Review by Psycho Penguin
"This game should come with a 12-page booklet on how to stop playing it."
I am a huge college football fan. It is one of my main passions, and when the season is around, I am into the sport big time. The most surprising part about this is, I never played a NCAA Football game until last year. Well, I did play NCAA 2K3 by Sega Sports, and while I loved it, it did have some basic flaws. I saw NCAA Football 2004 in a store one day, and saw that it had online play. Online play?!? You mean I can go online and play against other people from around the country? What an awesome idea! So, I took the game home and played it.
My EA Sports Bio says I've played the game for a total of 12 days and 19 hours, but it's probably been more than that. This is the most addicting game I have ever played. As a EGM reviewer once said, "This game should come with a 12-page booklet on how to stop playing it." It's true. Everything a true college football fan would want in a game is replicated perfectly in this game, and despite the online glitches bogging down that fun aspect of the game, everything else is pure gold and represents EA's finest effort yet. And that's saying something.
First off, the graphics. They are absolutely amazing and easily better than 2003's decent but uninspired effort. The players move so much better this time. There is a natural movement about them that I have never seen before, as they don't move like robots any more. Plus, the field graphics themselves are top notch. Everything is so finely detailed that you can point out such minute things like the pride stickers on the back of Utah's helmets. The crowd effects are nice, if not a little plain (they do tend to go nuts for no reason whatsoever too often), but that's something I think us sports fans are pretty much used to.
Sadly, the sound didn't get as big an upgrade as the graphics did. Look, half the commentary from 2004 is the same as 2003. Plus, the new commentary is lackluster at best. Kirk Hirbstreit is a much better analyst than he seems to be in this game, and Lee Corso's tired jokes and wisecracks get old by the second or third game. "Forget about it, this kid can kick it from sixty yards.. or further!" after I kick a 39 yard field goal barely is just one of the numerous examples that I can think of. The music is just your basic school fight songs, I wish EA would put real music in this game like they do in other sports games. I do like Maryland's fight song but it's annoying to hear it every time I turn the game on.
Gameplay is where NCAA Football 2004 really shines through. There's so many modes, it's hard to keep track of them al. Dynasty is the real bread and butter of the gameplay, though. You are a coach, and you can sign a contract with a team. Once there, the program gives you goals to accomplish. Your mission is to control your team, and make them accomplish the goals. This is accomplished by winning games on the field and having direct control of the program off the field. For instance, once you complete a season, you can recruit new players to come and play for your team. How cool is that? This is easily the best feature in the game.
If dynasty mode is the bread and butter, then online play is the fine wine that goes with it. I loved online play, despite the 40,000 glitches and fake people out there. Online play is now dead in this game, as you can only play it in NCAA Football 2005, but there were few things more addicting to me than NCAA Football 2004 online. RIP.
In addition to these modes, you also get basic modes like exhibition, create a school, and more. I loved creating a school, as you get to do everything from designing the stadium to designing their uniforms. It was a whole lot of fun to design everything, and the game really gives you an astounding amount of options. Campus challenge was another good addition, as you get points for fufilling certain goals during offline games. You then use these points to buy pennants, which unlock cheats and secret teams. I loved doing campus challenge, and it's another thing that made this game so damn addicting.
College classics was another fantastic addition, as you could recreate classic college moments from the past. Can you guide a team from two touchdowns back with 2 minutes to go? Can you throw a hail mary to win a game? Are you a clutch kicker? The game tests you in a variety of ways, and each one offers an unique and fun challenge. Sadly, some of them were way harder than others, which led to an unfair balance. One was nearly impossible to complete unless you were really good at onside kicks. Regardless, it did lead to some fun, if not frustrating, experiences.
The game of college football itself is perfectly replicated on the field. Each team has their own unique playbook which fits their play style perfectly. Florida has their run and gun spread shotgun formations, while Nebraska has 10,000 option plays. Option plays are a lot of fun to run in this game, as are pretty much any other plays. Those of us who love college football will find very little to complain about when it comes to the on-field gameplay in NCAA 2004.
Of course, none of this would matter if NCAA 2004 had crappy controls, but thankfully it doesn't. On the contrary, the controls are quite good. It's easy to run plays, like options. For instance, on an option, you can run, push L2 to fake a pitch, or R2 to pitch the ball. You get moves like spins and jukes to fool the opponent, and you can call hot routes and audibles at the line with the push of a button. On defense, you can audible, swat balls, strip the opponent of the ball, and more. The controls are really dead-on, and in over 12 days of gameplay I never had ONE SINGLE problem.
The game certainly offers a decent challenge, but only on Heisman difficulty. Once you get accustomed to the gameplay, this is the only mode to play on, and with sliders impacting how well your computer controlled team does, in addition to how well the computer AI reacts to you, you can get the perfect challenge, no matter how good you are at the game. Of course, the computer does react a little TOO well sometimes. I hate having them hog one side of the field when I plan to run to that side, so I call an audible to the other side and the computer magically runs to the other side as well. Oh well. Makes the game tougher, I guess.
Replay value, what can I say. I logged tons of hours into this game, and rightfully so. Despite the fact NCAA 2005 is now out, you'll still find a lot to love in this game. College classics, campus challenge, dynasty, create a team, this game has it all and more.
If you can live without online play (I can't), NCAA 2004 is actually superior to the latest edition in every area. Games are challenging without having your receivers drop everything. Home field advantage was a lame gimmick, and it's a little easier to play offense in this one. 2005 also didn't have too many game mode additions. If you're a college football nut, you can do far worse than this game. This is the best game I have ever played, and easily my favorite. It's too bad they didn't keep the online servers up, but I guess then no one would buy 2005. That's how good this game is.
Hopefully EA gets their act together with NCAA Football 2006, because they don't have to focus so much on Madden. They know what they're doing with NCAA, and this game proves it. Don't let me down, EA.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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