Football is one of the most difficult sports to participate in. Aside from the obvious reasons (how many of you had mothers who wouldn’t let you play?), there are several other reasons football is one tough cookie. Having played on a football team for eight years, I can tell you from experience that some people just can’t take how rough the game is. Fortunately, for you people who couldn’t join a normal team for whatever reason, EA has come through to offer you NCAA Football 2003.
Don’t worry about not being able to play football though, because NCAA Football 2003 faithfully recreates the experience in almost every way, (except you won’t smell like an ape after the game is through.) The passing game is still heavily realistic. If your quarterback isn’t the passing type, don’t count on making many passes. Similarly, if your school of choice does have a good quarterback, you can count on completing a good portion of the passes you dish out.
Thanks to pressure-sensitive buttons though, depending on how hard you press the button, the passes’ speed will change. This comes in handy when you need a hail mary to win the game, and only a rainbow pass will get the job done. The same goes for when you need a quick first-down, and only a bullet pass will suffice. The only real hitch to be found within NCAA Football’s passing game lies in long-distance passing. Many times when you go to make long-distance passes, the ball won’t go even close to the receiver you chose. In many ways this is realistic as to what happens in real life, but it sure does make it difficult to do third and fourth down conversions.
Other than passing plays, you’ll also be doing a lot of running plays. Developers of licensed football games have always been criticized of weak running games, as much more reliance is put on the passing game. To remedy this, developer Tiburon has made running plays much easier to execute. The problem about the running game is that Tiburon has made it a little too easy. Unless defenders are stacked on the defensive line, almost all of the running plays will give you at least five yards.
While it is fun to march your team into the end zone, at one point or another your opponents are going to get possession of the ball, meaning your going to have to take part in the defensive game. Although many people would agree that playing defense is far more boring than playing offense, Tiburon has done its best job to cure this. Wild plays such as blitzes are more powerful and exciting than before. No developer has ever made a really accessible way to manually control defenders sent out to block passes, and the same holds true in NCAA 2003. Oh well, maybe next year"
In between those offensive and defensive sessions you’re going to have to engage in some special teams. All plays that fall into the special teams category, (Field Goals, Punts, Kick Returns, and pretty much anything else that has to do with kicking,) are recreated thoughtfully with realism in mind. Factors like wind take great effect in kicks, and thanks to the games’ kicking meter, factors like accuracy and power will as well.
Implementing individual playbooks for each NCAA team must have been quite a task for Tiburon, and one that they almost totally succeeded at. Each school-specific menu is categorized efficiently through the game’s excellent playbook menus, and play sketches give comprehensive insight as to what you’re about to have your team do. You’ll also find that the schools’ playbooks are well oriented towards the school you’re playing as. Pass-happy teams such as the Gators have a playbook that reflects that, while running-oriented teams such as Nebraska will also have altered playbooks.
EA has always had a reputation for delivering loads of great modes in their sports titles, and NCAA 2003 is no exception. The game packs seven modes, Season Mode, Dynasty Mode, Rivalry Game, Mascot Game (what the?), Practice, Play Now and Multiplayer. The usual ones, Season and Dynasty, have been developed masterfully by Tiburon. Tiburon has done a good job recreating an entire season in Season mode, as all the normal doo-dads associated with the mode are intact. Dynasty mode follows suit, as you’ll have to deal with everything a normal team faces, as you take them through several seasons.
Rivalry and Mascot games are basically a unique diversion. Tiburon did its best to simulate the feel of a good rivalry, but it just doesn’t feel the same. Considering that the atmosphere of a rivalry game is the main draw, Rivalry Mode simply boils to nothing more than a quick game mode with a new coat of paint. Mascot game is interesting, as pretty much any person (whether they’d like to admit or not) is amused at the thought of people inside oversized animal suits tackling each other. The mode serves its purpose, as a nice diversion from the core game modes, but does little else. It should be noted to that some famous mascots are MIA, so it’s quite likely that some of you’re are going to be disappointed.
The Play Now mode is your usual quick-game mode. In a jiffy the mode allows you to set up an exhibition game featuring two teams of your choosing. The multiplayer modes basically the same thing, only that it allows to play with up to three other players. Both modes work well and serve their purpose, but unfortunately neither really try to do anything new.
What happens if you don’t want to play as a normal college team? Or how about you think the normal set of players are just too sissy for your liking? Well lucky you, because NCAA Football’s got you covered you on both fronts with Create-a-Team and Create-a-Player modes. Both modes do have a decent amount of customization options available, all though it would have been nice if Tiburon had allowed you to make your team name more than 14 characters long (especially considering the word "University" is ten characters long.)
EA has always been renowned for the stunning graphics featured in all of its sports games. Fortunately, NCAA 2003 follows suit in this category. All the player models are very detailed, making it easy for gamers to differentiate between players. Tiburon seems to have slacked off on the coaches’ player models though, as all the coaches seem to look a little too familiar. The stadium models are also very detailed, featuring everything big and small that can be found in the stadiums’ real life counterparts. Small effects, such as rain pelting player’s helmets, or the sun going down, are also done beautifully and really add to the beauty that is college football.
The game’s sound effects are another shining point to the game. The thuds of helmets smacking together, grunts from players as they get sacked from the side, all sound painfully real. The game features little music aside from the music played during the opening menus, so there really isn’t anything to evaluate in that department.
EA still has the competition in pigskin territory, both in sales and actual quality. Though EA could have easily gotten away with releasing a rehash of last years game, they tried new things. Although it’s true that what they did add (Mascot games among other things) are nothing more than diversions it’s still nice to see developers trying new things. Other than adding new, zanier modes developer Tiburon has also heavily tweaked the already stellar football gameplay. If you’re a sports game fan, and think you’d like to play as the Ducks instead of the Cowboys, then go ahead and buy this game. You won’t regret it. Promise.
Developers: EA Games
Platforms: GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox