Do you think it's strange that Shafty frequently uses made-up dialogue in a review that has nothing to do with Pluhbabes? SHUT UP.
As many sports games as I play--and review (or intend to, at any rate)--it's about time for my rant on the stupidity of sports video game makers and the names they give to their games.
Several years ago, sports video game makers inserted their collective head up their collective ass, all in the name of increasing market share to drive other competitors out of business. I remember noticing it for the first time with EA's Triple Play baseball series, but they probably weren't the first. EA is just as guilty of this as anybody else, though, so they get used in my EXAMPLE OF STUPIDITY. In hopes of making Triple Play look like the newest, freshest, baseball game out there, they named it with the next year included in the name. Thus, for a game released in February of 1996, they called it Triple Play 1997. Now, car manufacturers engage in this sort of stupidity all the time, so we ought to be used to the notion that in late 2003, a 2002 Chevy Malibu is already 2 years old because the 2004 models are already out.
Sports game makers carry this insipidity to new heights, though, because they release sports games all year long. So, although it seems stupid to have a 2004 car released in October of 2003, it's even DUMBER to have a 2004 baseball game released in March of 2003. It's sort of understandable that basketball and hockey games carry the following year's notation, since the majority of the 2003-04 season actually takes place in 2004. It's sort of stupid with football, though, because (other than ~4 bowl games) the entire season takes place in 2003. The same is basically true with the NFL, where the entirety of the regular season occurs in 2003, and only the playoffs stretch into January (and, in this rare year, February 1st). But the ultimate in stupidity is...
Video Game Baseball Names.
Baseball season lasts from April to October, and that's it. It's just damn stupid to attach "2004" to a game that's released in March 2003 and which covers a sport that lasts from April 2003 to October 2003.
The whole point behind this nonsense, of course, is that a purchaser might be faced with a choice between "EA Madden 2004" or, by contrast, "989 NFL Gameday 2003," both of which cover the 2003-04 NFL season and, based on name alone, choose Madden simply because it sounds newer. The idiocy of this rationale is that, now that EVERYBODY engages in this tomfoolery, the next logical step is to jump ahead ANOTHER year with the name of your new video game. Behold:
NBA Thugz 2005 with Rasheed Wallace!
(Released just in time for Christmas 2003)
Imagine the possibilities for confused grandparents to buy the wrong one for little Timmy:
*little Timmy is opening up the Christmas present that is labeled, "To Timmy From Santa," in handwriting that looks a lot like Grandma's, and wrapped in paper that looks a lot like the wrapping paper in which Grandma carefully wrapped that oh-so-cherished-black-socks present*
Timmy: WTF!?!!! This is NBA Thugz 2003! Santa bought the wrong one! STUPID SANTA, I HATE YOU FOREVER SANTA!!!!111 *runs off to room, slams door*
Timmy's Father: One more mistake like that, "Santa," and we're going to put you in a nursing home. As it is, we're going to have to deduct the cost of little Timmy's therapy from the meager social security checks that arrive every month.
So the game I'm reviewing, NCAA Football 2003, actually covers the past college football season (2002-03), not the current one that's about to conclude. Why purchase (and review) "2003" instead of "2004?" Well, technically, I received "2003" as a gift. At the same time, though, I've examined the hypothetical question of "what if I were going to buy one or the other?", and would have bought 2003 anyway:
Shafty: Decisions, decisions. "2003" is 15 bucks. "2004" is 50. That makes this decision pretty easy.
NCAA Football 2004: No, wait! Buy me, because I'm BETTER!
Shafty: How are you better?
2004: I'm 2004! I'm new and updated! That makes me better!
Shafty: What's new about you?
2004: Um... I'm ONE YEAR BETTER than 2003!
Shafty: What do you have to offer that 2003 can't?
2004: My rosters are more current.
Shafty: As you know, NCAA rules don't allow video game companies to use actual players' names because there's no licensing agreement between these companies and the athletes, so both you and 2003 simply include "names" such as QB #4 and such. I don't really care whether I'm playing with last year's QB #4, or this year's QB #6, so that isn't a valid reason to pay 35 extra bucks.
2004: Oh no! He's seen through EA's marketing schemes! *box, in a desperate act of self-termination, leaps from the shelves*
Well, something like that.
