NCAA Football 2004 Review

For many people NCAA Football 2003 was simply the best sports game that came out last year. I tend to agree with that even though Madden 2003 had a lot of cool new things in it. I put tons of hours into NCAA Football 2003, way more than I ever put into Madden 2003. I had to have gone through multiple dynasties and taken my beloved Minnesota Golden Gophers to the National Title on several occasions. Now it’s 2004 and football season is right around the corner. NCAA Football 2004 is once again the first football game out of the starting gate. Is this year’s game as good or better as last years? Yes and no, but I will get into that in the main portion.

I guess this is not so well known, but every NCAA Football game that comes out is based upon a refined version of the engine from the previous year’s Madden. Since the latter saw an improvement in the facial graphics and overall body/motion graphics, NCAA Football gets that upgrade this year. In almost every way the graphics are better this year. The players move more smoothly, the graphics look somewhat sharper after taking some comparisons between my copies of 2003 and 2004. Everyone seems to have more moves and even the audience graphics are better than they usually are.

One of the bigger additions this year are new tackling animations and that they look more realistic than last year. The defensive player often wraps up the offensive player, which makes it look far more realistic in my opinion.

The slowdown is still apparant, even on the Xbox version. The slowdown only happens when running up the middle usually. I still have no clue why they haven’t fixed this after so many years. I can understand this game being built on the PS2 and ported over to the other 2 systems, but come on. This shouldn’t be happening nowadays from my perspective.

Good and bad in this category. The good is that all the fight songs seem to be here and the crowd gets louder or quieter depending on what happens. The odd thing with the crowds is that they are still loud even when you are blowing out the home team by a wide margin. They should be pretty quiet at that point, don’t you think? The quietness doesn’t come until late in the 4th quarter when the seats become empty.

The problem in this category stems from the fact that sometimes the commentary can be drowned out by the sounds of the game even when both sliders are at the same level. To be honest I would rather hear from the announcers than have the crowd drown them out. This is just a personal preference though.

The control is as tight as ever with one major change from last year…the movement of the lateral button from a trigger button to the black button. Other than that, most of the controls are the same as they have been. The lateral one is tough to get accustomed to, but after several games I have gotten used to it. Of course now I cannot go back to NCAA Football 2003 because I will want to hit the black button to lateral.

The gameplay for the most part has improved this year. Here are some things that are easily notable: defensive backfield covers better (a Madden 2003 enhancement), it’s not as difficult to get a sack as last year, there is now a real fake-out in play action situations (the camera moves with the running back, fooling you into thinking he has the ball) and that you have to work harder to get your yards. I had a tougher time running the ball this year (especially on options) than I remember having last year, which is a good thing. Another thing that is improved, but still a problem, is dropped passes by receivers. It does not happen as often, but it still happens even when the receiver is wide open.

I’d have to say the biggest improvement is the defensive backfield. I now seem to have more control over them when the ball goes into the air. I can swat at the ball or jump up to block it more easily and the defensive backs don’t seem to be as clueless as last year. The only detriment in this is the fact that there seems to be more interceptions, but then again the defense is far more dynamic and you have the option of leading your receivers when you pass to them on offense.

The meat of this game, as in years previous, is the Dynasty mode. EA Tiburon has refined the Dynasty mode this year into a more robust system. Your coach now has contracts and goals he needs to obtain to continue to coach the program. Recruiting has been refined in the fact that you can now give points to keeping your own players around for another year and not dart for the pros. As you progress through the years of Dynasty you may also be given invites to new conferences that you can accept or decline as well as many other things.

Another cool addition is Sports Illustrated covers. Once you apply a roster file to the game so that all your players have the correct name (Action Replay needed to do this on Xbox) the covers and other stories become better. Instead of “#17 leads (Team) to victory” it’s “Johnson leads (Team) to victory”. It gives you a more personal feeling to it. The only way to skip past the numbers game is to simulate dynasty through 4 years, by then only players with realistic names will be around. You will also get realistic names as you go through the recruiting season after your first year.

I found the Top 25 listing to be much more stringent. No longer could I fix my preseason schedule with Top 25 teams and vault to #1 before my conference season began. No, my Minnesota Golden Gophers sat at #4 for many weeks before finally going up to #2. Ohio State did not play the Gophers, so they stayed at #1 for the whole season. Last year I would play high seeds and go directly from a non-seed to #1 after about the 2nd or 3rd week.

One of the only problems I had in Dynasty is that it seemed to take longer to simulate a week than it did last year. The Xbox seemed to pause every once in a while as it was going through the games. I honestly don’t remember that in NCAA Football 2003, but it might have been there.

There’s just a lot of gameplay in this game. Dynasty mode in itself will take up a lot of your time. You also have Classic Matches to choose from, but these can get rather hard. The first one (BYU vs. SMU) is highly difficult as you have little time to repeat BYU’s amazing comeback to win that game. The others range from somewhat easy to very difficult.

This game is also the first one to implement EA Sports Bio, something new from them this year. When you play any EA Sports title with the Bio in it (NCAA, Madden, NHL, Tiger Woods, etc.) you will unlock things in other games you own. It seems very time and milestone based, but it is pretty cool for those of us that pick up most of the EA Sports lineup.

This game will take as long as you want to give it. You want to do 10+ seasons of Dyansty? Go at it. You want to take on the Classic Challenges (which are hard, especially the first one)? Go for it. You want to just run your team, but not play any games? You can do that too. This game, much like the years before it, is always worth $50 even though many see each year’s version as only a slight upgrade to the last one. This year they have added more things and made the Dynasty section more robust.

One of the minuses of the Xbox and GameCube versions are that they do not have the online play of the PS2 version. People fly different accusations toward Microsoft and Electronic Arts over whose fault it is that this game is not on Xbox Live. The same thing will come again with Madden 2004 and most of the rest of the EA Sports lineup for the rest of the sports season. It’s just a sad fact and we have to look elsewhere for our online playing, such as the upcoming ESPN NFL Football from Sega. This is the major minus the Xbox version has, but I can overlook it.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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