Review by mrolympia

"A few development weeks short of greatness"

Many of us, myself included, live and breathe college football. I look forward to every new NCAA title like I look forward to the upcoming football season, which is the highlight of the year for me. From September until the first week of January I spend my Saturday's cheering on my favorite team. I get irate when someone makes a stupid play and am filled with joy when a player makes a big play. While gaming magazine writers may consider this game to be "something to hold you over until madden comes out", many of the people who buy this game know better. We could care less that the Cowboys cut Quincy Carter, but we care a lot that Marcus Vick got suspended. We'd skip our sister's own wedding to watch our school's rivalry game. This is the reason why NCAA 2005 is a let down. Given a few more weeks, this would've been a great game. Instead, it's full of bugs, glitches, game freezes, disk read errors, and frustrating pass defense AI.

Game options: 9

it offers many of the same options as last year. Classic games return, with some new ones added as well. There are more all time teams also. The real joy of this game is dynasty mode, more D1-AA teams as well. You can even create your own sign, although this novelty wears off after seeing it a few dozen times. Most of the stuff relates to the game play so I'll add that there.

Graphics: 8.5

they've steadily improved each year, this year is no different. The stadiums look better now. As do the grass texture. The players get grass stains on their jerseys as the game progresses. Some say the graphics look "grainy", I personally think they're fine. Compared to other football games, the graphics in NCAA are pretty darn good.

Sound: 8

Contrary to what people have written, there has been a decent amount of new dialogue this year. People have been saying that there is none or very little, that is just not true. There is, unfortunately, annoying dialogue. Beat your rival on the road by 50 points and you'll see what I mean. The songs remain unchanged from last year do don't expect a lot there. The other sounds (the hitting sounds, cannon sounds, crowd sounds) have all improved. I'd give this category a higher score if it weren't for the rivalry blowout dialogue.

Control: 7

it's pretty good for the most part. The players still feel like they're running on a frictionless surface at times but they've added in a new "momentum" system. If you run the ball and you move your guy right or left he'll do little juke moves. If you run then turn in the opposite direction, your guy will put his hand on the ground to keep his balance. Little touches like this are nice. You also have a "big hit" button on defense. If you, as a defender, want to go for a big hit on defense then you need to hit the guy straight on and push the L2 button right before contact. If you get a glancing blow you'll either just do a normal tackle or miss. Getting big hits is satisfying, plus is makes the ball carrier fumble more and get demoralized. More of that stuff later as well.

What is not nice is the lack of control during the passing phase of the game. The defensive pass AI is insane. It seems that every linebacker and d-back in the game has ESP, which gives them the ability to leap 10 feet in the air blindly and knock the ball away. Even if they were facing away from the play the whole time, they magically know where the ball is at all times. This can be frustrating as you imagine. To make matters worse, your wideouts tend to drop a very large number of balls, even players that have a catch rating in the 90's. This forces you to choose between a 40% completion rating or taking control of the wideout on every single pass. Personally I believe that if I throw it to the right spot and if my wideout is able to catch the ball, then the computer AI should make the catch most of the time, not drop a good percentage of them. For an example, I had a WR with a catch rating of 88. He ended the year with 58 receptions and 22 drops. This is highly unrealistic. You probably won't even see middle schoolers drop 1/3rd their passes, let alone 1st team all-americans.

Gameplay: 8.5

They added a bunch of good things this year. Things like the "big hit" button, the matchup stick, home field advantage, player discipline, probation, new recruiting system, transfers, just to name a few things. With the matchup stick, you can see where you have an advantage in the backfield, in the secondary, or on the line. It's a nice feature, but not terribly useful. Home field advantage in college football is huge, and it is in the game also. On defense, you can pump up the crowd making it harder for the offense to audible, call hot routes, and if they're in the shotgun, snap the ball (the QB has to lift his leg which lets you know exactly when the ball will be snapped.......quite useful). Hostile environments will rattle underclassmen (more on that later).

