Recycled for the College Crowd
Let's do a little role-playing exercise here, shall we? You are the head of a development team that's responsible for creating one the year's most entertaining and well-respected football console games. I mean, this game is literally flying off the shelves, and critics are calling it one of the best all-around pigskin games in recent years. Now you - being the entrepreneur that you are - are naturally looking to squeeze every last drop of profit from your new guaranteed money-maker. What do you do? Isn't it obvious? You give it a minor face lift, slap on a new name, and call that sucker a college football game! Yay! Go team!
All cynicism aside, that's the basic story behind 989 Studios' new college football game, NCAA GameBreaker '99. I mean, this game is so Gameday 99, I wouldn't be surprised if someone discovers a cheat that lets you play with NFL teams. From the motion captures and after play trash talking, right down to the game speed and in-game stat boxes, it's quite apparent that 989 has recycled Gameday '99 for the college crowd. But let's face it, if you're going to recycle a football game, Gameday's a pretty damn good game to start from. After all, Gameday is the one franchise that has, in some people's humble opinions (not this person's, though), out-simulated even the all powerful Madden.
That said, let's break this game down.
Graphically, this game kicks butt in a Gameday way: a super-smooth framerate combined with wonderfully detailed graphics that only a 4th generation PlayStation game could produce. And although I have discovered a few inaccuracies in the stadium renderings (trees behind the press box at Cal's Memorial Stadium? Huh?), each of the 120-or-so venues looks fantastic.
As far as gameplay goes, if you're looking for fast-paced action with tons of moves, you'll find it right here. Say you're running an option with the halfback, and you run into traffic. Since you're in "Total Control" of the action, you can: speed burst, spin, hurdle, dive, pitch, stiff-arm, dive over the pile, shoulder charge, double spin, or juke. If you make it past that traffic, and you like to talk trash, you can even high step into the end zone. Good Lord. All this stuff happens with little to no break in the speed of the game.
One of the most important elements of football games these days is artificial intelligence, and Gamebreaker '99 is right on par with the other football games this year. You'll see zone blitzes and man-dog coverages as well as DB's stutter-stepping to psych-out the QB. This stuff is all technical lingo that loosely translated means "this game looks more like real football than most other games."
GameBreaker '99 also has all the options you'd ever need in a college football game. You've got the usual Scrimmage, Season, and Tournament modes, as well as a new-fangled Fantasy league mode that lets you create a league based on team accomplishments, and a Blue Chip Recruiting mode that allows you draft high-school players to build your team's strength. This game's even got a play editor - maybe they just didn't have enough time to cram this into Gameday?
The announcer, you ask? Well, 989 busted out the big gun with this baby, and he's none other than Keith Jackson, the legendary voice of college ball. Now this has got to be awesome, right? Well, sort of. It's really great to hear Keith Jackson's voice, and it's great to hear some of the amazingly detailed comments he has. Mr. Jackson handles both the play-by-play and color commentary with overt skill - he just interrupts himself a hell of a lot. Let's say you just completed a pass to your left wide-receiver and Keith is rambling about what a great pass it was. Your receiver gets popped and out drops the ball. The game will then load a fumble speech right in the middle of the "what a great pass" speech. The result is a tremendously choppy mess. And this doesn't happen just in crazy plays like this one, it happens a lot, folks. While it's great that they got Keith to come out for the game, you'll constantly be frustrated by the choppiness of his comments.
But where this game really fails me is in the atmosphere department. When I played EA's NCAA Football '99 nearly three months ago, I was overjoyed at the amount of atmosphere they packed into the game. From the real-life fight songs to the crowd chanting "Overrated" when you beat a great team, this game's realism blew me away. Naturally, I figured that a game that hoped to compete with EA's powerhouse game would have thrown in stuff like this. Nope, not a chance. There are no real fight songs and virtually no audience chanting (other than "Defense! Defense! Defense!"). And everyone knows that if you're going to buy a college game, you buy it for stuff like this. It's all about atmosphere, and 989 blew it here.
So don't get me wrong, NCAA GameBreaker '99 is a really good football game. It's got tons of teams, it's got real stadiums, and it's got some darn good gameplay. When it comes down to it, though, GameBreaker '99 just doesn't deliver the NCAA in it's title.