Bet my mascot can beat up your mascot...
NCAA Football 2000 is the sequel to last year's incredible NCAA Football '99, which followed the not-so-amazing NCAA Football '98 (those EA guys aren't sticklers for innovative titles, but their games make up for it). NCAA Football '99 introduced fluid 3D graphics and a gameplay overhaul that provided a challenging experience, unlike many other football titles where games can be won by a simple regimen of passing, passing, passing. Because NCAA Football '99 was such a complete football package, it was impossible for EA staffers to make the kind of leaps and bounds improvement in the gameplay and graphics for 2000 that '99 made over '98. This, however, presents an unfortunate dilemma for gamers, who must ask themselves: Is it worth forking out another $39.99 for a game that, while improved, hasn't significantly changed from last year? As far as this reviewer is concerned, the answer is a wholehearted...maybe.
The general structure of the game remains unchanged from last year, with a few surprises added here and there. You can still play all of the different modes: Quick start, Practice, Great Games, Tournament, and Season/Dynasty. There are still the 112 division 1-A teams to choose from, but EA has gone one step further and added 2 new division 1-A teams (Middle Tennessee State and Buffalo) plus 26 extra division 1-A teams, though these teams don't actually compete for the championship.
The create-a-player feature is the same as in '99; however, a new create-a-school feature is available where you make up all of the school and team info (school/team names and nicknames, team colors, stadium types, and even what song your band plays). You can add players from the create-a-player feature to your team, and test your creation through numerous seasons in Dynasty mode. While creating your own school can be fun for a while, the only unique aspect of your school is the naming process. Soon enough you will be wanting to get back on the field with a real college team.
The most innovative feature from last year--Dynasty mode--has been tweaked a bit. The biggest change has been made to the recruiting process. In '99, you had to give your coaching staff profiles of the players you wanted and the computer would determine which players came to your school. In 2000, you can now recruit players individually. If you want a certain star to come to your school, you had better send enough of your recruiters to get a good impression of that star's real abilities and let the player know you want him. However, just sending some recruiters isn't a guarantee that you will nab the players you want. In fact, players' decisions about where they want to play are much more volatile than in '99. Many players have specific ideas of what school they see themselves at, and their choices are also based on a school's reputation. If your school sucks and you lose a lot of games, you will be sulking as the blue chips pass you by, and the second and third stringers come your way. Plus, you now have the option to cut redshirt players. Whew.
This level of realism means you must become much more involved in the entire process. Going through your available states and looking at individual players is time consuming, but rewarding. If you can garner a powerful squad for your school, it means that you have put time and research into the process, and have made the best decisions along the way (in '99 recruiting was essentially a lottery). Still, the new dynasty mode may not be everyone's cup o' tea. The process takes 5 simulated weeks (during which you must look at most of the recruit stats and decide on 30 or so players), and is probably too involved for most casual armchair quarterbacks. Fortunately, EA also included 'auto recruit mode,' similar to standard recruiting in '99.
NCAA Football 2000 has relatively little new in the gameplay department. The game plays very similarly to '99, though action is a tad smooth and faster. According to EA, the reason for the improvement is a 50% increase in the game's frame rate. There are a ton of new animations, the most impressive of which are the great new tackles. Nothing is more gratifying than having 3 Cal players knock a Stanford QB off his feet, as he flips upside down and lands face-first on the fresh grass of Cal's Memorial Stadium (Wonder where Sean lives. - Ed.). Other new animations include touchdown and great play celebrations. The field has also been spruced up some with the addition of cheerleaders and mascots. However, not all mascots are included. The absence of Cal's lovable bear Oskie is a true travesty. Who else is going to kick the Stanford Tree's ass?
Physics are more realistic in 2000, as players react differently when hit by opponents of different weights. It feels like players perform closer to their speed and agility ratings. A 300 pound lineman isn't going to have comparable maneuverability to a lean runningback. And EA has finally added variations to the player body types. There are now three types, which are essentially small, medium and tubby. Some are small and skinny, some are tall and muscular, and some are of medium height, but formed like the Poppin' Fresh guy. These big guys are great to play with, because they really knock down the quarterbacks who aren't going to be calling them "dough boys" anytime soon.
To increase the competition for those who thought '99 was too easy, there is the new Heisman difficulty setting. Needless to say, you had better go into Practice mode for a while before attempting it. The computer AI is increasingly more aggressive during the game and catches on faster if you begin to reuse plays.
Of course, I have some grievances. I have always though that the Great Games feature is pointless. Yes, you do get to play classic NCAA championships and other memorable games (including the ultimate 1982 Cal-Stanford Big Game), but what's the point? It is not the fact that those games were played that makes them special, it's the amazing plays. The 1982 Big Game would have been just another rivalry had it not been for the fact that during the last seconds of the game, the Stanford band came out onto the field and started playing, right as Cal trampled them to get to the touchdown for the win. How about 'Greatest Plays' mode? Maybe instead of scoring the touchdown at the Big Game, I could just stay in mid field and I whup on the Stanford band. Hmmmm...
Even with the additions to Dynasty mode and the new animations and physics, NCAA Football 2000 feels relatively unchanged since '99. Of course, the gameplay is terrific and this is probably the most complete football game on the market. But if you already own '99, you may want to consider saving your money. It really depends on what you liked in '99. If you were into the sim elements, then 2000 is certainly worth buying. However, if you simply enjoyed the gameplay of '99 and weren't so much into the other parts, then 2000 may seem a bit underwhelming.