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NCAA 2000 (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: Summer 1999

Background Info

Screens (20)
With last year's NCAA Football 99, Tiburon and EA Sports created my favorite console football game of all time. Actually it was my favorite console sports game, ever. While far from perfect, NCAA 99 did so many things right that is transcended the normal console sports game feel to become more of an experience. With so much love obviously involved in its creation, it was hard not to fall under its spell, and I fell hard. From the incredibly accurate uniforms and stadiums, its awesome audio that made you part of the college football experience, to the wonderfully deep Dynasty mode, NCAA Football 99 was college football nirvana. How can Tiburon (the game's actual creator) and EA Sports (its producer) possibly take such a game to an even higher level? Believe me, they have done it. NCAA Football 2000 is an incredible game, an improvement over what was already a sports gaming classic.

Presentation/Graphics : 95
The graphics of NCAA 99 were impressive, but not overly so. Tiburon had to address this in order to better NCAA 99, and they have done it. The graphics are more detailed and polished than last year's version. The uniforms look fantastic (and accurate), and as usual the stadiums are works of art. There is more definition in the appearance of the players, right down to their thigh pads and the charcoal streaks under their eyes. More animations have been added this year and they are incredible. Players move in a more life-like manner and the extra animations, such as ball carriers putting their hand on the ground to regain their balance, add so much to the immersion factor of the game. Alternate jerseys are available for those teams that have them (Notre Dame's kelly green jerseys and Florida's blue pants, for example). After gaining a first down, or making an outstanding defensive play, the player will celebrate a bit, whether signaling a first down or posturing after a sack. While some of these definitely border on taunting (a no-no in college football), they are fun, if a bit repetitive. Equally amusing is that players will sometimes approach the officials and gesture at them, such as saying a face mask penalty should have been called.

Player models are also done in proportion to their position. No longer will a wide receiver and offensive lineman appear to be the same size. The linemen are a particular treat, huge lumbering giants that trudge along on the field, almost appearing as though they are out of breath.

Bench players, coaches, cheerleaders and even team mascots patrol the sidelines. The bench players look pretty awful, suffering horribly from pixelization. The cheerleaders and mascots add a bit of atmosphere, even though each has only a few frames of animation.

There are a variety of camera angles, and for once most of them are quite useable. Too many sports games offer many camera angles, but usually have only one or two that are actually workable. Here, the angles all seem well though out. Even the blimp cams work and are a bit of fun for those willing to try something different.

The frame rate stays consistently high, even better than last year. Given the amount of detail for both the players and stadiums, this is very impressive.

Overall, NCAA2K's graphics are much improved over NCAA99. This is one of the better looking sports games you will find on the PSX.

Presentation/Audio : 92
No doubt about it, the audio was simply amazing in NCAA 99. The energetic crowd, combined with the fight songs and team-specific crowd chants helped create a kinetic atmosphere which mirrored actual college football perfectly. All EA had to do was keep it the same and I would have been happy. Instead they strove to improve the sound. Did they succeed? Well, yes and no.

The crowd sounds are in fact improved. They seem to be more in tune with what is actually happening in the game. The crescendo rises and falls accordingly. With the home team on defense, the crowd can be deafening, as if trying to distract the visiting club. When on offense, the home team's QB will often implore the crowd to quiet down so his teammates can hear him, and they respond beautifully. On a spectacular home team play, the crowd will rise as one and cheer wildly, while visiting team success leads to deafening silence or even an occasional smattering of boos. So far, so good.

The bands are once again present, and, like last year, are excellent. They strike up at appropriate moments, playing either the team's fight song or a well-known generic cheer. The sound has been tweaked a bit so that it sounds more like the band is actually a part of the in-game sounds, rather than a separate audio track. The effect is very nice. The inclusion of some of the better known (but previously excluded) songs like Rocky Top will make fans of particular schools very happy.

Unfortunately, I do have an audio complaint; where the heck are the crowd chants?! Last year's game was wonderful in this regard. At Michigan, the crowd broke into "Let's go Blue!" constantly, as in real life. Go to Kansas and you could expect to hear "Rock Chalk Jayhawk!" In this year's game such chants are nowhere to be found, and they are sorely missed. The only chant I have heard is the generic "Defense!" and even that is not frequent enough. This is a pretty big omission, in my opinion, because Tiburon works so hard to get the college atmosphere. Why muck things up here?

