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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Electronic Arts

 

Developer

EA Sports

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q3 2002

 

 

- Nobody offers the same amount of extras for the fantasy league fanatics that buy football games
- Challenge from CPU artificial intelligence is improved
- Can import graduating players into Madden 2003 for NFL draft

 

 

- Some minor annoying issues from last seasonís game engine remain
- Lack of actual player names (for obvious reasons) makes it difficult to gauge players abilities without a scrutinizing study of your roster
- Actual football gameplay still not as complete as NFL 2K series

 

 

Review: NFL Fever 2003 (XBox)

Review: NCAA Football 2003 (PS2)

Review: NCAA Gamebreaker 2003 (PS2)

 

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NCAA Football 2003

Score: 8.9 / 10

 

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Football gamers who bought an Xbox were treated to three good NFL football titles last year (Madden 2002, NFL2K2, and NFL Fever 2002) even though Microsoft didnít release their system until November 2001. However, because of that late-year release and with the college football season nearly over at that point in time, the Xbox missed out on college football gaming as publishers decided to wait until 2002. This season Xbox-owning college gridiron fans have two choices, including the long running Electronic Arts entry, NCAA Football 2003 (Sega Sportsí NCAA Football 2K3 has also been released). Despite some minor gameplay issues, NCAA Football 2003 captures the true electric atmosphere surrounding college football and is chock-full of so many goodies and extras you wonít be disappointed as you set your sights on the virtual National Championship.

To me, a football game earns high grades for its on-field gameplay and its challenging artificial intelligence, not on the amount of extra features like create-a-player and a dynasty mode. That was my biggest criticism of last yearís Madden. While it by far outdid its Xbox competition in the amount of extras, it wasnít quite up to NFL 2K2ís more genuine on-field gameplay. But NCAA 2003, which uses the same game-engine which powers Madden 2003, surprisingly improves the

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gameplay in all but a few areas to become a true champion of the video game college gridiron.

College football is markedly different in its rules than the NFL, and NCAA 2003 has it all part of its package. In college ball, there is no two-minute warning, a liberal use of option plays, field goals are harder because the spot can be on either side of the hash marks, a catch

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is considered good if a player has only one foot in bounds, and offensive ball carriers are down on contact with the ground, not necessarily on contact with an opposing player. These are some of the totally contrasting rules that come into play while you are playing NCAA 2003, so Madden veterans who havenít played a college title in a while may want to brush up on their NCAA official rulebook before they start a dynasty or season.

Like I said, I am more scrutinizing of the gameplay of a title. Iíll start by looking at areas of NCAA 2003 that reflect on its actual gameplay before delving into the excellent features that are packed into it. Last yearís Madden gave me some serious problems learning to pass efficiently. In NCAA passing is a much easier task. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I played a lot of Madden 2002 and I am now more comfortable with the game engineís passing, but I really donít have any criticisms of NCAA 2003ís passing attack. The most necessary skill to learn is the art of touch passing. Because of the pressure-sensitive nature of the gameís passing, you must learn to hit the corresponding receiver button harder or softer depending on how open your receiver is.

The running game has seen the biggest improvement. Last year the game engine was plagued by the treadmill effect, where your running back that had hit the line would run in place if there wasnít an lane to burst through. In NCAA 2003 however, that problem has been rectified by borrowing from Segaís 2K series. Now if the running back gets in the above predicament, he will attempt to squeeze through the line instead of staying stuck running in place. It helps make the running game much more realistic than it had been before. Another problem that hasnít been changed is the inability to set your quarterback off on a scramble or bootleg without crossing the line of scrimmage first, unlike its competitor NCAA 2K3. This can really be aggravating particularly if you are in a game situation when you only need one of two yards to get a first down and you want the option of using your signal caller to scamper for the necessary yardage.

But because this is college ball that isnít always a problem because of the inclusion of the option plays that college football is known for and the NFL is terrified to use because of the high risk of turnovers. This was one of my favorite facets of NCAA 2003. By calling a option play, you run your quarterback along the line until the time comes to either have the QB keep the ball for a rushing attempt with the ability to use a fake pitch (using the black button) or really pitch it to a trailing running back (using the left trigger). It takes some skill to pull the pitch off because if you do it with any little bit of mistiming you will fumble the ball away.

 

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Compared to Madden 2002/2003, the punting and kicking game is much better handled through the use of the improved kicking meter. But the skill of booting successful field goals still has a learning curve due to college footballís rules that the kick will take place on either side of the hash marks if that is where the ball was downed the previous play. This requires some angling techniques that take some getting used to. Also, while punting isnít hard to do, returning them is a different matter. Almost always if you are attempting to return a punt, before you can even get started, the coverage team is in your face, ready to deliver a crushing tackle. Pressing the ďYĒ button is supposed to allow you to call a fair catch, but every time I tried to call one, for whatever reason it never worked for me. I do like that there is the occasional muffed punt, which adds to the realism of the game.

