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NCAA 99 (PC) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: Summer 1998

Background Info

You ever have that warm cozy feeling when something goes right, when something approaches, beats all expectations, and gives you that fix you have been yearning for? This feeling was recently felt by yours truly, as it does every year, and it didn't involve a girl, a job, or winning the lottery. I'm talking about football, college football, and more specifically, NCAA Football 99 from EA Sports. It's not normal for people to get this excited about anything unless it is a truly 100% enjoyable experience, and this game from a little-known company called Electronic Arts gave it to me. Everything about this title improves on what was created last year, solving the main issues about being easy, console-ish, and buggy. We played 3 season's worth of root-tootin' football action to get a good feel about it and here is what we found:

Presentation/Graphics : 93
Not to be outdone by gameplay, NCAA Football 99 has gone full polygonal! This basically means that the players have gone from boring, console-like sprites to full-on textured players! However, get that 3D card out because you won't see anything but sprites if you don't. Everything is visible in this version of the game from the black sun grease under the player's eyes right down to the letters "NCAA" on the football! Polygons don't actually make the game prettier by appearance, but are much more able to handle the multiple frame rates to deliver crisp, sharp, and real player animations. When was the last time you saw a ball land in a player's hands, and then brought down to carry it, on a video game? Well, this one gives you that and more. The stadiums are truly 3 dimensional as you can watch your ball disappear in the stands following a field goal and every last detail of each Division 1A team stadium has been captured to really give you the in-house feel that this game has been known for. Camera angles have been added to the game to provide a different look to the playing field, and when teamed up with the game's "Coach Mode" it can provide quite the powerful coaching feel. Some issues that were left out that could be a great addition to an already great game would be to have active sidelines or scoreboards. The lack of this really gives you that static feeling as if time has stood still and the only people still active are the players on the field. The good part is that the crowd is very much into the game, if not graphically, but vocally!

Presentation/Audio : 93
That "real stadium" feel is definitely in the game as the crowd reacts to every great home team play including the opening kickoff! You will hear "RAH's" when the home team breaks free for a massive run, completes a long pass, or puts points on the board. You will also hear "BOO's" if your team is doing poorly, or the opposing team puts a few more points on the board. Chuck White, Rose Bowl announcer, does a wonderful job of calling the action on the field, including calling out names of players! This will only work if you edit the players using the player editor and only if that name is among the 700 pre-recorded names in the names database, but is well worth it to utilize the player editing feature! The game also has 60+ fight songs from the 112 universities as well as school specific chants. Each fight song and each chant sound just as if they were coming from the crowd themselves which really creates the feel as you are there environment.

Interface/Options : 96
It is never a good thing to start off with the bad parts, but hopefully the other portions will outweigh this aspect of the game. But, before I say anything else I would like to mention that the game has been totally redesigned with new features and a brand spanking new interface. It is not one that is easily adjusted to and that is the first, and so far the worst, part about the game. The menus show promise from the start, but are simply too rich with options and stray from a strong consistency. Once familiar, it is very possible to weave yourself in and out of game options as there are a ton of them in this year's version. One of the new options include the long-awaited, and powerful, Dynasty Mode that allows you to take your favorite team and build them up into a national powerhouse. But it isn't as easy as you think. Your job is to build a team using your skills as a recruiter and as a coach. You can recruit new players, keep current players, and lose players to graduation or early NFL draft selections.

Another greatly anticipated feature is the ability to play a tournament with your favorite teams, or random if you so desire. The tournament mode will allow you to have up to 16 teams participate with options of 8 or 4 teams also. In addition, a nationwide poll is conducted every week to give you the status of your team and those that are competing for a slice of the national title pie. However, these features don't mean anything without strong gameplay, as they say, "The proof is in the pudding."

Gameplay : 86
Ahh, the creamy filling that holds all those nifty features together! This is by far the toughest playing, hardest hitting, and fastest responding version of NCAA football! I have seen some tight gameplay in my experience with NCAA Football 98, but only by tougher, meaner, human opponents. NCAA Football 99 puts that near "human" response and thinking into their game making it the hardest playing football game I have ever played! Gone are the "money" plays from last year as the defensive backs play your wide receivers like they were permanently attached at the hip, the defensive line seems to focus on what would seem to be an easy 10-15 yard gain only to fall short with a pummeling blow by a blood-thirsty Right Tackle. Don't think that you are going to have an easy blowout using 3 minute quarters either. The artificial intelligence of this game keeps things down to earth and seems to zero in closer to that 15 minute real stats quarter. A great feature of the game is the ability to speed up or slow down the clock if you want to get even more realism in your gameplay. EA has done a wonderful job with the AI to make this title more difficult than last year's version. They have, however, still given us those all too familiar settings of "Junior Varsity," "Varsity," and "All-American" to keep even the worst of players entertained. Now that EA Sports has honed in on gameplay, only graphics could be of secondary concern.

Difficulty : 92
Well, this is one title where I would say that difficulty is a plus! Too many times in gaming titles you can outsmart the computer due to its limited thinking capability. The actual operation of the game leaves a lot to be desired, but the difficulty in gameplay is GREAT! Not only can you really stick it to the computer, but the computer can stick it to you! This is a huge plus when those human opponents are nowhere to be found or your best friend can't make it over to go one on one with a gaming rivalry.

Overall : 92
You will find endless hours of great college football action as I have in this finely smoothed NCAA Football 99. The gameplay is tight, the graphics are advanced, and the sounds are real, to give all college football fans a taste of the season before them. Take your team to the national title game and teach those successful programs a thing or two about football. It's all possible in this game.

By: Doug Pierce 8/31/98

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