Review by Psycho Penguin
"Everybody wants to rule the world."
Sega Sports officially become a dynasty in 2003. Let's take a look back as to one of the main reasons why, the incredible NCAA College Football 2K3.
I have always been a huge fan of college football. I feel the atmosphere of a good, solid college football game just can't be beat. I'm not biased against the NFL, don't get me wrong, but I feel there's room in my heart - and my weekend - for both. Most NCAA football games I have played have been solid, unspectacular games. That all changed the day I purchased NCAA College Football 2K3 for a measly 29.99. I found it to be one of the better video game bargains of my entire life. The game manages to be complex, fun, and have tons of options, all while maintaining the unique feeling of flavor of NCAA football. Throw in the ESPN license, amazing graphics, and spot-on music and sound effects, and Sega Sports clearly blessed us with a winner.
And yes, the graphics sure do look amazing. The player models are so accurate, it's scary. You can clearly tell everyone apart, which is helpful because of the fact that, due to NCAA rules, you cannot tell the names of the players on the field. The uniforms look so detailed, as you can see every little detail that makes the game seem incredibly realistic. The stadiums are nicely redone, but not totally perfect. Byrd Stadium, for instance, does not look nearly as good in the game as it does in real life, and the game does leave out minor details, but what it presented was awfully nice. Plus, the in-game graphics are incredibly smooth and animated, as bone crushing hits are replicated perfectly. None of that pop-up or slowdown will impact this game at all. Plus, the instant replay graphics are some of the most lifelike graphics I have yet to see in a football game.
The presentation of the game is incredible, as well. The game features the ESPN license, and despite the fact you may have heard otherwise, it uses the license very well. You are treated to a spectacular opening that combines in-game graphics with the SportsCenter look perfectly. I cannot say enough how impressed I was with this opening. There's nothing like seeing in-game graphics of wide receivers jumping high in the air to catch a ball while the ESPN song blares in the background. It really gets me pumped up for the game in ways a normal introduction couldn't. Plus, the menus are incredibly sharp, and the usage of the ESPN license during gameplay really gives the game that ''made-for-TV'' look it was gunning for. The scoreboard is done the way ESPN would, the menus are designed like the ESPN menus, etc. Everything is presented very nicely and I was totally impressed to say the least.
The music in the menus is the classic ESPN song, and I would not have had it any other way. I really love this song, as it's the same one ESPN uses to hype up their upcoming football games during pre-game shows, and I felt it fit in perfectly with the introduction and the menu selection screen. The music in-game is infrequent yet still well done: the schools marching bands are represented here, and they play their school's marching song from time to time. Very nicely done. Accompanying the marching bands is a commentator who will never get on your nerves. You'll barely ever hear him, in fact, because the game features no commentary, just a PA announcer who talks once in a while to the fans. You are free to concentrate on the game, and while some may mourn the lack of a commentary team, I felt the game was better suited without one, and commentary is usually pretty poor, anyways.
When I first picked up the instruction manual, I thought the controls were going to be incredibly hard to learn and get used to. They seemed very complex and hard to get into. Fortunately, I could not have been more wrong. The menus are easy enough to navigate, as you may expect. When you get into the game itself, you have two groups to control, as usual: offense and defense. Controlling the offense is simple enough: you select a play, and then you run it. You press the X button to snap the ball, and then you can throw the ball or run it, depending on what play you selected. You also get options to do moves like spin and stiff-arm, which can prove to be very effective. Controlling the defense is a tad tougher, because it's sometimes hard to change players on the fly, but once you get used to it, you will find yourself having little difficulty. I was throughouly impressed with the controls.
Plus, the in-game system is incredibly deep, more so than I would have expected. Turning Maximum Passing on, for instance, opens up a whole new world of gameplay. For one, you get several different types of pass plays, ranging from bootleg to the classic dropback. When you pass the ball, you now have to make sure the receiver catches it. No longer will you just stand there and hope he catches it, you now have to insure a better accuracy by controlling the receiver. You don't actually control him, but you will see three icons come up, and you have to land on either of the 3 spots. The 3 spots indicate the 3 spots where the ball could land, yellow being perfect, green meaning short, red meaning long, meaning you'll have to jump to get to those. Plus, the defender will impact your decision, so catching definitely becomes a rewarding experience once you are successful.
