College basketball is one of the great sports in this world. The game has brought us many memorable moments over the years. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for college basketball video games. Over the last four or five years I can't think of one college basketball title that was high quality. Sega has entered the fray with their attempt at rejuvenating this genre.
NCAA Basketball 2K3 is the inaugural NCAA hoops title on the modern systems by Sega. We've come to expect great things from the Sega Sports line, and the promises made by NCAA 2K3 are no exception. The game promises a deep legacy mode, a real college atmosphere, enhanced presentation courtesy of the ESPN license, and the full slate of Division I basketball teams.
Presentation/Graphics : 85
Due to restrictions placed on games by the NCAA, you won't find the actual team rosters on the teams in NCAA 2K3. Nonetheless, that doesn't stop you from evaluating the quality of the player models. While the names and likenesses are contrived, the player models are smooth and fairly detailed. Uniforms are impeccable and clearly show the strength of the Gamecube's graphics. Player animations are diverse and include realistic backdown, shooting (fades, dunks, etc), diving, and passing moves.
The stadiums look nice, though I do notice that all stadiums are not modeled after the actual buildings. One example is Rice's Autry Court. Sega implemented a generic stadium rather than make an attempt at recreating the old field house. Also, the crowds in the arenas are of poorer quality than the rest of the graphics. They lack the detail of all other humans in the game. The cheerleaders, however, are quite detailed from a distance and are animated.
One issue with the game's graphics is collision detection, which at times is suspect. You'll sometimes get frustrated on offense when you try to make a move but you are seemingly locked in place. A man may be guarding you from behind so you figure you can move laterally. Sometimes this is simply not the case. The artificial lock requires you to actually move away from your defender before moving laterally. Another issue is on goaltends. The game seems inconsistent on the goaltending call. I've seen the defense swipe the ball off the rim with no infraction called. Fortunately these occurrences are few and don't significantly detract from the overall quality of the graphics.
Presentation/Audio : 60
Sadly, I came away disappointed with the audio package in 2K3. With the ESPN license I expected Dick Vitale's obnoxious and over-the-top color commentary and plenty of college bands adding atmosphere with fight songs and more. Instead, I noticed a game with commentary that made too many mistakes and generic music and crowd noises. The commentary would also be delayed, such as hearing some play-by-play once the halftime screen came up or well after a change in possession. The bands and crowds did little to inspire my play in the game. Even on-the-court sounds were to the same quality I've heard in other hoops titles.
Interface/Options : 65
The options in the game are both a blessing and a curse. The blessings are the multitude of game modes, which includes single games, a season mode, "gym rat" (the street ball equivalent of the pro game), practice, and legacy. The most expansive mode is the legacy mode, which requires you to coach a team in one of the smaller conferences. You're given a goal, and if you achieve it there's the opportunity to move to a bigger school. Of course, miss the goal and you may be coaching a program in worse shape. Once you get to the off-season the fun really begins as you have to recruit players to fill holes in your lineup. The multi-week recruiting process is detailed and one of the better features of the game. Week by week you watch nervously as some of your recruits commit to other programs.
The curse in the game is the lack of sliders. I must admit that I've gotten spoiled by the sliders in NBA 2K3. When I play that game I use the sliders to force a more realistic NBA style of play. Primarily I use them to bump up the foul calls. With no such sliders in NCAA 2K3, I'm forced to live with the whims of the programmers. Unfortunately fouls are called way too little. It's not uncommon for games to end with just a couple of fouls in the game. The exception comes in games where the losing team intentionally fouls late in the game.
Speaking of intentional fouls, which brings up another deficiency with NCAA 2K3. The controls in the game simply lack enough options. There is no button for an intentional foul. Perhaps the biggest complaint is the lack of true icon passing. You can use the right stick to make passes, but many times the ball doesn't go to the right player. I've had the defense intercept a pass intended for a player on the arc that went instead to the low post.
Gameplay : 70
Sadly I just can't get into the gameplay of NCAA 2K3. There are simply too many flaws in the game that prevent it from being fun. Goaltending was already mentioned, as was the lack of fouling in the game. Another huge bug is timeout logic. I quickly learned to flip to manual timeouts for my team as the CPU was calling them for me too frequently. While I can manage my own timeouts, the AI team still calls them too frequently and at the wrong times. It's not uncommon for the AI team to use all but one or two of their timeouts by the end of the first half. They are left with only one or two for the rest of the game. Further, they call timeout at bonehead times. On a fast break? Sure, call a timeout. It completely blows away the flow of the game.
Other issues already mentioned include a collision detection, which affects player motion and the lack of accurate passing. On positive, however, is that passes are picked off if you try to squeeze the ball into a tight spot. The game forces you to pass intelligently. Now if the game would only intelligently pass. Another passing flaw is passing out of the low post. When backing down you can't execute a pass. You have to exit the backdown mode, stand up, and then pass. This takes away a vital aspect of basketball. When a double team arrives you should be able to quickly pass out to an open man and shoot the ball. The time delay in having to stand back up gives the defense more than enough time to rotate and have perfect coverage. Of course, quality big men are a rarity in the college game so you won't see this type of offense as much as in the NBA, but if Sega is going to put the double team in the game in the first place, they might as well do the whole package correctly.
One positive note is the quality of the defense. I think the CPU overcompensates on defense as fast breaks are few and far between. You have to really work hard to get an open shot much like the college game. One thing that would go a long way would be controls that didn't feel so sluggish. The passing and movement just isn't as snappy as the NBA 2K series.
Replay Value : 60
Unfortunately NCAA 2K3 just isn't as polished as NBA 2K3. It feels like many of the bugs from NBA 2K2 were carried over. The lack of sliders in the game means that gameplay is a dead end street. I really love the legacy mode, but the uninspired gameplay has me tipping off with other basketball games.
Overall : 69
We must give credit where credit is due, and Sega deserves credit for a great initial effort for a college basketball game. It's better than the other college hoops titles on the market, but it still has a ways to go before it can achieve the overall quality of its pro kin NBA 2K3. The excellent legacy mode is already there, so the game is just a few gameplay tweaks away from greatness.