NCAA Gamebreaker, the first college football game for the PlayStation, is an excellent game that not only sets a standard for college football, but a precedent for the upcoming NFL Gameday '97 soon to grace and captivate our minds, imaginations, (and pocketbooks), in November. Gamebreaker is much more than 'NFL Gameday 1.5', as could be assumed, but a separate game in it's own right, improving upon the original Gameday engine with plenty of new options of it's own.
The gameplay is masterful, control and movement have been tightened up, and special techniques have been incorperated into the game. For example, unlike the Madden-esque traditions of old, momentum is not a factor. This does subtract to the some of the jukes available, but adds to the overall effect. This is because of the increased importance of knowing when to use certain moves, and the effect it has on gameplay. For instance, on your basic option play out the backfield, you must first decide which way to run, press L2 to pitch it, X to speed burst out the backfield, O to spin through tacklers, R1 to stiff arm people at the side, 'triangle' to hurdle over missed tacklers, and 'square' to dive into the endzone. It's a workout!
This is still the most realistic gaming engine out there, one that, like in the pros, leaves success dependant upon your knowledge of running, and appropriate decision-making skills. Now there is an option included to change the button configuration, but the most difficult ones to deal with (stiff arm/pitch buttons) are still unchangeable. Another aspect that needs to be tweaked on the offensive side of the ball is the pass catching/dropping. It is true that timing a hit after a catch will sometimes cause an occasional dropped pass that can even result in an interception.
Gamebreaker though, gives you too much of a good thing. The entire concept of pass coverage is based on this. I'd say that 3 out of every 4 broken pass plays or interceptions are a result of these cheap hits instead of true pass defense. It gets especially annoying on offense, when you end up hitting your last open receiver, to see him drop and again drop, and drop, and drop the ball. The ability to hold onto the ball is basically the only characteristic that separates the top receivers - the "Gamebreakers"- from the rest of the pack. Suprisingly, Gamebreaker is much more restrictive on allowing interceptions than Gameday. Timing a dropped pass is basically the only way to get an interception, and while jumping is not obselete it is obviously too little a factor, as it might have been too much of one on the first. Sony would do well to find a good medium here.
The passing game is slightly limiting, in that inside slants and deep outs (football's most common pass routes) are uncharacteristically difficult. Only about 4 types of routes work, and a little too often, limiting you to a few surefire plays (Shotgun -'Dre Out', 3 Wide - 'Tre Out') and lot of other eye candy. The best thing about the passing game is the precision of the route running and your need to know to the routes before running the plays, just as real quarterbacks must. Receivers will always break into their routes after the pass is thrown, not just continue in the direction you are going ( Madden '97 ahem,ahem. . .) You will always know when your receiver is open or not, one of Madden's biggest problems in passing. Gamebreaker's only knock in the passing game is that throwing deep can at times be a problem, because the jump/dive button should be separated. At times you jump instead of dive and vice versa, which can be annoying on the few occasions when the QB overthrows the receiver.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is the ever-present ability to break away (a concept completely missing from Madden '97) not through exaggerated speed, but through your continual ability to avoid tackles downfield.
Defense is difficult to pay attention to in this game because the offense is so fun. The Gameday defensive play engine was light years ahead of anything previously conceived, and still is. This is the only football game I have ever played where you can just as easily play and dominate with linebackers, defensive linemen, and the secondary alike, without just switching to the nearest man. Starting the play with these players opens up a very underappreciated, unnoticed dimension of gameplay. On the Madden series, you had to start the play as a defensive lineman, or occasionally a linebacker, but never a safety/cornerback. This was basically the same on the NFL series from Sega. Gameday was easier to dominate as a safety, rather than a linebacker or defensive lineman.
On Gamebreaker though, thanks to the addition of the forearm shiver, and "swim" moves, defensive lineman penetrate based on the skill and decision, amplified by ratings, not decided by them. Safeties and cornerbacks are visible at all times, and fit on the screen, and since route reading on this game is easy, even from a defensive perspective, working the secondary is not hard. Neither is linebacking which sort of offers the best of both worlds as far as pass and run defense is concerned.
Gamebreakers has top of the line features, especially for a college football game. The difficulty level is perfect, such that by the time you are able to compete at All-American competition (fourth, hardest level), you might have #111 San Jose State taking you as #1 Nebraska into overtime. There is a convenient roster of all the games ratings and players, and to my great delight all the players who went to the pro ranks last year, the first time I've seen this feature included in a college football game. To have Tshminga (Tim) Biakabutuka, Eddie George, Lawrence Phillips, Tommy Frazier and Keyshawn Johnson still at your fingertips is a dream come true for diehard football fans.
There are awards for every position except offensive lineman, including the Heisman Trophy to the nation's most outstanding performer. As far as teams . . . you might need a road map. There are all 111 Division 1-A teams, the top Division 1-AA schools (although they are not accessible for season play) and even hidden and all-time teams, such as '91 Miami or the Michigan All-Stars. I would make a rough estimate of about 140 teams on this game!! That is unprecedented for any football game, and also boosts the replay value to the stratosphere.
The seasons are spectacular. There are 12 games based on this year's actual schedule, and a ranking of the top 25 (actually, all 111) teams in college football. You can go through a Bowl Season, or Tournament Season, to ensure status as the #1 team, which is no piece of cake. Unless you are Florida or Nebraska you will most likely have to win the tournament, and your bowl to finish at #1. Speaking of bowls, this game is super stacked--every thing is here, from the newly created National Championship Bowl, to the Rose Bowl, to the Poulan/Weedeater Independence Bowl!?!
Statistically, Gamebreakers is decent, although using team leaders instead of just the top 100 league leaders, (say, maybe the top 20), wouldn't hurt, and neither would QB ratings stats, instead of basing Heisman consideration on the QB with the most yards. The gamespeed, possibly the game's most noticeable improvement from Gameday, is not only faster, but adjustable at three different speeds, including Very Fast, which as you will soon see comes to speak for itself. Basically the one big feature this game is missing is the ability to create a player, and there are no excuses, because College Football USA '97 by EA Sports finally removed that imaginery rule that says you can't create players on a college football game. It was the first time in the 4 years since Bill Walsh that this had been done, and for the Genesis, no less. There are other such renovations, though. One game I've heard of, MVP College Football, gives you the option to recruit players out of high school.
All in all, this definitely sets the pace for football games, and even stays maybe a notch above Madden in complete gameplay (although not fun factor). If this is a precursor of what we have to expect from NFL Gameday '97, then I'm going to save myself a space outside the door now, because they'll be running from the hills when that one hits.
As far as spending your money, if you could buy 1 videogame (sports preferably, of course) then I would wait for Gameday '97 or maybe Tecmo Super Bowl. If you want just to get as many good football games as you can, pick up this or NFL QB Club '97, especially if you are a college fan. This is a top of the line football game.