Which prompts a slight pet peeve of mine about NCAA Football 2003: on the cover is Oregon's Joey Harrington, even though he graduated the year before the game was released and, as such, he doesn't even appear in the game itself. (2004 isn't any better. It put Carson Palmer--who graduated last year--on its cover.) As mentioned above, EA can't directly negotiate with an athlete like Harrington while he's still at Oregon, or he could be considered to have accepted money for playing, and thereby waive his NCAA eligibility. Which is why we shouldn't expect to see current players on the cover of the box. It still looks weird, though.
You may have heard about the rumored "Madden curse" that has afflicted the last 4 guys who appeared on the cover of EA's Madden football series. Specifically, the last 4 NFL players (Eddie
George, Daunte Culpepper, Marshall Faulk, Michael Vick) they put on the cover then (1) had rotten years, or (2) suffered injuries that knocked them out for a good portion of the year. (One guy speculated that this year's Michael Vick would be the exception, but Vick then broke his leg in a preseason game and has missed most of the year.) The Madden curse has become so routine that people have resorted to specifically creating Madden covers in hopes of cursing certain people:
Sooner or later, EA is going to have to approach retired players to appear on the cover of Madden, because current players won't want to subject themselves to the curse. Not that the geezers wouldn't get cursed, too, which could lead to cool headlines like:
Lawrence Taylor Tears ACL in Freak Bingo Accident
If you've played an EA football game (Madden or NCAA Football), there isn't much to tell that you don't already know. EA still has the best controller interface for football of any of the game makers and, fortunately, the controller mapping doesn't really change too much from system to system. Thus, I didn't have to re-learn the basic controls just because I'd played Madden 2003 on Playstation, instead of the Gamecube I used to play NCAA 2003. There's also a couple of cool little options like the Coach's Cam, which lets you see (before the ball gets snapped) what each of your players is supposed to do on that play. That's particularly helpful on defense, where you can check to see if there seems to be enough defensive backs to cover the offense's receivers. It's also helpful if--like me--you frequently control the middle linebacker, and you want to figure out whether you're supposed to blitz or drop into coverage on that play. Because the computer AI is supposed to be better than before, if you blitz when you're supposed to be covering, the computer can usually find the open receiver who's streaking across the part of the field you're supposed to be covering. Something that is STUPID, though, is the fact that I've had more than a little trouble putting pressure on the quarterback, which is a far cry from Madden (in which it's pretty standard to finish a season with 60+ sacks). More realism is called for, but it's just stupid to expect that you could NEVER sack a crap-ass quarterback from a crap-ass team with a crap-ass offensive line.
Despite having been billed as "improved," the AI is as crappy and flawed as ever. The only real difference I've seen in the difficulty levels is the amount of bullcrap the computer throws at you, and the amount of the lead it will allow you to get before it goes into "auto-catchup" mode. At the easiest setting ("junior varsity"), for example, you can massacre the computer until you get about an 84 point lead. At that point, the opposing quarterback is able to complete passes in triple coverage and, instead of the halfback's being tackled for a 7-yard loss on the option pitch, he breaks 4 tackles to get those ordinarily elusive 13 yards he needs for the first down. At a higher difficulty level, the computer still absolutely sucks as a general rule, but compensates by (1) pulling miraculous plays out of its ass, and (2) making your wide-open receivers drop the softest of passes.
There's one thing that's really cool--finally, a college football game in which the triple option works the way it's supposed to (although the halfback trails the quarterback 2-3 yards deeper than he ought to). My alma mater (Rice University) happens to be one of the few remaining teams that run the triple option offense exclusively, and I've always been disappointed with how poorly it works in most video games. Here, Rice's playbook is limited to the flexbone, wishbone and shotgun formations (like in real life), and the timing of the halfback pitch is pretty good.
There's one other area where NCAA Football 2003 really shines. I'm not quite sure how much time they spent on it, but they actually went out to all of the 117 Division I-A schools and then made each team's stadium look like the real one. This is particularly cool with some of the smaller schools or more unusual fields; I'd grown accustomed to Rice's being stuck in some sort of bland, generic outdoor stadium, but they nailed Rice Stadium perfectly. Likewise, the Boise State stadium has the ghey blue Astroturf like it does in real life. Very, very cool. Also, it seems that the audience reacts pretty well to the importance of the game and the score. When Rice played at Boise State for the virtual WAC championship, the stadium was full and rocking. After Rice posted a 63-0 lead in the third quarter, though, a great number of the fans decided they had something better to do, leaving a 3/4 empty stadium.
