesn't play well. I am happy to report that, thankfully, this may very well be NCAA Football's strongest suit. The tried and true gameplay formula fromis back and better than ever. However, this time, the engine has undergone some tweaks and improvements, which in this reviewer's opinion give the game a better overall feel. Control is tight and responsive -- managing the on-field action is easier than ever. And while some people have expressed concerns with player movement being too 'floaty,'? quite frankly, I don't see it. On the offensive side of the ball, running seems to be handled much better than in the past. The developers finally addressed the line blocking and it comes off eons more realistically than any other game I've ever played. Yes, holes will open up and it's now possible to rip off twelve to fifteen yards on a dive or off-tackle play up the middle. With the right combination of spins, jukes, stiff-arms, or hurdles, who knows, you may even be able to go all the way -- just like real football! In my humble opinion, there's no cooler play in college football than the QB option. This is also handled quite nicely. With a little practice, I was able to gain positive yardage fairly consistently, but never to a point where it became automatic. The passing game received less of an upgrade, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing. Your success or failure to complete passes, once again, depends upon the skill levels of your team and opponent. If your A-rated receivers are matched up against D-rated defensive backs, you can expect to shred the secondary throughout most of the game.
]Which brings me to the issue of money plays. Yup, they're still there, but with less frequency, and they're not guaranteed to work with the same degree of certainty, as in previous iterations. You'll also notice that this issue is more governed by the discrepancy in the overall strength of the opposing teams. I state the obvious -- if you're playing with a powerhouse team against a weaker opponent, you can expect certain plays to work better than when your opponent is of near-equal strength.
On the defensive side of the ball, you'll find that sacking the quarterback is a much more challenging (and realistic) affair, with ten to twelve sacks a game no longer possible. You'll also find that your defensive backs will cover the receivers will a higher level of competence -- your nickel and dime packages will yield a 'wide open'? man less frequently, making defensive play a lot less frustrating.
On the whole, the AI in the game is realistic and fair. There won't be too many times that you'll feel like you've been cheated. The CPU opponent will call timeouts, use the sidelines, and go for the field goal, in an appropriate and realistic manner. Like real football, fumbles and interceptions do happen, but they seem to occur more so as a result of a believable sequence of events on the field, rather than at random. I have a small gripe in regard to penalties. The default setting yields almost no penalty calls during the game. And while the developers provide sliders to increase or decrease their frequency, doing so should not be a prerequisite to realism. Furthermore, in most games, I'm consistently penalized almost twice as many times as the CPU (I hate that!). End-of-game stats are believable, but I get the general sense that passing and running stats are somewhat inflated. When playing with seven-minute quarters, it was not unusual for me to gain 150 to 200 yards rushing and 300 yards passing. Double those totals (as in a normal fifteen minute quarter), and we're talking some serious yardage here, folks! One final note -- the CPU still passes the ball way too frequently for my taste. Even for run oriented teams like Army and Nebraska, it's not unusual to see them throw the ball better than 65% of the time. As a matter of fact, the CPU never seems to get a good ground attack going at all. I have just completed my second season, and never in any one of the twenty-something games I've played, did the CPU rush for over eighty yards (hey, I'm good, but this is ridiculous!).
The game supports up to eight players at once. So whattaya sittin' there for? Plug in the ol' multitap, grab seven of your buddies and let the games begin!
Soon after initial boot up, my concerns of a rehashed graphics engine were subsequently put to rest, once and for all. So, let's get one thing straight -- the graphics are good, very good! Player models are smooth, with textures that are highly detailed. If you've either seen or played last year's Madden, then picture the same thing with even a higher level of quality. Sadly, the 'bug-eyed'? facial features from last year are also back and 'in the game.'? Uniforms are colorful and accurate to their real-life counterparts. In addition, during the season, your players will be adorned with helmet stickers and jersey patches, giving the various uniforms a fresh and distinctive look. For the most part, animations are smooth and fast. The sluggishness of previous iterations appears to be a thing of the past, as running backs and linebackers hit the hole with power and purpose. There is a small degree of slowdown present during certain situations, but fortunately it's neither extremely noticeable nor a hindrance to gameplay. The quantity of animations also benefit from the enhanced graphics engine, with an increase in the assortment of diverse player movements. You'll witness several new college-specific animations, such as the quarterback option, wrap tackles, pitches, fakes, jukes, and broken tackles, that provide a whole new level of realism to an already impressive package.
On the whole, stadiums are modeled quite nicely, with a decent variety of realistic grass and turf playing surfaces. During the season, you'll also enjoy a bevy of realistic weather effects that have a direct impact on the field of play. Sidelines, which are populated with interactive players, referees, and team mascots, add a nice touch and further immerse you into the game (believe me, I've tried knocking the ref down more than once!). During the action sequences, you can choose from one of four basic camera views -- with the two from behind the offense offering the best view of the field. Automatic slow-motion replays (which can be turned off) show extreme close-ups of the action and add a nice flair to the visuals. Of course, fully customizable manual replay cameras are also available for you to watch your favorite plays over and over.
While the sound effects in the game are competent, this is probably the area that needs the most work. The grunts and groans of the gridiron combatants, as well as the crowd noises are satisfactory, but it's nothing we haven't heard before. The marching bands are here and accounted for, but to me they seem somewhat subdued. And since there are no cheerleaders in the game, well, you won't be hearing any cheers (sorry, but I'll take cheerleaders over those stupid mascots any day!). All in all, I guess what I'm trying to say is, something's missing here. When I sit down to watch a televised college football game, the energy and enthusiasm emanating from the fans, marching bands, and cheerleaders is unmistakable. Here's hoping EA Sports does a better job of capturing this energy in next year's game. On a more positive note, the college broadcast team of Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, and Brad Nessler, offer the best commentary I've heard yet with very little repetition. Their chemistry is both refreshing and a welcome addition to the game. Complementing the trio of broadcasters is a PA announcer, which will actually announce the names of edited players -- it won't work with every name (I tried my name... fagettaboudit!), but it's kinda cool nonetheless.
Considering the fact that Madden 2002 is less than one week away from its release, many gamers are probably tempted to pass this one up. However, if you consider yourself a huge college football fan, that would be a huge mistake. Offering a compelling mix of solid graphics and college-specific gameplay, along with the best dynasty mode to date -- NCAA Football 2002 is without competition. And by the way, I don't know about you, but I have absolutely no faith in that 'other' sports developer. And while it's not perfect (what game is?) this gamer says, 'It's a no-brainer, buy it... case closed!" Now if you'll excuse me, gotta go -- The Hurricanes are stormin' the field, and I've got me a national championship to claim!