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NCAA Gamebreaker 2000 (PSX) Review

Publisher: 989 Sports
Release Date: Summer 1999

Background Info

989 Studios' NCAA GameBreaker franchise has been around for a while now, competing with EA Sports' remarkable NCAA Football series. While GameBreaker 98 was my choice for football game of the year back then, EA Sports has since dominated the college football arena with their excellent series, which combines accurate game play with incredible depth. 989 Studios' initial response was to make their GameBreaker series flashier, not deeper. But as fans flocked towards the NCAA Football series, 989 knew they must rethink their strategy a bit. They have, and GameBreaker 2000 is the result.

Presentation/Graphics : 88
Graphically, GB2K resembles last year's version, at least on the surface. A deeper look, however, will reveal that things have improved. The players are a bit sharper in appearance, and they have tons of new animations. Once again, players are made up of detailed polygons, giving them a 3-D effect that works very well. You can see the rippling muscles of each player, and the player's size is relative to his position, though not to the extent of NCAA Football 2000. The uniforms are accurate and vibrantly colored. The helmets appear to have a real sheen to them, and the logos are the appropriate size, something that the earlier GameBreakers could not claim.

Watching these players in action is a mixed bag. When approaching the line of scrimmage or returning to the huddle, the players move very nicely, giving a sense of realism that is much appreciated. You can tell how much time 989 Studios dedicated to getting such animations correct. The offensive players will trot up to the line in hurry-up mode, and a whole new batch of celebration animations has been added. After each play, you have the option of having the ball carrier celebrate, show off, or simply return to the huddle. The celebrations are nice, such as clapping while trotting happily back to the huddle and signaling first down when one is made. The show-off animations are quite a bit more cheesy, including dance moves that would put the Solid Gold Dancers to shame. While fun, and a nice way to tweak a human opponent, they are costly to execute; each one will result in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

During the game, the player movement is a bit less convincing, as a few bad points from the past couple of GameBreakers have made their way into this version as well. For one, the players still cut unrealistically, as if on an axis that has limited angles of movement. The effect is very herky-jerky and unrealistic. Veteran GameBreaker players will recognize this immediately. Also, the player appears to hop, and rather quickly, when the jump button is pressed. It happens much too fast and is unrealistic to say the least. And once again, the stiff-arm animations are a joke. Apparently each ball carrier doubles as a heavyweight boxing contender during the offseason, as defenders are absolutely cold-cocked whenever they are stiff-armed. This looks downright silly; the defender should either stay upright, or slither to the ground as the ball carrier fights him off. Instead, he is knocked flat onto his back.

The stadiums look pretty nice for the most part, though nowhere near as good as those in EA's NCAA Football series. The fields themselves look nice, and the stadiums appear to be rendered fairly accurately. But the crowds look pretty horrid, taking a bit away from the overall stadium effect.

The color of the game is a bit too bright for my taste. Some of the colors come off almost garish in appearance. I prefer the subtler look of NCAA Football 2000.

Presentation/Audio : 82
The sounds are a bit improved, but still need a lot of work. The on field sounds themselves are not bad, though the quarterback cadence is a bit annoying, especially when trying to draw the defense offsides. The sound of hits is done rather nicely.

There are fight songs present in the game, and though they add a bit, they could have been done so much better. As they are now, they are played far too infrequently (only after a score) and just a snippet of each is played, rather than a whole verse. EA Sports really excels in presenting the fight songs and the bands present in the crowd, and 989's efforts certainly pale in comparison.

Another audio are where GB2K comes up short is in the sound of the crowd. Incredibly, 989 has decided to use the same crowd sounds as they did in the very first edition of all of their sports games, including NFL GameDay and NHL FaceOff. I was incredulous when I heard this. We have been treated to the same, short loop of noise that is supposed to be an active sports crowd for far too long. 989 really needs to address this, but I have been saying that for 3 years now, so don't hold your breath.

Once again, Keith Jackson, the undisputed voice of college football, calls the game. The effect overall is pretty good, as Jackson's comments do not seem so disjointed this time around. Still, some of his witticisms can get old pretty quickly, as they are simply repeated far too often.

GameBreaker 2000 has some nice presentation values, especially graphically. However, the audio simply can't compare to the competition.

Interface/Options : 88
The menu interface for GB2K is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is a bit cumbersome, requiring too many sub menus, in my opinion. On the other hand, it does get the job done, so you can't complain too much. A nice addition is the scrolling messages at the bottom of the screen, which explain button and D-pad designations for each menu. This helps for those unfamiliar with the game, and makes jumping right in a bit easier. While the menu system is not what I would call intuitive, it does work just fine.

The stats engine included in GameBreaker 2000 is a lot like last year's model. It tracks a good variety of stats, for both teams and individual players. While not as deep as NCAA Football 2000, it does a pretty good job of giving you the stats you are probably most interested in seeing.

Another welcome carryover from last year's GameBreaker is the team home page, which each team has. This is set up to look like a web page, and tracks all sorts of neat items for you, such as your overall record and ranking, as well as individual player honors and awards. Speaking of awards, the game does present the Heisman Trophy each season, as well as generic position awards, such as QB of the year. It even tracks first and second All America teams, as well as All Freshman teams. The game handles these very well for the most part, and this adds a bit of depth to season play. Of course the Top 25 rankings are also available, and while I have a few quibbles with some of the rankings, I can't complain for the most part.