That's what I loved about NCAA Football 2K3 most: the game actually makes you feel rewarded at the end. You now get options to do everything. No longer will you have to rely on a computer to complete passes for you. You can take control of your entire team and lead them to victory while relying on the computer very little. You can even control defense in 1-on-1 situation the way you would an offensive situation, so winning 1-on-1 battles is another way the game makes you feel rewarded for your hard work. Of course, you could lose the battle, and the game, and then you will feel the pain and agony teams feel when they lose close games. The game really does an incredible job of simulating football, and makes you feel like you have to earn what you get. Of course, you can turn the modes off and play normally, which can be just as fun, just less rewarding overall.
Of course, the basic system works just as well as it always has: you get a playbook, and you select plays from it. The defense (or offense) selects their play, and then you work the play out. You have an option to turn a bunch of things off, ranging from penalties to game speed, and you can also change the weather before a game if you wish. Plus, controlling the defense has never been easier. One of the major complaints about sports games, and football games in general, is how hard it is to play defense. Tackling can sometimes prove to be a major concern in football games, but NCAA 2K3 simulates the lost art pretty accurately. Sure, you will occasionally miss a tackle you thought you had, but that's life. You can try to force fumbles, which won't be as effective for tackling, or you can go for a leg tackle, which can be jumped or powered out of, or you can go for a body tackle, which can be countered with a powerful stiff-arm. The game recreates tackling perfectly.
Accompanying the great and deep in-game system is a variety of great modes. You get all the classic game modes, ranging from season to exhibition. I love taking my Maryland Terps through a season and then having them go undefeated. Of course, the SCS (Sega's version of the BCS) likes to screw me and place me 3rd despite my undefeated record and 34-13 win over the #6 team in the country, but that's life, I guess. The game does do an incredible job of simulating real life college football, like I said. Anyways, the season mode is great, because you also can worry about getting the Heisman Trophy for one of your players, although I have yet to do so. My guy had 3,000 rushing yards and 56 TDs in one year, so I don't know what it takes. Despite these minor flaws, I really he season mode in this game, but the fact it's still not perfect.
In addition to the season mode, Sega Sports also included a Legacy Mode. Instead of going through mainly one season with a team already customized ahead of time, now you take control of a team and build it from the ground up. Your job ranges from recruiting new players to designing training programs that make these prospects into tough young football players. First, you create a program, then you have to join a conference. Once you choose these basic features, you then can go more in-depth. I really loved this idea, as now I could go incredibly in-depth and feel like I was actually running my own team. Correct me if I'm wrong (And I'm sure someone will, Mr. ROTD, oh wait you're not actually reading this review, are you?) but this is the first game where you could create training programs to make your athletes better. It's a completely novel idea that I felt was executed as perfectly as a new idea could have been.
It's modes like Legacy Mode and the overall gameplay and design of the game that will keep you hooked to NCAA 2K3 for weeks. Sure, it's not going to change your life forever if you're a non-NCAA fan, but for fans of the sport, there's no better choice out there. You will find yourself enamored in all the choices and game modes you can find. Legacy Mode consumed weeks of my life alone, and that's before I even got into the Season Mode, where I tried to lead my beloved Terps to the national championship (and got robbed, but bah to that, just makes me want to work harder). There is so much to do in the game, and the game is so much fun, that there's no doubt in my mind that it is one of the most replayable sports games ever created. Of course, you should be a football fan to check this one out, and if you are all, then see you in 6 weeks! :)
The challenge level is what you'd expect it to be from a sports game: the harder you want it to be, the harder it will be. On rookie level, the game is beyond easy, especially on season mode, where your team will usually have to face minor teams at first. Nothing struck more fear into me than playing vs. the Akron Zips on my home field on the rookie challenge level, for instance. However, turning the challenge level up to pro made that game a whole lot tougher, and one I barely squaked out. A thing I loved about the challenge level is that the game will never resort to cheating. Some football games will intercept the ball and make you fumble when a fumble would kill you, but fortunately this game relies more on smart AI and specially planned defenses and offenses than a mere cheating computer, and I for one welcomed the challenge.
Here you have it folks, the most complete college football game ever released. Sega Sports really outdid themselves with what I believe to be their first college football game. If it was, it sure was one hell of an effort! The game is fun, deep, and incredibly complex. I loved everything about it, from the great graphics to the awesome sound effects. Everything was accurately represented, without taking away the magic and unique feeling of what makes the game so fun. Plus, there's tons of modes to choose from, and the new Legacy Mode is really something that has to be played through to believed. I am impressed as hell with this version and cannot wait to see the improvements Sega Sports made for 2K4, because there really were very little flaws with this one, and if the next one is even better, then watch out...
I don't believe in God, but if there is one, he works for Sega Sports.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 06/26/03, Updated 06/26/03
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