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August 13, 2002



- The finest depiction of college football ever

- The recruiting in Dynasty mode is the single best thing in sports gaming

- The game plays much, much tighter and realistic than last year

- Replay value rocks



- Some AI bugs are annoying; there are loopholes in this game

- No Online capability

- Stat engine needs some work

- No gang tackling



Review: NCAA Football 2003 (Gamecube)

Review: NCAA Football 2003 (XBox)



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NCAA Football 2003

Score: 9.4 / 10


Last year, when NCAA Football 2002 hit the PS2, sports gamers didn’t know what to expect from EA Sports’ long running college football series.  After a stunning debut, it was apparent that the NCAA series belonged in the upper echelon of sports games.  Building on that success, NCAA is back for its 2003 season.


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EA retains all of its game modes (Exhibition, Season, Dynasty, and Practice) with the inclusion of the Rivalry and Mascot games.  You could play those types of games last year, but you had to select them in the Exhibition mode.  The reason for the isolation and separation of those two game modes are directly related to two new features for the 2003 version.




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The brand new Trophy Room allows you to showcase your collection of trophies and awards over multiple years in a Dynasty.  I thought it was cool to be able to actually see the Heisman or the Sears national championship trophy.  After each season in previous versions of the game, I always wrote down my accomplishments in notebooks, so having this only glorifies it all even more.


I’m not quite sure of the 


official number, but the number of Mascot teams has been increased.  I was never a big fan of the Mascot teams – I actually think they only take time away from more pressing needs.


Also new to NCAA this year was the Create-A-School feature.  The number of things you can customize – the location of media boxes, logos, and type of stadium – are worth checking out.  I have never been big on creating my own plays, players, teams, or stadiums, but I had some fun with creating my own university.  After you create your school, you choose what type of team your roster will be filled with (cupcake, powerhouse, running team, passing team, etc.) and then you choose a real-life team to delete to make room.  Good-bye, Notre Dame and hello Hooters U.


EA has set its own high standards in the graphical department over the years and NCAA does nothing to ruin that tradition.  After playing Madden 2003, however, NCAA is only above average when compared to the current crop of football games.  But if you are wondering if it looks better than last year’s version, the difference is very noticeable.


I played NCAA 2002 religiously for four straight months and the first graphical change I noticed was the slimmer player models.  Last year the players seemed squatty and overly muscular.  It seemed like every player was a “World’s Strongest Man” competitor.  This year, players are more accurately proportioned.


Aside from body size, the “deer in the headlights” stare is gone.  It is now replaced with the stoned, eyes half-closed look.  I guess it is the lesser of two evils, but next year when NCAA 2004 is working off Madden 2003’s engine (as far as I am concerned, rumors that NCAA and Madden have their own graphics engines are false), the problem will be corrected.  I was also glad to see that the “crazy-neck thing” was also omitted from this year’s game.  It’s tough to describe, but in NCAA 2002 during the cut scenes between plays, when one of the players would turn their heads their necks would temporarily detach from their bodies.


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All the new uniforms are present from what I can tell and EA even added some additional alternate uniforms.  The details on the uniforms are amazing.  In years past the uniforms would look decent from far away, but upon closer inspection would be colors blobbed together.  This year there is no blending and the result is quite impressive.  The uniforms have some generic wrinkles in them, but they don’t ever move around.


A side note about the player attire worth noting is that the abundance of elbow pads has been severely decreased.  I usually associate elbow pads with Patrick Ewing or the grungiest of lineman, but I had almost all of my skill players fully clad.


The NCAA series has long been praised for creating the college atmosphere.  I don’t mean to nitpick, but as good of a job that NCAA does, it can be better.  In 2002, I thought the band wasn’t vibrant enough.  The fight songs weren’t long enough and the announcers or the crowd often muffled them out.  In that respect, NCAA improves immensely as the bands are very active.


My complaint comes on two fronts.  While the crowd cheers and boos loudly and usually at the right time, there aren’t any chants.  I am a big Florida State fan and our famous war chant is completely absent.  The fight song plays all the time, but it just isn’t the same without the war chant.  With real-life college football starting up recently, I literally get goose bumps listening to the passion and emotion of the crowds.  This is something that I hope that EA improves upon for next year.


