NCAA Football 2002 Review
Absolutely shattering everybody's expectations last October as one of PS2's launch games, by general consensus EA Sports' Madden 2001 was touted as the best football sim to date. I picked Madden as my favorite pigskin title as well, but overall the game lacked a little something. The player models looked a bit 'chubby', but nonetheless it was an amazing game. Following Madden was the debacle known as NFL GameDay 2001, 989's 120% rehash of the Playstation title, which to pretty much everyone was an average game at best. So take an average game, add a few more polygons, and then completely forget about making the game 'good' if even 'decent'. But enough about NFL, what about the little people, what about the college division teams like Army, Duke or Rutgers? Well EA Sports sure ain't leaving them out of the fun. Utilizing the all-new Madden 2002 engine, NCAA 2002 has been released to the public, and my how sweet it is!
Now performing on the new and robust soon to be Madden 2002 engine, NCAA doesn't feature the same stumpy looking ball players as Madden 2001 did. By looking at the screenshots, you now see that each and every athlete on the field has his own physical proportions, that would closely relate to the actual counterpart. The faces still haven't undergone any drastic changes, as many of them look fairly similar, or the same in other cases. For the most part only physical deeds were done to the athletes, no face-lifts and many of the same motion-captured animations. Albeit the lack of change, NCAA 2002 still looks mighty impressive, even though the overall mien of the game is the same as what many of us saw last October. The player models are composed of thousands of polygons. While still not true-to-life in outward appearance, the athletes sure do move like they are. The motion capturing has remained the same for the most part, although I did catch a couple of new animations that really awed me. I had made a pass to one of my receivers, and he was clearly running short on making the catch, so he slides to it and makes the catch with one arm, while sliding with one knee! It was great and I managed to get it on a couple of screenshots.
Stadium detail hasn't changed noticeably, but if I'm not mistaken they made the bench players look more detailed and the same goes for the referees. The light source which causes helmet reflections still looks good as ever. Though the problem with NCAA 2002 is that some of the athletes are given absolutely the same route of movement, causing one of athletes to interfere with the other. It doesn't happen much, but if you pay attention when looking at a replay you'll see two athletes close to one another, and doing the same thing. Overall excellent visual presentation, with better looking character models, although nothing new to really talk about.
As soon as I started my exhibition game I didn't worry at all about adjusting to the controls or 'basics'. I felt right at home, because I was such a frantic Madden gamer. The only minor situation was to adjust to different playbooks. Aside from that I was fine. Tearing up my first opponent 35-7 on the default (normal) level setting, I couldn't wait to play my next challenge. It was deja vu all over again, I quickly remembered how addicted I was to Madden 2001, but ignored it and kept playing. NCAA 2002 is just as great, if not better than what Madden was on the PS2. It's amazingly deep with its enormous Dynasty mode, that will take you through every end of the NCAA. Managing, coaching, trading you call the shots in Dynasty mode. Those looking to play through a career, look no further than the Season mode, where you will make your way through nearly 16 challenges, including a bye week. Then of course you can play a quick exhibition game, by yourself or up to eight other people!
That's not even half of it, as you progress through your Dynasty mode, you will eventually make it to bowl championships such as the Rose Bowl, Nokia Sugar Bowl, FedEx Orange Bowl, and the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. NCAA 2002 is 'that' deep! It's far deeper than any other football sim to date. And the fact that you can choose from over 115 division 1-A and 27 Division 1-AA teams is astounding. It's a plethora of clubs to chose from, which creates an almost never-ending feeling. And of course just as it was in Madden, NCAA features its own challenge mode called Campus Challenge. How it works is whenever you set or break a record, you will be asked to enter your name for keeping. The more records you break the more secret goodies you will receive. As I mentioned prior, NCAA 2002 is an addictive experience, one not to be missed by football fans. If you believe you'll be playing the same game you're wrong. If you're deciding which game to get NCAA 2002 or Madden 2002, get both! They are relatively different from each other in almost every single way.
Another hiss for EA Sports' second PS2 football game is in the sound category. As of course many of you who've read my previous EA Sports review know my desire for great commentary. And up until now it's safe to say that FIFA 2001 has been the only game with extraordinary commentary. Madden sagged, Triple Play lagged, and NBA Live was just a plain drag. But all is not bad in NCAA-ville. While the commentary isn't 'as' corny as Madden's, it still has its fair share of "oh shut the hell up!" Take for example Madden: "In order to make the play, the receiver needs to catch the ball." Oh please, you call that commentary, I call that a four year old writing the cue cards! NCAA has a few of those, but nowhere near as annoying as Madden. When really into a match it almost seems as if the commentary has just shut itself off, it may seem like that but really it's only because the commentary is plainly average. The human mind just programs itself to ignore it. The play-by-play is lacking as well, it's overly simplistic and offers no actual insight. I think EA needs to arrange some sort of audio staff meeting and tell these people no more childish nursery school rhymes for commentary, and then they should shower the audio staff behind FIFA with money.
Moving as gracefully as Madden 2001 did, the control scheme has remained absolutely the same. I can't really say much, but I'll try. Controlling the game has become as effortless as moving your finger, the athletes respond flawlessly, with absolutely no sign of hesitation. The passing game has become more realistic as players will now slide for the ball, as well as dive or leap for it, trying to catch it single-handedly. The analog is the best method of control, amazing precision of control will allow you to pull off running plays more seamlessly. Nothing new to really mention, if you played Madden on PS2, you shouldn't have a problem getting adjusted.
Overall I couldn't help but feel the same way I did about NCAA as I did with Madden. It plays remarkably well, and looks just as good. The game features a plethora of replay value, the Dynasty mode is literally the core of the whole game, this package would be absolutely lacking without it! I'm more than content with NCAA 2002. It's currently the best football title out there. If you can't wait until August 28 for Madden 2002's release, I highly recommend NCAA 2002, in fact I recommended it anyways, not just as a fix.
7/30/2001 Arnold Katayev