Thursday, July 15, 2004

NCAA For the Last Time

For the last two years, NCAA disappointed at first, but then grew on me. It was always greater than the sum of its parts. This year, after about ten hours of play, I've come to the opposite conclusion. This year, NCAA is less than the sum of its parts. Much less.

On paper, this should be the best football game ever made. College atmosphere. Recruiting. The polls. Bowl games. Wide variations in team skills, making it possible to always find a challenging matchup. The best announcing in a sports game. Most importantly, the finest audio atmosphere, by far, I've ever heard in a sports game. You could start a game, close your eyes, and you would absolutely believe that you were listening to a college football game.

If you just didn't have to play it.

I know I'm in the minority here, but for me the gameplay is oatmeal bland. Boring. When I play a game with seven-minute quarters it's like a sentence. Players move slowly, plays develop slowly. And make no mistake, this looks like like absolute ass in 480p mode compared to most other sports games. I think it actually looks worse than last year. Terrible, muddy use of color. Very poor lighting. In widescreen mode, the camera is pulled back so that you can see the entire field. That's great, but then the camera pulls back AGAIN if you're passing. Wait, you can already see the whole field--why pull back again? When you do, you're throwing to ants. It's totally illogical, and this is the third consecutive year that it's been that way.

I haven't even started focusing on the A.I., and I won't because I'm done with this game, but Bill Abner found a huge flaw which he's described here: If problems like this are found in the first few days, it's a safe bet that they're not isolated. I roasted ESPN last year because of extremely weak two-minute A.I., and problems with A.I. are game killers for me when it comes to sports games. I can stand an alien from Planet X acting stupid, generally, but not a cornerback from USC.

This game will win a ton of Game of the Year awards. I have no idea how anyone could enjoy the on-field play this year, because it is deadly dull, but I see people raving about it in different sports forums. Lucky for them, because if you like the on-field action, this is definitely a hundred hour game.

For whatever reason, this game peaked two years ago in terms of playability and graphics. It looks significantly worse than Madden did last year, and I'm sure Madden will look even better this time. That's what competition does. So this game is going back on the shelf, and I very much hope that ESPN can live up to its potential.

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