What also bothers me is that there is no gauge on the crowd noise.  I was saddened to discover that the decibel level doesn’t waver from stadium to stadium.  Any college football fan worth his tailgating pass knows that Michigan’s “Big House” should rock harder than the barren bleachers in Durham (a.k.a. Duke, proud owners of a winning streak for the first time in forever).  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to tell a marked difference between the two.  I want my television speakers to be blaring when I’m playing at Gainesville or Lincoln.  That’s all I’m asking for.


As I stated above, I played the living hell out of NCAA Football 2002.  I was pleased to see that many of the problems from last year were fixed.  Passing isn’t as easy, the CPU actually ran the ball, and running the ball on All-America and Heisman difficulty levels was an achievable task.  But where some problems were corrected, others were back for another year and worse yet, some new ones surfaced.


The most enjoyable aspect of last year’s game, the passing game, definitely needed some tweaking.  EA counterattacked this complaint by improving the defensive back A.I.  I think the game does a great job of making DB’s better without cheating.  They make quicker reads on the ball and some times they even bait you into throwing a pass you shouldn’t have.


The learning curve is pretty steep.  It took me about three weeks of solid game play to get used to the tweaked aerial attack.  Last year’s money plays, anything involving an out route, is much reduced to a short yardage situational play.  I was able to have a lot of success with deep post routes, but they aren’t consistently successful enough to be considered a money play.


Another problem with last year’s game, the questionable collision detection, has been vastly improved.  You won’t be seeing your halfback being tripped up anymore by defensive tackles that are lying on their backs.  You also won’t be seeing too many of the “shotgun shot to the back” tackles anymore.  The tackling animations are a bright spot in this game.  I counted six or seven unique tackling animations.


The run-pass ratio has been tweaked for the better also, but it too comes at a cost.  If you look at the stats at the end of the game, you’ll notice that there is a healthy balance of runs and passes.  But as you are playing the game, the CPU will run the ball three consecutive plays when they are down 21 points midway through the fourth quarter.


The dynasty mode has been tweaked from last year.  The interface has been improved as a couple of new stats are tracked.  The main difference comes in recruiting.  For example, if you were North Carolina, the number of recruiting points required to recruit a player from Florida and a player in California were the same.  This year regional recruiting is incorporated which basically means the farther away a recruit is from your school, the more recruiting points it takes to send them a head coach or assistant coach visit.


I really like the change.  It doesn’t affect powerhouses like Florida State or Nebraska, but you won’t be seeing the Ohio Bobcats stealing recruits from UCLA anymore.  Recruiting points are amassed by a team’s success and how well it does on television.  Since schools like FSU are always on television, they naturally will garner a high number of recruiting points and have no problems recruiting any player across the nation.


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A couple of minute things, such as separate menus for team and player stats, help the navigation process.  Powerhouses were supposedly to remain powerhouses more than a few weeks (unlike in last year’s version), but I still found it annoying to see Boise State a consensus top 10 team at the end of the first season.  Overall, I didn’t encounter many problems with the polls.


What I did get frustrated with was the off-the-wallness of all the post-season award choices.  There were multiple All-Americans and award winners from TCU, Southern Mississippi, and Connecticut.  I was Florida State and undefeated and I only had Chris Rix, my starting quarterback, represented on all of the awards.  I know that the mid-majors need some recognition, but the fact of the matter is that most of the post-season awards go to players from the major schools.


Pancakes are also still not tracked correctly.  For other schools, it’s not uncommon for them to rack up 80 to 90 in a season, whereas my leader in that stat department had 12.


I have also logged considerable time with Madden 2003.  The game play differences between the two aren’t considerable, but I have troubles jumping from one to the other.  The main reason is passing the ball.  NCAA for some reason decided to leave out route-based passing, while Madden has it.  In NCAA I never was able to hit a receiver on the run.  Deep passes, even if there was no one within 10 yards of them, were caught while jumping.  I wish I could just throw the ball out there and hit the receiver in stride.


I’ve had NCAA for about three weeks now and there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by where I haven’t played it.  I have a Dynasty going with seven of my friends in college and we are having a blast.  If you are a college football fan and you own a PS2, there is no reason why you shouldn’t purchase this game.  I hate to sound like an EA Sports poster boy, but NCAA is a must-have for any sports gamer.


- Tim Martin

(September 14, 2002)

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