Yes, players can get rattled. Playing talented true freshmen over less talented 5th year seniors may come back to haunt you when you face your rival on the road. The freshman may choke but the senior will come through in a key situation. You may be temped to play all your seniors and keep those freshmen on the bench but if they were 5 star recruits they may transfer on you. Some starters may transfer as well for unknown reasons. You also have to discipline players this year. When a player gets in trouble, you'll get a notice saying what the player did (ranging from messing around in a workout to things like being convicted of fraud), his overall "discipline" level, how many times he's been in trouble, and the NCAA's interest in your program. You may want to suspend a thug longer than a good player so he learns his lesson. Also, if you have a repeat offender, suspending him longer may help him learn his lesson. You don't have to suspend anyone, but the NCAA may put you on probation. Loss of scholarships and bowl games hurts way more than losing your star player for a couple of games. Keep in mind, you only have a certain number of "discipline points". The harsher the punishment, the more discipline points it costs. If you run out, that's it. Speaking of points, when you get to the end of the season you have to decide how many points to allocate towards recruiting, training, and discipline. spend too few or too many in each area and suffer the consequences of poor budgeting.

Recruiting is a little different but follows the same basic principle. Guys farther away cost more to recruit than in state or border state guys. Instead of the visit/call options last year, now you just choose the number of points to allocate to the player and the recruiting pitch. You can also scout players, but it is very expensive to do so, but it does give you info that you couldn't see any other way (like a player's character and potential). You can easily spend your weeks budget just scouting. Pipeline recruiting makes its debut too. The recruiting map shows how many players you have from each state. You'll have better luck getting players from a state that you have ties to than a state that you haven't recruited from before. Athletes are a nice addition. Instead of just recruiting a corner back, an athlete can play corner, wideout, saftey, halfback, whatever. Some of the games best players are athletes so don't think this is a wasted addition. You have a 70 man roster this year so don't be afraid to take on a few "project" players.

As far as on the field game play, first off the running game is much improved. If you're one of those "hold down the sprint button" players, change your game. You have to wait until the linemen open holes for you then follow them. Mashing down the sprint won't get you far. Wait until you see a hole then sprint through it. The run blocking AI is by far the best of the series. The same can't be said for the passing AI. You need to be standing still to throw accurately. This isn't a bad thing since it's realistic, however college QB's can complete a 10 yard pass on the run most of the time. The ball also takes FOREVER to travel through the air, making it easy for the defense to knock it down (which will happen frequently). I'm not saying they should go to madden style of laser beam passing but a happy medium would be nice. I've covered the fact that the wideouts drop 1/3rd of the passes. The computer plays a lot of zone this year too. Not that it's a bad thing though since zone defenses are part of football. There are also a couple new defensive formations this year. The 3-3-5 and the 4-2-5. They are basically fancy nickel packages with the safeties closer to the line.

now the ugly part, the glitches. If you have an old PS2 then your system may have trouble reading the disk. Cleaning the lense helps, or just send your PS2 back to Sony and have them fix it up. Unfortunately, there are a lot of game freezes also. The last time I remember there being game freezes in an NCAA game it was on the PS1, and that was only when you changed the schedule. The PS2 era NCAA games have been relatively free of bugs, so why is the 4th installment of NCAA on the PS2 loaded with them? Simulating games and going through the recruiting process, and just looking at your stats for the year, is plagued by painfully slow load times. It just shouldn't happen.

Replay Value: 9.5

You'll be playing the dynasty mode for a long time to come, much like every other NCAA game. If you get bored, take over a bad program and see if you can build them into a national powerhouse. You can also try and beat the classic challenges as well. You can also take your game online and battle the people who use cheesy tactics the whole game, or just play your friends in your own home. Either way, you'll be playing this game for many months to come.

Overall: 8

despite all that's been added and the huge replay value this game has, I can't give it any more than an 8. Why? Because of all the bugs in this game. Bugs they could've fixed with a few more weeks in development. Disc read Errors, game freezes, annoying glitches and bugs simply shouldn't happen when the developers have been working with the PS2 for this long. This, along with the psychic pass defense knocks the score down a couple of pegs. If EA spends the proper time getting rid of these bugs for next year (even if it does take away some of Madden's thunder, heaven forbid), I'll be able to score NCAA 2006 higher. Until then, I'll have to question if the quality of EA's workmanship is going down because they are simply getting too big for their own good.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/07/04

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