Fortunately, the sound and the announcers aren't very repetitive. As it turns out, you get to hear the three announcers only if the game is designated as having been televised locally or nationally; otherwise, you get a pretty realistic-sounding PA system that does only the play-by-play. If you are playing one of the fortunate games that has a little television or satellite dish icon next to the game, you get Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, and the other guy I can never remember, and they do the color commentary as well as the play-by-play.
There's only a couple of times that the commentators say stupid or inappropriate things (such as announcing that SMU's third-and-long play was "crucial" when Rice had a 93-0 lead). The commentary also seems to pay attention to the pending awards races (like Heisman trophy), as they'll occasionally comment that somebody is a Heisman candidate or has just thrown for over 2,000 yards in a season, etc. (At one point, though, Corso announced that my backup fullback had "probably locked up" the Heisman trophy after a meaningless 8-yard carry.) Corso also appropriately says the sort of things that piss fans off, just like in real life. (I've hated him ever since the year that Rice--the smallest DI-A school in the nation--voluntarily chose to play Ohio State--the largest--in Columbus, Ohio. Rice naturally got pounded, and Corso--asshole that he is--jokingly referred to Rice as "the Krispies." Eat me, Corso, you illiterate piece of sh*t.) Even though the rosters don't include the players' real names, you can edit the rosters to add the names--and the commentators actually try to pronounce some of the more common of the players' names (like "Moore" or "Sanchez", but don't expect to hear less common names like "Losman").
Just as the game includes a whole host of school stadiums, there are supposedly over 200 fight songs included. I haven't really figured out how accurate they all are, but they used some stupid generic fight song for Rice instead of "Louie Louie" (our fight song).
The thing that sets this game apart is the "dynasty mode," in which you get to pick one or more teams and "coach" them through a number of seasons. As the coach, you are assigned realistic goals to be accomplished within your three-year contract. For a dominant school like Miami, the Board of Presidents expects a few national championships in 3 years; for perennial doormat Rice, they'll settle for simply a bowl bid and a conference championship. If you meet your goals, you are offered another contract with (presumably) harder goals; if you fail, your head gets lopped off and you have to find an even crappier school who'll hire you.
What's terribly cool, though, is that the "dynasty mode" allows you the opportunity to recruit high school seniors to come to play for you the next season. You have a certain number of recruiting points to spend in attracting talent and, once that's exhausted, you're pretty much stuck with whomever already wants to come to your school. Thus, if you're Miami, you'll have little trouble attracting good talent nationwide; Rice, on the other hand, will probably struggle to recruit even in Texas and, if I try to get a blue-chipper or two, I'll probably have to fill the rest of my spots with suck-ass walk-ons. Obviously, the more you win, the more your games get televised and the more prestige the school gathers; if you win, then, it's a bit easier recruiting every year.
Finally, the game features BCS rankings to determine who plays in the major bowl games (Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Rose), and the rankings are just as unfair and arbitrary as in real life. Even having gone 11-0, leading the nation in scoring, and crushing the University of Texas isn't enough for Rice to crack even the top 8. But, hey, that's how it would be in real life, so I probably can't complain about it too much. STUPID BCS, I KILLS YOU!!!!!!!11
There's also a "mascot game" feature in which you can play as a team composed entirely of one school's mascots. It's kind of faggoty looking, though, particularly if you use the ultra-queer Texas Longhorn mascot, Bevo. Unfortunately, the coach and cheerleaders are regular people, not mascots, which diminishes from the overall goofiness of the mascot game.
So, hey, if you truly appreciate college football or want to see some cool added features (such as recruiting), you'd really enjoy NCAA College Football 2003. If not, of course, you suck worse than Corso.
|Gameplay||Quarterback blitzing doesn't work right. Otherwise, controls are basically like all EA football games. AI still stupid. Hooray for the triple option!||4.5|
|Graphics||Eh, not too choppy.||4|
|Music/Sound||Corso is as much an a-hole as in real life. Get more fight songs!||4|
|Replay Value||Finally, a sports game worth playing beyond one season.||5|
|Originality||Dynasty mode with recruiting kicks ass.||3.5|
|Final Verdict: 4.2|