As far as the announcer goes, once again it is Chuck White of the Rose Bowl, and once again he does a fine job. This is not spectacular stuff, just a PA announcer as you would hear at a real game. I myself prefer this over the usual play-by-play that either has a hard time keeping up with the action or gets incredibly repetitive. As far as I am concerned, I hope Chuck White does these games for a long time to come.

The in-game sounds are very good, better than last year's. The sounds in NCAA 99 were fine, but a bit muddled. The sounds in NCAA 2000 are very bright and sharp. The hits sound and feel very powerful. The grunts and sounds of pads popping are spot-on and add even more atmosphere to the game.

Overall the sound is very impressive, but I want those damned chants back!

Interface/Options : 98
Most games from EA Sports almost always contain a wonderful menu system, and NCAA2K is no exception. Everything is laid out in easy-to-navigate, well-planned menus. The menus are easy on the eye and very user friendly. People picking up the game for the first time should have no problem finding their way around, and NCAA 99 vets will feel right at home.

Modes of play include Exhibition, Great Games (featuring match ups from yesteryear), Tournament, Season, Dynasty and Practice. Once again you can hit a single button to match up team rivals in exhibition mode. Also available is the always-handy random team select. Given the sheer amount of teams (all Division 1A plus a select group of 1AA teams), you can get some interesting match ups that you may have never thought of. Practice mode is basically the same as last year, allowing you to hone your skills and even practice the custom plays you can create with the intuitive play editor. Tournament mode allows you to bracket up to 16 teams, controlled by either human opponents or the CPU. Single and double elimination modes are both present.

As was the case last year, the main attraction to NCAA Football 2000 is the Dynasty mode. This year's version is much deeper, allowing the player much more control over recruiting. You are now allowed to send coaches and assistants out to meet the recruits that are within your recruiting area. Recruiting areas are defined by your geographical location and are expanded once your team starts making a name for itself. This mode alone is very deep and almost a strategic game on its own. Add in the ability to cut players and redshirt freshman, and you really have something special. For those not wanting to get in so deep, last year's simpler version is also included as an option. Once again, coaches can be on the hot seat depending on how well they do. Flub up at a major university, and be prepared to get the axe. Succeed beyond expectations at a smaller school and the major universities will come calling for you. My only caveat about this is that once again you must wait until your five-year contract is up before moving on. We all know that is not the case in real life!

One thing that I have complained about in past version of NCAA Football is the lack of flexibility in choosing the length of quarters. The past versions have all included only the 2, 5, 10 and 15 minute options. Thankfully my prayers were answered; you can now choose any quarter length in one minute increments. Thank you so much, Tiburon! Weather effects are again in the game, though they have been improved as well. The weather may actually change during the course of a game. You may start out in a driving rainstorm, but the rain may let up a bit or even stop outright. And then it may start up again. Very well done. I only wish the player's uniforms got muddy...

Statistics are again done up to the usual EA Sports standards, which is to say they are first rate. It is very easy to find what you are looking for and to organize the stats to your liking. For example, while checking out the performance of your running backs, they are initially sorted by yards gained. With one touch of a button, you can reorganize them in yards per carry. Easy, intuitive and very helpful. And there are plenty of statistical categories to peruse, so even die hard fans can keep themselves quite busy here. The CBS top 25 poll is back, and again, it seems to do a fairly reasonable job in ranking the teams. With the use of a secret code, you can get the rankings for every single school, 1A and 1AA alike.

A variety of awards are given to players at the end of a season. New to the game is the Heisman Trophy, replacing last year's generic MVP trophy. The player can choose which sort of post season to have, either Bowl Games or a 16-team playoff. The major bowl game licenses are back, including the Sugar, Fiesta, Orange and Rose Bowls.

Player control is, in a word, fantastic. Players are responsive to your control, but not overly so. You can't jerk them around the field like rag dolls; you must allow for inertia. I myself have always preferred this sort of control over that of Sony's GameBreaker/GameDay series, where the movements were far too jerky to be lifelike. Anyone familiar with NCAA 99 will be able to pick up the controller and go. Those new to the game will have a period of adjustment, but it is not overly difficult. The sheer number of things you can do is fantastic. Once again, the speed burst, spin move, hurdle and dive are all at your disposal, as are the juke and the stiff arm. There is only one juke button, which leaves some guesswork involved. I would much rather have a right and left juke button so I knew where my player was headed. Laterals are once again available, either behind the line of scrimmage or up field. Pump fakes are again present, and seem a bit more effective in this year's game. The ability to fake a pitch is also available, and can really help your option game take off.

