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NCAA BASKETBALL 09 DEMO IMPRESSIONSPosted on November 12, 2008 at 07:51 AM.
As a seasoned NBA Live 09 and College Hoops vet, I was pleasantly surprised by how the demo played. The March Madness series has been a complete disaster ever since the series jumped off the PS1, so my expectations were relatively low for this demo. Overall, I was left with a very positive impression of what NCAA Basketball 09 is attempting to achieve, and I am actually excited to get my hands on the final product and invest some time with it.
The Good Things
Since this is the series first iteration, I wanted to touch on the positives first.
1. Sense of Polish - The game's menus and overlays are extremely polished and easy to navigate. This is a huge improvement over previous EA offerings, which suffer from slight menu lag and sloppy loading transitions.
2. Campus Shootaround - I've always been a huge fan of the NBA Live-style shootaround loading screens and practice gyms, but NCAA Basketball 09's outdoor court is not only beautiful, but seems more refined than Live's. I'm not quite sure if it's the zoomed-in angle compared to NBA Live 09 or that the hoop seems to have better physics; regardless, I like the mode more in NCAA.
3. Presentation - The overall presentation of the game is beautiful. Whether it's the pre-game lineup menus or the game introduction, the courts look great, the student sections are rocking, and in-game stat overlays look slick. In-game cut-scenes are pretty slick looking as well, and the player models look good -- plus I am a huge fan of the old school jerseys and Afros being modeled by '79 MSU, and '82 UNC. Finally, the letter-boxed in-game replays are really nice looking, and add a layer of presentation to the game that I have not seen in a sports title to date.
4. Tempo Meter - Yes, it has been done in other games, but the tempo meter actually seems to work on offense in the game. It is pretty fun to play up-tempo and create odd-man rushes while running down the court.
5. Coach Input - This feature is OUTSTANDING. I absolutely love making plays and then getting my coache's reaction conveyed to me via a pop-up box. There is nothing better than having Bruce Pearl or '79 Michigan State Coach (complete with Jud Heathcoat '70s green jacket) praise your defensive intensity. I can only imagine how cool it will be in Dynasty mode to see coach McLeod's input (I'm a dictator but my players love me). This is a little detail that adds a ton to the game.
6. On-Court Spacing - The player spacing is very well done in the game. When you receive the ball on offense, you can see lanes develop and actually attack them. On defense you are able to man up a defender without feeling cramped. I am a big fan of Live 09, but there are times where the game feels extremely cluttered on D, and NCAA solves this problem.
7. Help Defense - This is probably one of the features I am most impressed with in the demo. For the first time in a looooong time I actually witnessed CPU defense filling a lane realistically when I rolled off my defender for penetration. The defender would alter my shot, and most of the time, force me to kick the ball back out. It was very refreshing to play a game where CPU A.I. did not simply neglect defensive rotation.
The Mediocre Things
Now that I've got the praise out of my system, time to move on to some things that the demo needs to work on. These aren't game-breakers, but they need some polish.
1. Player Uniform Models - Dear EA, not every player in NCAA hoops wears shorts that are down to his ankles. Now I know this is nitpicky, but one of the cooler things about the college game is that there is so much uniqueness to each school's jerseys. However, everyone looks the same out there with the super-long shorts and tight jerseys; it just doesn't look like a true college game.
2. Lighting Issues - Not quite sure if it's my TV or what, but the game seems very dark. It's not a huge issue, but I feel like there is some type of shadow filter over everything that mutes color brightness and vividness.
3. Free Throws - Just like in Live 09, I am sick of shooting free throws the same way I was back on my Sega Genesis in 1995. There is absolutely no skill to free-throw shooting in the game, and you get zero sense of good shooters vs. poor shooters other than their "perfect zone" length on the shot bar (at least in Live I knew Shaq was garbage at the stripe, so I was mentally rattled when I'd hit the line).
The Downright Bad Things
All right, here they are, the negatives, the game-breakers, the issues with the game that make me rethink dropping a hard earned $60 on this title.