Control-wise NCAA 2003 has some problems on defense when tackling players. Your opposition consistently finds ways to shed your defenders and break away for gains of yardage that by rights they shouldnít be getting. And on offense, receivers are still assigned by only a yellow letter relating to a controller button instead of being color oriented as in NFL Fever and the NFL 2K series, which makes deciding who to throw to much easier. But putting those two instances aside, NCAA 2003ís controls are responsive and easy to use. And even though its not anything that EA has authority over, but having my players assigned as ďQB 7Ē and ďLB 56Ē and not knowing who that player really was, created the need for really studying my roster and learning the skill levels of my key players. (Because of NCAA regulations, EA canít use the actual names of college players still in school.)

One area the game is really stellar is the challenge given by the CPU artificial intelligence. This game pushes you and makes you sweat to win, especially when it comes to contests against ranked opponents and when squaring off in a rivalry game. The game is tough and when you are able to beat one of these ranked opponents or rivals youíll get a strong sense of accomplishment, believe me. Its difficulty level even on the lower settings is one of NCAA 2003ís biggest upsides. One minor disappointment, however, is the lack of online support for Microsoftís soon-to-be unleashed Xbox Live service. This game would be awesome online, but EA is only supporting Sonyís online service right now. But maybe next year if Xbox Live has established itself, EA may reconsider online support for its Xbox sports titles.

Now that Iíve addressed the gameplay aspects of NCAA 2003, letís examine the bread-and-butter of EAís line of sports games: the incredible amount of extras and features that will keep even the most extreme fantasy league maniac totally satisfied. To start with, there is a dynasty mode that allows you to recruit players for your program and set off in the quest for the national championship over multiple seasons. Your primary goal during a season is to break into the Top 25 poll which gives you a excellent chance at a bowl bid and if you can manage to lose only one or no games, you will probably get a chance at playing for college footballís Holy Grail, the National Championship.

Thereís a full complement of statistics, rankings, standings, and player awards for each year of your dynasty. There is full control over your roster and the depth chart. Before the season starts you can even redshirt young impact players to give them some seasoning so that they will be ready the next season to take over an important position from a graduating starter. Speaking of graduating players, if you have Madden 2003 you can import them for availability in the Madden NFL draft. If you want, you can create your own players and aspiring deans can even go as far as creating your very own school, down to the stadium name and designing the uniforms.

Collecting points during the course of a game by attaining specific goals like throwing four touchdowns in a game or getting an interception allows you to accumulate points to buy pennants that give you power-ups or opens up team stadiums or classic teams for you to play. The mascot game is an eclectic touch, giving you the opportunity to play a game with a roster full of team mascots versus an opposing team of mascots. NCAA 2003 canít be touched by its competition in the extras department. EA has made that part of their game package second to none.

The gameís graphics and sound are an above average mix, although in some instances they can slip. NCAA 2003 perfectly captures the audio aura that fills the college stadiums of all 117 Division I-A programs with team-specific chants and over 200 team fight songs, and the crowd reacts to the action on the field with loud cheers if you are home and make a great play. They sound great although they can be a little on the repetitive side. The announcers Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, and Brad Nessler show up only for big games, and they actually do a good job calling the game and many of their remarks are fluidly interjected and hit the mark with what is happening on the field, especially Corso. So you better be ranked in the Top 25 or playing a traditional heated rivalry game, like Florida versus Florida State if you want to have the national spotlight shined your way with NCAA Football 2003ís lead announcing crew.

Otherwise, the only announcing youíll hear will be from the stadiumís public address announcer. I tried out some games with my alma mater, the lowly Temple Owls (hey, we have a strong basketball tradition though). Playing my home games in an authentically replicated nearly empty Veterans Stadium, it was a disappointment having only the PA announcer calling the game action, but it only motivates you to build a winning program with the dynasty mode.

Also included are 50 team mascots and cheerleaders (both male and female). While the player animations of NCAA 2003ís players are rendered photo-realistically, the cheerleaders arenít exactly up to the same standards. These are supposed to be good-looking athletic individuals that are part of a cheer squad, but are anything but. Anybody still in school with desires for dating a cheerleader will think twice if they get a good look at the cheerleaders on NCAA 2003ís sidelines. However, this isnít anything that detracts from the top-rate animations that youíll encounter with your teamís players.

Personally Iíve always preferred the football gameplay of the NFL/NCAA 2K series to the Madden/NCAA series of the last two seasons. But NCAA 2003 was an enjoyable experience and is a solid title for diehard football fans everywhere and may rekindle a little of that old college pride in you. Online Xbox Live connectivity would have made NCAA 2003 unbeatable, but even without it this game really captures the excitement that is major college football. With the incredible amount of options at your fingertips and years of EAís college football game designing know-how behind it, NCAA 2003 receives its fair share of votes in the battle for this yearĎs best Xbox college football game crown.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(September 14, 2002)

 

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