EA's Blue Chip.
In these sad, slow summer months, when baseball is like a sip of saltwater to
dehydrated sports fans, the faint glimmer of football on the autumn horizon is
as invigorating as the coolest iced tea.
you love the NFL, your salvation lies in the pre-season games; in all their
ugly awkwardness they're still better than watching baseball on TV. But for
the college football fan, EA Sports' new NCAA Football 2003 is more than
a refreshing sip - it's an Olympic sized swimming pool full of college football
This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Last year's NCAA
Football 2002 really put college football gaming on the map, and this year's
iteration secures the series' hold on the genre.
The modes are substantial, to say the least. EA's yearly offering of an awesome
Dynasty mode is one of the coolest traditions since Christmas. As if control
of nearly every aspect of your team weren't enough (red-shirting players, selecting
blue-chips, hiring, firing, scheduling, trading, drafting, and building), now
players can create their own school. Logos, fight songs, playbooks and,
of course, players are all at your disposal in what is the most comprehensively
immersive college football game mode I've ever seen. It's pretty much worth
the price of admission alone.
Also included is a Mascot Mode in which you can play as one of fifty teams'
mascots. At first I was shocked that Oskie (the Cal bear) was excluded from
the game, but on second thought, I'm more surprised that the Cal football team
was included in the regular game, given the fact that they belong on
a football field about as much as a bunch of paraplegics belong in a step-class.
Tack on the ubiquitous Practice mode (which is handled very counter-intuitively),
Regular Season and a Trophy room with authentic trophies to round out the experience.
Given my horrible penchant for irony, I can hardly reconcile that NCAA
Football 2003 is also a lot of fun to play. I actually prefer NCAA ball
to NFL thanks to the Option plays, which are handled better this season than
ever before. The same goes for draw plays and play-actions, both of which run
more smoothly than ever.
However, it's about as difficult to finish plays in NCAA Football 2003
as it is to start them thanks to some great defensive computer AI. This game
demands more from the player in terms of play-calling than previous offerings;
if the computer can guess your plays, it'll beat the crap out of you - even
with Cal, which is about as embarrassing as a mortal wound from a water balloon.
from the improved difficulty, the game plays a lot like every other recent EA
football game thanks to its use of the Madden engine. So yes, tackling
is still impossible. Also, the fact that the X button boosts on offense and
changes players on defense needs to be changed, as you'll find yourself switching
players far too unexpectedly and far too often. The running game could also
stand a better scheme, as the same juke, hurdle, turbo thing is probably older
than most GR readers.
Graphically, NCAA Football 2003 is mixed on the PS2, with a bad case
of the jaggies, some weak textures and the lamest looking crowd I've ever seen.
It's actually a step backwards from last year's effort. Fortunately, the animations
are all really good and the players themselves look great.
The sounds in NCAA Football 2003 could have been taken from NCAA
Football 2002, which is in many ways a good thing. Supposedly there are
over 8,000 lines of new dialogue, but if that's the case, those 8,000 lines
were poorly spent, as I recognized nearly everything I heard Lee Corso say from
the last NCAA game. Maybe the guy in my copy of the game had a stroke or something.
Despite its niggling flaws, NCAA Football 2003 for the PS2 takes the
managerial aspects of college football to new, unexpected heights. There's just
a ton of stuff to fiddle with. Still, it would be nice to see the effort and
imagination spent on the modes and details applied to the gameplay. Perhaps
we'll see that kind of dedication in Sega's upcoming NCAA 2K3, but even
if we don't, there's at least one college football game fit for your PS2.