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NCAA Final Four 2000 (PSX) Review

Publisher: 989 Sports
Release Date: Fall 1999

Background Info

From the NHL to the NBA to the NFL, the venerable PlayStation console has been home to some truly innovative and classic sports games. One sport, however, which has floundered on the PlayStation is college basketball. Despite a bounty of excellent NBA titles, the NCAA basketball games on the PSX have been utterly forgettable. This fall, however, two more college basketball titles are being released for the PlayStation. 989 Sports' NCAA Final Four 2000 is the first to market. Can it be the first to deliver a quality college basketball title to the PSX?

Presentation/Graphics : 65
Some games, such as Gran Turismo, Colony Wars or Metal Gear Solid defy the age of the PlayStation with remarkable graphics that would dazzle fans of any console. NCAA Final Four 2000 is not one of those games. In contrast, this game makes the PSX look older and more obsolete than it should. The fuzzy, pixelated-looking players in this game are, in a word, ugly. They not only look bad in comparison to recent competition, but they look bad compared to old PSX basketball games.

Just for contrast, I put in my three-year-old NBA Live '97 disc. Amazing, Live 97's first-generation polygonal player models look better and more detailed than those in NCAA Final Four 2000. When a new game looks worse than something released in 1996, you know the product is in trouble.

While the players look like fuzzy mutants, at least they move well, with a smooth framerate and fluid, natural movements. The animation in the game is fast and smooth, so what you lose in detail, you somewhat get back in speed.

And as bad as the players are in the game, there are some nice graphical touches in NCAA Final Four 2000. The crowd is animated. While the effect is limited, it does look cool and adds to the college feel of the game. The players will actually reach down to grab loose balls. My favorite visual element in the game is the sidelines. You see the coaches pacing and gesturing by their team's bench throughout the game, and between the benches is a live scoreboard with both the actual score and time remaining. It's a shame the core graphics engine in the game is so weak, since 989 actually did a nice job with some of the graphical details.

Presentation/Audio : 60
One of the things that makes college basketball unique from the NBA is the intensity of the crowds. A typical NCAA game is loud, with chants, cheers, and fight songs. A rivalry game, like a matchup between Duke and North Carolina or Kansas and Kentucky, can be a deafening, passionate atmosphere, unlike anything else in sports.

Sadly, NCAA Final Four 2000 does a miserable job capturing the sound of college hoops. The crowds are mostly a low murmur in the background, with some occasional surges of noise after a big shot. The crowd does chant from time to time, but it sounds too muted in the background. Nothing really sounds intense or loud.

The game does have college fight songs, but many are missing from the game. I tried both of my alma maters, Northwestern and North Carolina, and neither had the correct fight song. The music plays mainly during time outs, however, and doesn't add to the arena atmosphere.

Quinn Buckner does the announcing, but just seems to make little comments here and there. His reactions quickly become repetitive. After a few games, I was ready to mute the TV if I had to hear him say "It's SHOW-TIME!" one more time... He does follow some of the action, mentioning player numbers and shots, but the delivery feels very flat and generic.

Overall, the audio in the game is weak and uninspired. The arena sounds are too quiet, and after a couple games, you'll have heard everything Buckner has to say--a dozen times.

Interface/Options : 75
The menu and navigation in NCAA Final Four 2000 is pretty straightforward. The presentation is very polished and slick.

As far as options, you can play an exhibition, a season, or jump right into the NCAA tournament. You have plenty of other options and settings to adjust, typical in most sports games. The most glaring omission here, however, is a dynasty mode that would let you play over multiple seasons and recruit players.

The control of the game is pretty standard, with customizable gamepad configurations. But 989 does offer an excellent set of special controls, such as icon-screening, icon-cutting, and button combinations that allow you to attempt alley-oops, special dribbles, and clear-outs. You can play with the basic set of jump-and-shoot buttons, but if you want to use more complex controls, there are more than most players could ever want.

Gameplay : 80
The speed and flow of the game are smooth, providing fast gameplay. The controls described above do allow a good range of control over the action on the court, but too often, the gameplay suffers from the same types of basketball AI problems that have plagued many basketball videogames. As is too often the case with basketball sims, NCAA Final Four 2000 suffers from the classic "steal-and-score" disease - steals are too easy, leading to a simplistic run-and-gun gameplay that rarely resembles college hoops. Also, like many hoops titles, the low-post game is a lot tougher than just driving through the lane and shooting. As a result, there's little reason to play anything else other than fast break basketball.

Still, the game can be challenging at the higher difficulty levels, and will provide a challenge if you want to take your team to the "big dance" and win it all.

Replay Value : 60
Two things will really hurt the replay value of this game - the weak graphics and the lack of a dynasty mode. People looking for arcade action may have a hard time getting past the game's primitive-looking graphics, while simulation fans will be disappointed at the game's lack of depth. Only the hard-core college hoops fan may stay interested in this game, but even that player may lose interest, since the other college basketball game this year offers much better replay value.

Overall : 68
Sadly, NCAA Final Four 2000 is yet another failed attempt to deliver a great college basketball title to the PlayStation. Its poor graphics are sure to turn off a lot of gamers, and its lack of depth will deter other gamers who might be willing to look past the unimpressive visuals. Unfortunately, underneath its ugly-duckling exterior is a decent game with some innovative and intriguing controls, but few gamers will probably ever use them, since the game isn't slick or deep enough to justify a purchase. Worst of all, this game fails on a fundamental level in terms of delivering the look and feel of college hoops. "March Madness" is not just the name of a tournament - it's a description of the passion and pageantry that defines the game. This game just doesn't do justice to the unique experience of NCAA basketball.

For someone looking for any basketball game on the PSX, NBA Live is a much better product. For someone who really wants college, not professional, hoops, March Madness 2000 offers a better overall experience. NCAA Final Four 2000 isn't a horrible game, just an utterly forgettable one that should be left on the shelf.

By: Matt P. 12/22/99

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