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NCAA 99 (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: Summer 1998

Background Info

There is probably not a more enjoyable US spectator sport that matches the sheer excitement and pagentry that is called college football. Last year, Sony's Gamebreaker set the standard for collegiate football games by being the first to use polygonal graphics. This year, EA Sports jumps into the polygonal arena. Does NCAA99 have what it takes to (possibly) overthrow the defending champion?

Presentation/Graphics : 89
The most anticipated upgrade to NCAA99 was the arrival of polygonal graphics. Last year, EA Sports' V-Poly sprites brought some gamers back to the days of the Sega Genesis. Compared to Sony's Gambreaker98, the graphics aren't quite as sharp, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The graphics, especially when using the "Dynamic CAM" view, are very detailed, down to the bulge of the thigh pads to the teams' logo on the helmets. The level of detail is even greater when using the instant replay function to zoom in: the players' faces are very detailed. Although the graphics are a bit grainy (a la Sony's original Gameday), this does not take away from the game whatsoever.

Presentation/Audio : 90
Chuck White returns as the concise, if plain, PA announcer. A new addition to his announcing skills is the ability for him to pronounce both numbers AND names! Although names don't usually appear for the players until the 2nd season of your dynasty, White will pronounce them loud and clear during certain situations. The echo of White's voice realistically reverberates as it would in a stadium.

The number of school chants and band music is astounding. The various themes really helps in giving NCAA99 that collegiate atmosphere. The crowds will react correctly depending on the situation. If the home team is driving for a score, the crowds will cheer loudly. I did not notice if they boo in the games I have played, but it would not bother me if it was not implemented. Another of the "little things" EA implemented is having Chuck White announce scores of other games when you pause the game!

Interface/Options : 95
EA appears to have spent a good deal of effort in cleaning up the interface. The menus are very easy to navigate through, with little or no load time in switching menus. The menus are very crisp and easy to read. I would dare say this is as clean a navigation interface as I've seen in a game.

As if graphics and gameplay weren't enough, NCAA99 features a much improved Dynasty Mode (DM). DM supposedly allows you to play up to 255 consective seasons. At the end of each season, your team will have graduating seniors, and recruiting must be done. Like last year, you are able to choose which type of player at each position you want at each position you want to recruit. For example, you can recruit either a pocket passer or an option passer! A new twist to recruiting is the availability of coaching staff visits to your prospective recruits. You are permitted a certain number of visits by your coaching staff. The higher ranking that member of your staff is (e.g. head coach vs. grad assistant), the better chance you have at recruiting a "blue chip" or "solid" player. After recruiting, you can compare your recruiting class to other teams nationally. In addition to recruiting, there is a post season training mode where your returning players are graded according to the improvement they've made (e.g. "breakthrough," "minimal"). To top off the post season activities, you are shown where your graduating players were drafted in the NFL draft!

Standard options such as exhibition, dynasty mode, and great games are also included. Great Games allows you to replay a number of great games in the past. An option that gamers have screamed for since the game's release is the ability to select quarter times in the 6-8 minute range. At this point, quarters can be played in 3, 5, 10, and 15 minute intervals. With 5 minutes being too short (and thus the stats are too low) and 10 minutes being too high (stats being too bloated), 6-8 minute quarters would seem to be a good compromise in the search for realistic stats.

If "coach mode" is enabled during dynasty setup, you are given approximately a 5 year contact to coach a team. If you coach well, you are either permitted to keep your job or possibly be offered a better one. More victories also means more "prestige points," which would assist your program in recruiting. If you coach poorly, you could be fired and have to take a job with a smaller school.

The custom schedule option is back and is as good as ever. This is especially helpful in scheduling a season that would more or less "guarantee" success (and add perhaps another year to your contract!).

Gameplay : 92
When it comes down to it, a game can have all the graphics and options in the world, but if the gameplay is lacking, gamers will stay away in droves. Although there are some minor irritations in gameplay, NCAA99 is a vast improvement over NCAA98 in this department.

First of all, the computer AI is much improved over last year's entry. Teams attempt to mimic their real life counterparts: for example, Notre Dame will run first, pass second. This is due in part to team-specific playbooks.

For those gamers out there that consistently threw for 600 yards at the All-American level with last year's version, you may be in for a surprise. Most games in NCAA98 were basically passing affairs, due mostly to the fact that trying to establish the running game was next to impossible. Not so with NCAA99. Establishing the run is critical to success in NCAA99, and thankfully is much easier to accomplish. Some of the difficulty in establishing the running game in NCAA98 was the sprite graphics: when a running back ran into a crowd down the middle, it was virtually impossible to see where you were out to try to break free. With NCAA99, it is very easy to see the holes open up for you and even when you are stopped cold at the line, you'll know why. The most effective running plays seem to be sweeps to either side before bolting straight ahead. Defensive LB's and DL's don't seem to react very well to outside sweeps. Running backs and receivers have the ability to spin around tackles, jump over linemen, and speed burst. Although it's not easily viewed, there is indeed a stiff arm feature (L2/R2), but it is somewhat confusing to use since it uses the same buttons as the juke move. It depends upon the situation, apparently. If a runner is in the open field with one tackler in front of him, the stiff arm animation occurs.

The passing game is done well. Although too many completions were made with double and even triple teams, it is somewhat more difficult to complete passes to open receivers. Compounding this newfound difficulty in the passing game is the fact that rushing the passer seems to be much easier to do than last year's version. The secret to success in the passing game in NCAA99 is to drop back no more than a couple of steps, read the defense, plant your feet, and throw! Some of the subtle details EA added to the passing game were balls that were thrown wobbly if the QB was hit while making a throw; passes were less accurate if the QB threw off his back foot as opposed to planting his feet; and the excellent receiving animations such as fingertip catches, dives, etc. NCAA99 offers an analog passing mode that takes advantage of the dual analog controller, although word has it that it is difficult to master.

As stated earlier, defensive AI has been improved. Wrap tackles, a staple in the Sony series, are finally implemented in this game, although the results are always fluid and believable. "Regular" types of tackles are a mixed bag. Some tackles come off as "phantom" tackles; these tackles appear to come from out of thin air! On the same thread, at times tackling is a study in frustration, as you see an opposing teams' RB, WR/TE, or QB run smack dab into your defensive player and...bounce off continously. It's not unusual to see a play where a back survives 4 or 5 tackle attempts and runs for a long gain! Other than those minor gripes, the defensive AI seems to read and react to plays much better than last year's AI. Defense seems to be much less susceptible to "money plays" although no doubt some will be found and exploited.

Difficulty : 90
There are three modes of difficulty: Junior Varsity, Varsity, and All American. Experienced football gamers should be able to jump right into Varsity or All American mode and learn quickly. The defensive AI is especially increased in the All American mode. Varsity offers a nice balance between offensive and defensive AI. Again, since the running game is much easier to establish in this version and on the flip side, that the passing game is much more difficult, NCAA99 certainly follows the old video game adage of "easy to learn, difficult to master". At least until the first set of money plays are discovered :)

Overall : 93
With perhaps the deepest array of features (player animations, enhanced Dynasty mode, recruiting, coach mode, etc.) to go along with the new polygonal graphics, NCAA99 is a must buy. Despite some of the minor glitches mentioned above, gamers will enjoy this unique blend of sim and arcade functions. Run, don't walk, to your nearest software store and pick this one up... Touchdown, EA Sports!

By: Gabe Gador 8/14/98

© 1998-2006 Sports Gaming Network. Entire legal statement. Feedback

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