NCAA Final Four 2003 REVIEW

NCAA Final Four 2003 Review (PS2)

989 Studios. Makers of such fine games as the Gameday and MLB for the Playstation and such horrible games as the Gameday series and the Shootout series for the PS2. They are also the developers for the Final Four series. The Final Four series has had an interesting life. Every year, I play this game for two reasons. One, It comes out before every other college basketball game and two; it has always shown a lot of potential. The game has always had all of the Division 1 teams, all of the courts and a solid Dynasty mode. Some of those features are things that the current version of March Madness still doesn’t have. Still, Final Four has always come up short in comparison to EA’s game, March Madness because of gameplay, and as we all know that is the most important part of a sports game. Now 989 not only has competition from EA with March Madness but Sega also has released a college basketball game. Can Final Four stay with the competition?

The courts are accurate and well done in this year’s version. This is something that Final Four has always done well. Still, the game uses generic arenas for every team. Now, if you have read my basketball reviews before, you know that I am a stickler for having accurate arenas. I can understand if Morris Brown has an accurate court but a generic arena but I have a problem if Duke is playing in a place that looks nothing like Cameron Indoor Stadium. Having the right arena adds to the atmosphere. I like feeling that I’m in a different place when I’m playing a different team and in Final Four I feel like I’m playing in the same building just with a different floor.

The player models have improved over the years but they are still behind Sega and EA’s versions. The players’ arms and necks seem a little too long. I also have a problem with many of the player animations. Many of the dunk animations seem to be missing a frame. I saw the same thing in 989’s NBA game Shootout. The crossover and jump shot animations also seem awkward. The jumpshot animation makes it seem like the player is throwing a barrel overhead instead of shooting a basketball. 989 needs to use different motion captures when developing this game because the ones they have are shotty.

The basic sounds like the ball dribbling and the sound of the rim after a dunk are done well. However, there is a big problem I have with the sound of the crowd. The crowd does not seem to react to what is going on in the game. After a big play, they don’t react. During a run, it’s the same thing. After playing games like the new March Madness and College Basketball 2k3, It is easy to tell how lacking the sound is. In those games the crowd will get noticeably louder when a big play occurs or when the home team goes on a run. That does not happen in Final Four. It also sounds to me like they have the crowd sound running on a loop that is really annoying.

Lets start with the positives. Final Four has a version of the Freestyle Control, which can be found in EA’s basketball games. By using the right analog stick, you can perform crossover moves and moves to the basket. However, it is not as complete as EA’s version. In March Madness, you can do up to eight moves with the Freestyle Control. In Final Four, there only seem to be about four.
The AI also seems to run defenses and offenses that are similar to real life. Certain teams will use the press while others will use zone defenses. Some teams will run a motion offense while others wont. In past Final Fours, it seemed like no matter what team, you were playing they always ran the same offensive and defensive sets. This version has changed that and its good to see.
Now on to the negatives. Let me make this clear. I hate the Touch Shooting meter. The only meters that should be in a basketball game should be for free throws and a momentum meter. The biggest problem with it is once you have practiced and played the game enough, you can learn how to time the meter perfectly and you wont miss a shot. If you time the meter perfectly, you will make the shot no matter if a defender is around or not. A defender’s presence should affect your shot no matter how well you time the meter. I just think that 989 should get rid of the meter all together. Just because it’s a feature that the other games don’t have doesn’t make it a good feature.

The AI still doesn’t hold up to the competition. While teams may play like their real life counterparts, players don’t. For example, when I was playing Arizona, Luke Walton and Jason Gardner combined for 4 shots in the game. 4 shots! They are the two best players on Arizona and two of the best in the nation and they shot the ball 4 times. That isn’t supposed to happen. The AI should learn how to use its star players. I hate to play a season and see players like Jason Kapono and Walton averaging 6 points and 5 shots against me.

The computer also refuses to find or pass it to the open man. You can trap an opposing player and the computer will not attempt to pass it out of the double team. It appears to me that when the computer has called a play, they are determined to run that play no matter what defense you throw at them. So, if you double-team the point guard and if the play doesn’t call for him to pass the ball at that time, he will just hold on to the ball while he is being double-teamed. That often results in a steal because the computer did nothing to get out of the double team. The offensive awareness of the AI needs to be improved so that the players recognize the situation and react accordingly.

The Dynasty and Career modes are great features but the purpose of the modes is defeated when the gameplay is bad. I do like the Career mode that starts you out as a Graduate Assistant and continues until you are a coach at a major university. The recruiting part of the Career mode is pretty straightforward. The coach is given a certain number of visits and the recruit makes his decision based on that. The recruiting feature is not as deep as March Madness or Sega’s game but it does make the Career mode interesting.

Final Four just doesn’t hold up against the competition. The gameplay in March Madness and College Basketball 2k3 is light years better then in Final Four. The atmosphere of the other two games is better. The franchise/ dynasty modes are better. Final Four has a lot of features but almost all of them are in the other games and done better. While, this game is better then previous efforts, Final Four is still a long way from competing with the big boys.


NCAA Final Four 2003 Score
out of 10