On the defensive side of the ball, the swim move and spin move will help you get past the line of scrimmage in your pursuit of the QB. There is also a button to help try to strip the ball from the ball carrier, but it is a bit of a gamble as it is not a sure way to tackle. New to the game is the ball swat button, where you can try to knock the ball out of the air without leaving your feet, which is very helpful if you are chasing the QB.

Trajectory kicking is back, allowing you too kick high, low (for more power) or normal.

Analog control is available, but for me it is difficult to get used to. I'll stick with the pad myself, but I can see how the varying speeds of analog control could help. Once again, an analog passing mode is available, but it seems very hard to get the hang of, as it tends to make you lock onto one receiver too long. It is simply very difficult to move the cursor around quickly enough. Thus, sacks become almost inevitable.

Players can create their own custom players, assigning skill points to whatever attributes they deem fit. A new and innovative feature is the Create-A-School option. Here you can create your own custom team, deciding on the name, location, stadium type and more. You can even assign what type of team you want, be it a running team, passing team, strong defensive team, etc. A good number of helmet logos are available to choose from as well, though you are restricted in 3 choices for the actual uniform colors. You can use your created teams in any mode of play, including Dynasty mode! The number of options here are impressive and the Create-A-School feature is a welcome addition.

Once again, EA Sports shows what an effective interface is like. I can't imagine it being much better than what NCAA 2000 delivers here.

Gameplay : 96
Well, as the bard said, the play's the thing. All of this glitz and dressing-up is fine, but it won't make a bit of difference if the game play is not up to par. Well, don't worry; it is, and then some. Basically, NCAA 2000 plays a lot like NCAA 99, but with some tweaks and improvements. And that is very good news indeed.

For the most part, teams accurately reflect their real-life counterparts; running teams will run and passing teams will pass. In addition, most seem to use the same formation and sets as the real teams. This is of course essential to nail the feeling of real college football, and Tiburon gets it mostly right. In addition, each team has a specific playbook assigned to it. Again, these (for the most part) mirror the real-life teams, and it is certainly to be appreciated by real college football fans.

In addition, the AI has been improved in some needed areas. First and foremost, the ridiculous numbers of sacks from NCAA 99 have been dramatically reduced. No longer will you find yourself getting 15-20 sacks per game with the same player. The offensive line now handles the defensive line's rush more effectively, and blitzes are picked up more frequently. Tiburon really got this part right; getting sacks is far from impossible, just difficult. You really have to work for them, and once you get one it is quite rewarding. And blitzing has its downside, just as in real life; someone may find the seam that your blitzing defender is supposed to cover. The QB will take advantage of this on many occasions.

In fact, the computer QB's AI seems much improved overall. In NCAA 99, once you made contact with the QB, he tucked the ball under his arm and ran, no matter how futile it seemed or no matter how wide open a receiver may be down field. I am happy to report that is no longer the case. If you hit a QB, but don't sack him, he will scramble, all the while searching for an open receiver. I have been burned frequently by this, and I couldn't be more pleased. The QB also seems to sense the rush and will try to unload the ball before it gets there. Additionally, the QB seems to read defenses much better after the snap, checking off receivers and (more often than not) throwing to the most open man.

The running game is a lot like last year's, which is a good thing. You must follow your blockers and search for holes. Once you see one, you'd better hit it fast. Running wide works on occasion, but can also lead to big losses if you go to the well too often. As in last year's game, the option is done extremely well.

You can sucker defenders in to your QB then pitch at the last second, even as the QB is going down. The well-trained player can use the fake pitch button to draw the defender to the back and take off with the QB. It takes some practice, but can be effective.

The passing game is once again done very well. Your QB will lead the receiver appropriately, even on broken plays. You seem to have a bit more time to pass in this year's edition, which allows you to actually use the pump fake when appropriate. It seems that receiving is just a bit more difficult; I have hit my intended target in the back and on more than one occasion he has simply dropped the ball. However, this does not happen enough to detract from the game in any way.

