It’s been a while since I’ve touched either a NFL Gameday or NCAA Gamebreaker game from 989 Sports. I know it was on the Playstation the last I played them. When these games first burst upon the scene they truly were something different from the Madden series (nevermind that the year Gameday first came out EA Sports had no Madden game to offer) and even put EA Sports into a sort of catch-up mode for at least a year there. Through horrible review after horrible review, because everything other football game moved beyond it after the first couple years, 989 Sports carries on with making sports games specificially for the Playstation 2.
This year they bring the promise of a totally revamped game for both the NFL and NCAA game. This includes the option to play online via the broadband/dial-up adapter and starting up a new online website akin to Microsoft’s XSN Sports (both are good at different things) called 989 Sports Online. I’ve had the chance to sit down with NCAA Gamebreaker 2004 and take my Golden Gophers through their paces. Let’s see how it fared.
This game looks like it was taken directly from the Playstation games and transported onto the Playstation 2. The graphics are clean for the players and so forth, but the field seems very pixelated and jaggies persist everywhere. I have yet to get my hands on Gameday 2004, but if the graphics look like this it’s going to be another ugly year for this side of 989 Sports lineup.
Player animations are very jump crazy. There is no smooth flow in the moves your running back does for instance. You want him to do a juke and the animation literally jumps into a juke…no flow of motion or anything. It’s something that you need to get used to after so many years of not playing these games, that’s for sure. The defensive animation doesn’t do much better. Jerky animations make up the tackling animations as well. Altogether this section does its job, it just doesn’t do it well.
This game gets a high rating for a big reason…they got legendary commentator Keith Jackson to do the play-by-plays. Having his voice in this game just makes me happy. This man is the voice of college football and has been for many years. In fact, the commentary itself does pretty well and I’m surprised how well it is integrated. There are repeats of course, but just listening to Jackson do play-by-play is enough for me.
The crowd and game sounds are also rather good, although nothing to call home about. They do their job and at least unlike the graphics, they do it well.
There are 2 sections to the control aspect and to be honest they both have their problems. The first one is in the single-player aspect of the game. Every move you make on your controller takes a good second to see the action on the TV. The problem here is easy to see…you have to train yourself to watch the defense and plan accordingly a second ahead of the game. Running and passing is the worst control issue in this game. You want to get a quick pass off before a defender sacks your QB? Forget about it, you better plan a few seconds ahead because it takes a while for the QB to get through his motions to pass. The defensive controls are actually rather good though and don’t seem to have the pause that the offensive controls do.
Running is and has always been a big part of the 989 football games to the point of someone running the ball the whole game can easily win the game. This game is no different. You can literally take control of a game just by running the ball. The problem is that you then have to train yourself as I said above. You can break lots of runs for touchdowns, but you can also get yourself caught up in the pause between pressing a button and execution on-screen.
The other section is when playing online. First of all, it’s pretty difficult to find someone to play Gamebreaker 2004 with online. I found far more Gameday 2004 players than this game. Anyway, the problems stated above become even larger in online play. Should there be even a hint of lag between you and your opponent, the pause between button press and execution becomes that much wider. An example of this is on a play that my opponent’s defensive player was literally 7 steps away from me when I passed a ball. My QB never got the pass off and I got sacked. Poor reaction does not make a fun experience online. If you have someone that is not lagged it seems everything runs well though, at least that is the info I got when I asked about it in the chat room (more on this later).
This game suffers from the same problem as my other review for today, NFL Fever 2004. It’s just too slow for its own good, but unlike Fever the controls are far less forgiving.
What NCAA Gamebreaker 2004 does have is a good amount of single-player modes. You can go through bowl seasons or go through a Tournament season (where you go through a Tournament instead of a Bowl Season at the end of the year…something the NCAA never wants us to see obviously). There is also career mode where you take a job at a low-level school and going through a career. Should you do well in the place you’re in you may get offered new jobs. This is also where the recuiting engine comes into effect. The problem here of course is that nothing is as robust as this game’s nearest rival, NCAA Football 2004 from EA Sports. Of course it would be very difficult to even touch that game in this arena honestly. This game gets some extra points over Fever because it is a little less vanilla in its modes…the career mode easily outdoes any single-player mode in the (granted) pro football based Fever.
The rest of the gameplay rests in the online games. I only got a chance to play one person in the 4 days I have had this game. There haven’t been many NCAA Gamebreaker 2004 players online at all…far more Gameday players on though. I think the online section is very well set up. If you go to the 989 Sports Online page, that is basically what you see on the front end of the online section on this game. You can check your mail, send messages (a USB keyboard would be so great right now!), join in chat rooms for games and chat with people. In many ways, this is a more personable place than XSN Sports. However you can only set up tournaments and not a whole season, so that kind of sucks
Another cool thing the online section has that XSN Sports does not is that you have live score tickets on the bottom for every sport. This is not live scores as in what is going on in the game, no these are real-life live scores. Excellent addition for Sony…I love it!
Although the career mode is pretty neat, the only thing that will really keep you playing this game is the online component. The problem on the Playstation 2 with this game is the fact that you can play its nearest rival, NCAA Football 2004, online on the same machine. I have not had a chance to play EA’s NCAA game on Playstation 2 (have it on Xbox), so I cannot comment on whether Sony or EA’s online mechanics are better. I can say that Sony’s online front end is quite nice though. The lag in button pressing and execution bring this game down a lot and is probably much worse than NCAA Football 2004 in that regard.
I wasn’t too impressed by the online gaming by itself, but the front end is a nice thing that could become so much better with the availability of a USB keyboard so you can type and not have to go through the “Virtual Keyboard”.