If the game industry were a football team, 989 Studios would be the kid keeping the bench warm. I always sorta root for them, because hell, I used to be that kid; I know the pain that is an atomic wedgie.
But sympathy and mushy feelings aside, 989 Studios' new NCAA Gamebreaker 2003 is out of its league and provides a meager challenge for EA's NCAA Football 2003. Guess the fat kid on the bench didn't go to weight-loss camp.
The game offers what you'd expect in terms of modes, such as Scrimmage games and Tournaments and Seasons. However, Gamebreaker offers a one-of-a-kind Coaching Career mode in which you start as a jobless football junkie looking for any position on any team. Do your job well and you'll get promoted to better positions and receive job offers from more prestigious schools.
Coaching Career mode is great because it exposes the player to several different schools and thus several different playbooks and teams. Having been a special teams coach for Cal, I now have a heightened understanding of why the Bears suck so bad.
However, for those of you that are only interested in playing with a specific team - say, Miami - the Coaching Career option will disappoint, as there's no way you're going to be working for that team without investing serious time in a bunch of other, crappier schools.
Unfortunately, Gamebreaker isn't nearly as imaginative with its gameplay. The control scheme is identical to EA's scheme, except that the 'X' button equals 'sprint' on both sides of the ball, so no more mashing the wrong button. Also, pressing the L2 button while juking, sprinting, or hurdling results in a better sprint, jump, or hurdle.
Offense in Gamebreaker is sort of a treat, since you have to totally screw up all four downs to not cross the first-down marker. Running is easy thanks to worthless defensive linemen, and passing simply never fails. Defenders will clog a passing lane every once in a while, but you can get away with things in Gamebreaker (throwing into quadruple coverage) that you pay for in other games.
While playing offense is very easy, playing defense will have you mashing your cleats into the turf out of frustration. Pass rushers get stuck on offensive linemen who aren't even actively blocking them, and the secondary just doesn't make plays. The only thing I found really cracked open an offense was putting a lot of outside pressure on the QB, who moves ridiculously slowly.
I'm oddly bothered by the Play Selection menu. It essentially borrows from Sega's 2K football games, but lacks the intuition and attractive visual presentation. Everything is set against a black background, which should make the text stand out, but the menu has such crummy resolution and drab colors that everything looks murky.
Visually, Gamebreaker suffers from a plethora of ailments. The view is up-close and in your face, but that means you never get a real good look at what's coming downfield at you. The resolution is grainy and jagged, while the animation looks like something out of a PSOne game. Furthermore, the collisions aren't well synchronized, with men flying in random directions several moments after they should.
Aurally, Gamebreaker is unimpressive with tinny fight songs and dull commentary from Dan Fouts and Dick Enberg. As with virtually every other aspect of Gamebreaker, the sound just seems completely under-produced.
NCAA Gamebreaker 2003 is a mediocre game at best, and compared to the competition, seems somewhat pointless. If you're looking for an easy football game and know you don't like the Sega titles or the EA titles or even NFL Blitz, then I guess Gamebreaker might be for you. Otherwise, drop some money on a real college football game and get NCAA Football 2003. This one is strictly Division II.