Review: NCAA GameBreaker 2004 (PS2)

NCAA GameBreaker 2004
System: Playstation 2
Genre: Sports — Football
Release Date: August 26, 2002
Publisher/Developer: 989 Sports/Sony
Official Web Site

Like all great college dynasties of the past, there comes a time when the program must rebuild, take a few years out of the national scene, and gradually bring their program back up to the national standard. It happened to Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Alabama, and in the video game world it happened to 989 Sports. The once mighty GameBreaker and GameDay Franchises were quite possibly the best football games on the PlayStation console, even edging out the almighty Madden in the court of public opinion to some people.

Unfortunately, the success of GameDay and GameBreaker didn’t quite make the jump when the more powerful Playstation 2 console was released. The below average graphics and overall feel of the PS2 versions of the franchises just weren’t up to the standard that the likes of Madden and Sega’s 2K franchise brought to the table. It seemed as if the 989 franchise was headed to a slow extinction in the world of sports games.

As Lee Corso would say”¦”Not so fast, my friend.”

This past May at E3, 989 Sports unveiled not the death of their sports franchises, but rather a brand new look, feel, and innovative new online features. Although the new promised features were not included in GameBreaker, just the promise had me actually excited for a college football game other than NCAA Football. Finally the time has arrived, and GameBreaker shows vast improvements, but still not quite the muscle to move to the powerhouse department just yet.

Gameplay

Gamebreaker uses basic run-of-the-mill controls you’ll find in just about every football game. The X button handles your main options, Square audibles, Circle does the fake, in other words, Gamebreaker uses your basic Madden controls. 989 does however, add a new step with their innovative “VR Commands”. If you own a USB headset, which all SOCOM owners have in their possession, or those who are willing to spring for a third-party headset can get in on the action using simply their voice! Pressing the “R2″ button during a game turns the VR on, allowing you to speak a certain list of commands, which in turn change the way you play the game. Among the VR option are audibles, the ability to send a player in motion, calling timeouts, and even snapping the ball.

The VR commands are a great new concept, but like all first year ideas still could use a bit of polishing. For instance, calling an audible requires you to press R2, followed by speaking “Activate audibles green triangle” as an example. Is it REALLY necessary to say all that, when you can simply push square and triangle to get the job done? Probably not, but when you want to call a timeout, simply pressing R2 and saying “Ref Timeout” saves you the trouble of pausing the game and selecting the option. Reducing some words, especially the audibles, and possibly adding the ability to say an actual play to audible would be a fantastic idea to add to the concept for next season.

The basic controls are about what you’d expect, although a slight delay can cause more sacks and interceptions than may actually be necessary. The beloved option play isn’t quite as sharp and effective as it was on the old PSX days, when the L1 & R1 buttons handled the pitch and pitch direction. Like EA, 989 has converted to the R2 button, which is also the voice command button and at times can provide confusion as well.

Switching to “Total Control” helps to eliminate the problem, and the TC option has been a great feature to the GameBreaker franchise since the beginning. The pressure-sensitivity is EXTREMELY sensitive, with the harder you press, the harder the ball is thrown. The Defensive Backs seem to go to the ball very quickly, and simply tapping the pass will seem to float the ball forever, causing either an interception or seemingly slow motion floating play that becomes very unrealistic.

Overall, the general flow of the game is on the slower side, so those of you playing EA’s NCAA Football 2004 will especially notice the change immediately after starting the game. Once you’ve played a few quarters, or possibly games, the speed doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue, although a quicker pace for next season would be appreciated. Game-breaking plays (the pun is intentional) seem to come much more often than its lone opponent (NCAA 2004), with long runs for touchdowns and long passes actually being caught at a fairly high rate.

In the end, the game play in GameBreaker is definitely heading in the right direction, although the general controls and pace could definitely use some time in training camp before next season.

Graphics

The stadium and player models have finally seemed to arrive to the PS2-graphics caliber, although other portions of the game still seem to be stuck in the PSOne. The stadiums are extremely detailed, and the actual fields are colorful and detailed enough to quite possibly be *gasp* BETTER, than any other football game I’ve seen on the PS2 thus far. The player models are also well done, with each individual lineman looking like a lineman, and a normal 6’2″ 225 lb. Quarterback looking like an ACTUAL Quarterback!

Unfortunately, not all of the graphical upgrades could make it to the party. The uniforms look painted on and outdated, with the numbers looking larger than average and a complete absence of names or even numbers on the backs of the jerseys. The helmets look proportional, but still cartoon-y in the graphics department. During game action, the circles and lettering underneath the players are a little too big, and detract from the previously mentioned beautiful field turf. The in-game menus could also use a serious upgrade to a new layout as well.
Other than the uniforms and menus, the graphics are finally starting to head to the PS2 level. Gamebreaker’s older brother GameDay looks superior to the college version, so simply using the NFL version on the kid brother could be enough to make GameBreaker look like a fully-licensed Playstation 2 graphic caliber game come next season.

Sound

The commentary features the legendary Keith Jackson, who includes a pre-game speech prior to each matchup, before taking a seemingly unfamiliar spot in the booth — color commentator. As a long time college football fan, I found it strange to hear another announcer taking the brunt of the play calling duties, while Jackson is the quieter one who only chips in with comments every once and awhile. The OTHER guy does do a pretty good job, and the overall commentary isn’t much to complain about. EA’s use of saying actual player last names if you input them is still my all time favorite commentary feature, and sadly that feature does not seem to appear in the game.

The sound portion of GameBreaker that frustrates me is the below average fight song music! Playing as my school, the legendary Nebraska dynasty, I expect to hear the Husker fight song after scoring a touchdown! Unfortunately, I do believe I once heard the Texas fight song at one point, or another obscure song that I couldn’t even recognize. Getting the appropriate fight songs in there, at the right times is another thing that could be added on for next season, although if you look hard, you may just hear your fight song in certain in game menus, and even during the game sometimes — but not as frequent as I at least would like to hear.

Fun Factor

989SportsOnline.com is Sony’s answer to Microsoft’s XSN Sports, and does a nice job in its debut effort. The online game rooms are simple to master and actually feature real-time scores of actual games playing as you’re in the room! Message boards, chat rooms, and tournament options are all available, both online and on your Playstation 2 as well as via the web site on your PC. Xbox Live’s online service has always emphasized building friendships and rivals, and with 989SportsOnline, Sony finally has an alternative with its first-party sports games.

The online play gives you some replay, especially once you tire of the Dynasty mode. While a solid effort spanning seemingly endless years, the mode just doesn’t quite have the pop to keep you interested for too many seasons, as it is far too text-based and not enough hands on. For those determined to create a dynasty, GameBreaker does give you a Create-A-School option, that may be more fun than taking over as say — Miami—where dominance is fairly easy to attain. Overall, GameBreaker provides enough features an online play to keep you addicted if you enjoy the overall play of the game.

Ratings
Gameplay: 7.5
Graphics: 7.0
Sound: 6.5
Fun Factor: 8.0