NCAA GameBreaker 2004 Review (PS2)
Pick your favorite team or any one of 117 Division I-A schools (plus classic teams) as you play in stadiums across the country that have been duplicated to perfection. The energy of the stadiums will consume you as passionate fans scream until the final whistle in support of their team.
Feel the tradition and pageantry of college football bursting from your screen with the addition of 50 new mascots and cheerleaders. Mascots intelligently react to all the hard-hitting action as it unfolds on the field. New animated cheerleaders and sideline personnel including coaches, sideline players and the chain gang deliver a real life college football experience like never before.
Okay. Now that we have the press information out of the way, "NCAA Gamebreaker" was once the game to own on the college scene. I spent many hours playing the first two editions on the original Playstation, but over the past few years, the game has gone downhill. Does “Gamebreaker 2004” improve over previous efforts? Can it one day regain a place in my library? While strides have been made in making the online game second to none, 989 Sports has unfortunately left much of the gameplay and AI issues untouched, leaving me no choice but to go back and play EA’s superior “NCAA Football 2004”.
There’s a mixed bag here as the graphics in some areas are well done - like the stadiums and sidelines. Then you have the broken animations and oddly shaped player models... To say the numbers on the uniforms are large would be an understatement. However, to their credit, 989 Sports has used the proper fonts on some of the teams I played around with - Texas Tech, for example.
You have a nice selection of cameras to choose from; including a defensive cam which would be great - if not for trying to figure out what the offense is doing due to the overly large icons that come up on runs and passes. Why do we need to see the icons of the AI? This is confusing to no end. You can use the right thumbstick to pan the camera left and right before the snap and during gameplay. It would be nice if the icons came up when you panned, but they don’t. Unfortunately, you have to still hit a shoulder button to view them and it can’t used while panning.
The play calling screen is still clunky and as hard to navigate as ever. I am still looking for any play where two players make crossing routes. They have added a feature where you can eliminate the formation and choose from a run/short pass/long pass/etc. - which can be handy in areas where you have little time on the clock.
Mascots are now in the game and in an apparent copy of EA’s competing title; you can play mascot games if you like. The camera angles as the teams break the huddle have always been top notch and show off the detailed work 989 Sports has done on the stadiums. Little things like this have been added to assist with the college atmosphere, but it’s still on a far smaller scale than EA’s offering.
Tim Brandt and Keith Jackson share the booth again this year, and “Whoa, Nelly!” We do get the assortment of colorful phrases from Mr. Jackson, but the problem is that the timing on most of these phrases never feels quite right. Unfortunately, the commentary leaves you with a “ho-hum” feeling that will have you turning it off just so you can concentrate on getting through the playcalling menus.
From an online aspect, this game has it all. Real-time weather, leagues, buddy lists, chat, e-mail, stat tracking - and if you have the USB headset - calling plays by voice. Of course, you can have all the online modes you want; but if the gameplay isn’t there it will all go unseen.
The single player game gives you two modes: “Simulation” and “Arcade”. I stuck to the simulation-based route as “Arcade” mode consisted of exaggerated moves and less rules. When you go the single-player route, you can play in the following modes: “Practice”, “Scrimmage”, “Bowl Season”, “Tournament Season”, “Career Mode”, and “Online”. “Career Mode” allows you to start as a coach at a small school and work your way up each year with promotions.
The running game up the middle just doesn’t feel right. It feels like the defensive linemen aren’t even there, so you’ll only have to worry about the linebackers most of the time. Runners also hit the line much too quickly without having to press the “turbo” button. The option comes off nicely and running outside the tackles tends to be more difficult. The AI defenders often take poor routes to the ball carriers when trying to stop the run. It becomes an issue when you break a run into the open – it’s usually a touchdown in the making due to the poor pursuit angles.
The passing game has changed a lot this year. Last year, the AI would zing every pass and it made it hard to play defense. This year, there’s a new, “floaty” feel to the pass. While on offense, you can still get more speed on the throw by holding down the button a bit longer; but even with that, it feels slower then some of the passes last year. While I appreciate the change, and it does feel more realistic - you now have more time to defend a pass, uncovering yet another flaw -tipped passes like crazy. In one of the games, I had 5 interceptions and tipped more balls then I could count. What makes the tipped passes even more annoying is that players rarely bat the ball to the ground. Instead, the tipped balls fly up in the air; causing a free-for-all. Most of the time, you’ll see players standing around with the ball dropping front of them – and doing absolutely nothing about it. Of course, had the AI been realistic in this manner, one could easily average 10 or more interceptions a game…
Special teams are poorly done, though I have no issue with the kick meter itself. The problem is that you can boot every kickoff out of the end zone- as the CPU does, too.
The main gripe I have with “Gamebreaker” is that it feels like an afterthought to Redzone and 989 Sports. I played it and “Gameday” at the same time, and the game looks like, plays like, and has the same menu as “Gameday” - yet it has less polish on the graphics and gameplay. If you took away the college teams and the option offense, you wouldn’t know the difference between the two. It’s not a bad game, but I couldn’t see anyone playing this game for long when EA’s “NCAA Football 2004” is superior in almost every aspect. Hopefully, now that 989 Sports has the online aspect down pat they can start working harder on the gameplay and deeper career modes for next season.