On academic probation.
There's always been a discrepancy between the quality of pro and college basketball
games. Frankly, the college game doesn't get the same treatment. Name a college
b-ball game that's on par with the NBA 2K
or even the NBA Live
series and I'll
graduate you myself.
the case of NCAA Final Four 2002, the discrepancy has widened to a crater.
I don't know who thought this was a good starting point for next-gen college
ball, but he should be booed out of the arena and forced to wear a chicken mascot
suit for the rest of his life. The game is strictly community college.
But from the outset, you'd think the game rocks. The fancy shmancy intro sequence
features real footage interspliced with cool little animated ballers going nuts
on the court. I was hoping that somehow this represented a game mode or something.
Turns out all it represents is where the developers threw all their time and
I'll get the nice bits out of the way quickly. You can play as over 300 Division
1 teams in Season or Franchise modes. You can take on the role of the GM to
whatever extent you see fit, from basic roster changes to recruitment. With
a boatload of stats and nifty little touches like different polls, awards and
a 'Bubble Watch' (when you get close to Tourney time), the game is at least
The gameplay, however, is thoroughly bad. This begins with the graphics, which
look marginally souped up from the subpar PSX Final
Four games. Player models are elongated and ugly, but this is nothing compared
to the rigid movements and laugh-out-loud bad animations. Passes are flung with
little regard to collision detection. The crowd looks like one giant, ugly bitmap
with cheap, repetitive animations dotting the scene. Though the framerate is
steady, this game is about as next-generation as my old Chuck Taylors.
Things get worse when you actually hit the court and try to control these
guys. Players seem glued to the ground and don't cut sharply at all. Penetrating
the lane for a dribble drive is awkward at best. Dunking, which is often where
developers spend most of their time working on motion captured moves, is jerky
NCAA Final Four 2002 features the same 'Touch Shooting' meter that past
iterations have enjoyed. When you take a shot, a little meter pops up. You need
to let go of the shot button when the cheesy cartoon basketball is in the cheesy
green circle. Swish! It's a nice try, but it gets out of hand once you get used
to it. After no time you'll be hoisting up threes like they're going out of
style. Just watch as your power forward leads the conference in 3-point percentage.
The artificial intelligence is brilliant...for a goldfish. For an AI program,
however, it's pathetic. Offensive players just sort of mull about barely running
plays. The difficulty levels just mean more/less steals and harder/easier to
blow by your defender; at the higher levels, it's near impossible to get by
a guy guarding you, despite your so-called 'juke' moves that occasionally just
don't even work at all. Players will eventually get hot if they make a few shots
in a row, in which case the CPU will keep forcing the ball to the same guy,
but aside from that there's very little evidence of any sort of programming
niftiness beyond the mechanics of Dr. J vs. Larry Bird.
In fairness, the game offers some options sliders to allow you to better customize
the game to your liking. If you want fewer steals, just slide down the 'steals'
option. A nice touch, but this kind of tweaking shouldn't be required to have
a decent experience. Sadly, it is.
At least the game tries to get the college thing down by featuring cheerleaders
who shake their ta-tas during a timeout. Great thought, awful execution. When
they say "throw you hands in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care,"
I think they mean you're supposed to wave them in time with the beat. Instead,
these poor floozies just sort of go through subpar motion-captured moves while
randomly throwing one arm towards the sky as if grabbing for a cup that's just
out of reach.
If you're looking to stir up some early March Madness in your PS2, wait until
EA's offering shows up. It might not be a winner, but at least it might make
it to the tourney. NCAA Final Four 2002, on the other hand, was sitting
on the bubble when it burst.