It might be hard to believe, but even as the seasons have just changed from spring to summer and as baseball takes over the sports spotlight after the NBA Finals, the college football season is quite literally right around the corner. With that, EA Sports is ready to roll out the latest edition of their award-winning NCAA Football series. While it’s certainly going to be a challenge to top last year’s effort, many improvements have been made to this year’s game, not the least of which is the realization of online playability—something last year’s game lacked.
The online aspect is really one of the strongest selling points for NCAA Football 2004. Head-to-head exhibition games will be the rule, and EA Sports is promising to post online leaderboards in many statistical categories. For PS2 owners with a USB headset, NCAA Football 2004 marks the debut of EA Sports Talk—real-time online chat during gameplay. This will allow players to talk trash to their hearts’ content. There is one caveat to EA Sports Talk, however—it’s for broadband users only. So, for those of you with dial-up connections, the presence of EA Sports Talk will be fairly transparent. Still, the addition of online play is the one factor that might be the piece of the puzzle in creating the best college football game to date.
Online capability isn’t the only addition to NCAA Football 2004 from last year’s game. New trick plays have been added to team playbooks, including eye-openers like a double wide receiver reverse pass or even a halfback throwback. There’s also a slew of new player animations this time around to add a bit more realism. Over the shoulder catches, sideline tackles, player trips and stumbles, basket catches, and user-controlled touchdown celebrations mark a few of these additions. Two new cameras—a quarterback rollout camera and a specified play-action camera—promise to give a new visual perspective to the game on the field. EA Sports has also secured the use of the Sports Illustrated license, which will be used to put players on the cover of SI for certain achievements, and it looks quite convincing. EA Sports has also added a College Classics mode, so that players can relive—or perhaps even alter—college football history’s greatest moments.
NCAA Football 2004 also marks the debut of a new, ongoing EA Sports feature, called EA Sports Bio. With EA Sports Bio, each of EA’s 2004 sports efforts will check players’ memory cards for other EA Sports saves. Depending on whether there are any saves on the memory card—and which game or games that the saves are for—certain bonuses, cheats, and other goodies can be unlocked. This could prove most interesting, and it will be fun to see exactly what EA Sports will have hiding behind the scenes as the other 2004 sports offerings make their way to the PS2 over the coming months.
Combine these new additions with the base game that some PS2 owners actually liked more than Madden NFL 2003 last year, and you’ve potentially got a winner that’s just days from release. Count on a full review of NCAA Football 2004 soon.
7/1/2003 Peter Skerritt