There are a variety of game modes, including exhibition (here referred to as scrimmage), Fantasy League (which awards you so many points for reaching individual and team goals), Tournament Season, Bowl Season and a new Career mode. Career mode is by far the most interesting. You start off as an assistant coach at a selected university and work your way up through the coaching ranks. You usually start as a special teams coach, and if your team is successful, you will get other job offers, such as offensive coordinator at a different university. Actually, this is a bit misleading, as even though you may be only a special teams coach, you can still play each game. Still, it is a lot of fun climbing the coaching ranks and moving from school to school. And enhanced recruiting mode has been added, and while it lacks the depth of NCAA2K, it still adds a bit of fun and meaning to career mode.

As with past versions of GameBreaker, you can adjust the AI and skills of your computer opponent during each game. This comes in very handy when you think Nebraska's running game is too weak or perhaps their pass defense is a bit too strong. Flexibility is always welcome, and GB2K has it in spades. You can adjust the length of the quarters in one-minute increments, weather effects are present and you can edit the schedule of your school.

There are only four camera angles, but they are all pretty usable, something which a lot of sports games can't claim. Still, chances are you will settle on the default camera angle.

The standard create player feature is included, so you can create walk-ons for your favorite schools. A pretty basic play editor is also included and spices things up a bit for those players with the imagination and skill to come up with their own plays.

GB2K's control interface is virtually unchanged from last year's version. The Total Control system is back, which gives players an incredible number of moves for each player, and also makes passing a bit easier, as you can specifically lead your receiver to avoid those pesky defensive backs. You can choose from 4 different pre-set controller configurations. The control is very tight overall, maybe a bit too much so. Players that are uneasy with the control in NCAA Football 2000 may be happier with the ultra responsiveness of the players in GB2K.

The manual for GB2K is pretty decent, covering almost everything you need to know about the game. It does assume you have a pretty good knowledge of football, so players new to the sport may need to pick up some sort of supplement to help them understand the basics of football. The manual does contain the usual charts for controller configurations, showing what each button does on both offense ad defense.

Gameplay : 83
Basically, if you have played GameBreaker 99, you pretty much know how GB2K plays. There have been some improvements to the AI and how defenders respond to ball carriers. All of this adds quite a bit to the realism, which of course makes the game that much better. The running and passing games are virtually unchanged from GB99.

Throughout this review I have mentioned EA Sports' NCAA Football series, and how the GameBreaker games have generally paled in comparison. Well, there is one area where GB2K beats NCAA2K hands down, and that is in throwing to your wideouts. In NCAA2K, the defensive backs stick to your receivers like glue, as if they know what pattern they are running. Completing passes to your wideouts is still possible in NCAA2K, but more often than not you have to force the ball into traffic and hope that he somehow pulls the ball in. As a result, you spend too much time throwing to your running backs. GameBreaker 2000 avoids this problem very well. The receivers have the ability to shake the defender, allowing them to actually get open down field. What a concept! This allows you to wait for the receiver to make his break or to crack the seam in the zone before committing to a particular receiver. This is much more rewarding than in NCAA2K.

Another area where GB2K beats NCAA Football 2000 is in the AI of the running backs. Far too often in NCAA2K, the running back will run into the backs of his own lineman and run in place there, spinning his wheels until the defense puts him down. GameBreaker 2000 has, for the most part, better AI for its ball carriers. The runner will bounce outside if the hole appears to be closed, apparently thinking on his feet. This is adds immeasurably to the game play of GB2K.

While penalties are adjustable (either high or low, no off and no sliding scale), they are still called very infrequently. You can get pass interference or a personal foul called on you by hitting the QB late, but as far as holding penalties or facemask calls, you will rarely see these during the course of a game. This is simply not acceptable to serious football gamers, and this has been an issue in past incarnations of GameBreaker. 989 needs to address this. What is the point of having adjustable levels when you rarely get any calls even when they are set to high?

For more frustration, check out the injuries; they suffer from the same problem. They do not occur nearly enough, and yes, that includes when you set them to high. As adjustable as 989 makes the AI of the game, I sure wish they would address penalties and injuries in the same manner.

From an arcade standpoint, GB2K delivers the goods. The players move like lightning, too quick in my opinion. The game speed can be slowed down a bit, but the players still give the impression that they are moving and reacting more quickly than humanly possible. This detracts from the realism of the game, and if you are a die-hard sim fan, this may turn you off completely. Taken on it's own merit, however, the game can be quite fun and enjoyable. If you are looking for realism, you definitely want to check out NCAA2K before plunking down money for GB2K. If you can be a bit forgiving from a sim aspect, and are more worried about fast paced action on the field, GB2K may fit the bill for you.

Replay Value : 90
With GameBreaker 2000's variable difficulty settings, including the adjustable AI mentioned earlier, almost anyone can set the game up to give them a nice, competitive game of football. As the player gets better, and finds holes in the AI, the settings will have to be adjusted up a bit. The flexibility here is fantastic, and 989 is to be applauded for including this in the GameBreaker series. Still, there are a few plays that seem to work far too often, as if the AI can't address and adjust to these plays.

With the enhanced career mode, there is more incentive to keep playing the game, as your career coaching records are kept as well as bowl appearances and results. The random scheduler keeps your opponents fresh; you don't keep playing the same teams over and over, just your conference foes.

Overall : 85
GameBreaker 2000 is not nearly the simulation that NCAA Football 2000 is. That being said, GB2K is fun in its own right. There are certain elements of the game that are even superior to the wonderful NCAA2K. Overall, NCAA2K is the better game, but if you like fast-paced arcade action, with a fair bit of depth thrown in for good measure, NCAA GameBreaker 2000 may be right up your alley.

By: Jim S. 9/10/99

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