Defense is more of the same from last year. One improvement is that your defensive back will get the interception more often than not if you have him positioned properly. This is not as easy as it sounds, as you must not only time your jump, but also turn to face the ball as it approaches. It is still possible to get a pick with your back turned, but it happens less frequently than when you are in proper position.

One thing that I wish could be improved is fumbles. They do occur, and usually in logical situations (i.e. trying to juke a defender). But many times I have hit the computer QB just as he is setting to throw. His arm has the ball cocked and I nail him, yet no fumble. More often than not, he even gets the ball off. Sometimes, it will be a fluttery wounded duck, which is very cool indeed, but there should be more fumbles occurring here. In addition, the CPU running game is still a bit too ineffective. It is still possible to completely shut down the opponents running game, even against such great running teams as Nebraska. While better than last year's game, it still needs to be tweaked.

The kicking game is very well done, identical to the last few years. One nice addition is that punts, extra points and field goals can indeed be blocked. Happily Tiburon found a nice balance so that it does not happen too often. One problem I have is with CPU placekickers. When they miss, it is almost always short, not wide. Plus, half of these guys should be immediately cut from their teams. Chip shot field goals often come up woefully short. On certain occasions, the CPU kicker will bang home a 51-yarder, and in the same game come up 10 yards short on a 30-yarder. It doesn't make sense; he isn't going to mis-kick that badly so often. If he misses it would be wide right or left. And if the kicker is indeed so bad that he will routinely miss a 34-yard field goal, wouldn't the coach know that and not even bother trying one from 45 yards out? This may be a nit-pick, but it does make a bit of a difference.

Overall, however, the game plays great, improving on what was already a fine game engine.

Difficulty : 86
NCAA 2000 offers four levels of difficulty: Junior Varsity, Varsity, All-American and Heisman. As expected, JV is pretty darned easy, and players of past NCAA Football incarnations will want to skip it entirely. Varsity actually gives the seasoned gamer a pretty good challenge. Running the ball is much more difficult, but far from impossible; you can still occasionally break off long runs. Passing is still a bit too easy, though you still have to use your head on when and where to throw.

At the higher difficulty settings, things get a bit dicey. As is the case in most football games, CPU players get much, much better at higher difficulty settings. Breaking a tackle will be much more difficult, as will breaking off a long run. In fact, running the ball in general can become an exercise in frustration. Similarly, the passing game becomes more difficult, as defenders close on receivers more quickly, the pass rush is much more fierce and throwing interceptions is much more likely. It's not so much that the CPU plays a smarter game on the higher settings, the players just get much better, which sort of renders the ratings of teams and players meaningless. Thankfully, there is a code (and since most of you are going to e-mail me for it, I'll just give it here: S3GCAH05000G0) that makes running the ball a bit easier on All- American mode. This helps a bit for those that are too good for Varsity, but find the running game too difficult on All-American.

One more complaint about the difficulty. There is not enough difference in skill between the teams. While preparing for this review, I often had a CPU versus CPU going in the background, which helped me get a better handle on such things as graphics and sound. Sometimes, just for grins, I would pit a tremendously talented team against a weak sister of a team. And the games were much too close. For one thing, passing teams seem to have a definite advantage over the running teams. Nebraska was repeatedly beaten by weaker, passing-oriented teams such as Nevada. The CPU rushing attack has problems running even against itself with inferior teams. Even powerhouses like Florida State struggled against teams they should beat soundly. What it means is this; the teams need to be more properly set up talent-wise. When a CPU-controlled Nebraska team plays a CPU-controlled Nevada team, there should be no contest. It should be a romp, somewhere around 50-10. No way should Nevada be able to shut down the 'Husker running game, let alone prevail. This may not bother others as much as it bothers me, but I am a stickler for getting this part of the game right. It is the essence of college football.

Even so, the game is flexible enough so that any player, regardless of his skill, will be able to find a competitive game of football. I just wish it were accomplished in a bit more realistic manner.

Overall : 95
So NCAA 2000 isn't perfect; what game is? Honestly, what I wanted out of NCAA 2000 was an update to a game I already adore. I didn't want some radical overhaul, just a tweaking here and there where the game needed it. On the whole, Tiburon has succeeded tremendously in this regard. I said it last year upon NCAA 99's release, and now I'll say it again with NCAA 2000: This is by far the finest console football yet made.

By: Jim S. 8/12/99

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