1. Freestyle Crossovers and Ankle Breakers - Why were these included in the game EA? Honestly, why? Not only does every player seem to have the same ability to pull off these moves, but there are absolutely no crossovers/ankle-breaker animations that are exclusive to NCAA Basketball 09.
In NBA Live 09, due to DNA and player signature styles, player animations vary based on the player. Iverson has a more impressive crossover set than Chauncey Billups (take that Denver!), and this was not only seen in the game but felt on the sticks. In NCAA, all the players have the same animation sets, and all these animation sets are representative of a basic move-set in Live 09. It's as if the crossovers were lifted directly from Live, and they just feel bland.
My biggest issue with the system is that this is an NCAA game. I don't mean to drag College Hoops 2K8 into this article, but that game was able to perfectly replicate college crossover move-sets when compared to the NBA. Only players like Derick Rose and OJ Mayo were able to pull off impressive crossovers, and the times to use those moves were few and far between due to the fundamentals of the college game. In NCAA 09 it just seemed far too easy to use my Live 09 stick skills to shake defenders and drive the paint -- even with my power forwards. There is far too much NBA-style isolation in the demo, and that is just wrong for a college basketball game.
The demo does a poor job of making players feel different from each other, and this is a huge negative in my book. College basketball players should not only feel different than NBA players, but also feel different from one another -- it's just that simple. While playing the demo, it felt like I was playing with generic players that all had the same ratings. Even when I was playing with '79 MSU, Magic Johnson had the exact same feel to him as Greg Kelser. This was extremely disappointing in my eyes, and I really hope this changes in the final build.
2. Tempo Meter - Yeah, I know what you're saying: "You had that as a positive." Well as cool as the meter is, it feels extremely flawed. As much fun as it was to run a high-tempo offense, it's not as fun when you find yourself scoring every single time on the demo's highest difficulty level. That's right, all I did was set my tempo to "high" and my defense to "tight," and then within minutes my squad was running the floor like the Harlem Globetrotters. I was throwing oops to everyone; I was on 3-on-1 breaks finishing with big dunks; I was even pulling up for 2-on-1 3-pointers just to rub it in. The biggest problem is that I was able to do this with any team in the demo -- so it was not just a situation where "fill in the blank team, likes to run." I can see this issue being huge online, and also can see people getting extremely bored with the actual game vs the CPU if this situation makes it into the final build.
Speaking of tempo, anyone else notice how many times Nessler and Vitale mention "tempo" in the demo? My wife walked into the room just to see what I was playing because all she kept hearing from the other room was "tempo this, tempo that, tempo for president." It's not a big deal, but my word, imagine if all sports games so shamelessly pimped their new features every year in game -- I think I'll be hearing "tempo" in my sleep tonight.
3. Blocks - This seems to be a problem in most college games (basketball games in general), but it seems like there are far too many blocks in the game, and it's far too easy to block shots. I was just hoping for a more refined block engine in this game as I felt Live 09 was almost there.
4. CPU Offensive A.I. - Unfortunately it seems like even at higher difficulty levels, the computer is completely brain-dead on the offensive side of the ball. For every play you can run on offense -- every pick-and-roll, every backdoor cut, every zone buster -- it seems the computer can run only two plays: pass around the point and shoot a jumper, or drive the lane for a layup.
I was pretty disappointed to see CPU A.I. that reacts very well defensively, act like a YMCA over-40 rec league on the offensive side of the ball. I wanted to see the CPU running the full repertoire of plays on me that I was able to run on its defense. I just never felt challenged defensively, or felt I had to make adjustments like I did in Live 09 or CH 2K8.
I had a great time with the demo, and like I said before, am excited to get my hands on the final product. For a first-year franchise reinvention, this demo is a pretty good effort. I'm actually really hoping the issues I pointed out are ironed out in the final build. Overall the demo was better than I expected, and I can't wait to give my thoughts to you all when the final version releases.
NCAA Football Designer
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