While there are a flood of NFL football games on the
market, the college game hasnít been simulated with as much fervor. Only a
couple titles each year cover these leagues, which is a shame since thereís so
many teams and programs. Stepping into the breach, NCAA GameBreaker does a good
job of recreating the excitement and intensity of those Fall games. While the
presentation isnít perfect, this is compensated for by excellent play
mechanics and thet deliver an accurate feel of the college game. All of the
major teams are here, including Notre Dame, Florida and my favorite, UCONN.
Accurate representations of famous College fields and even the big Bowl stadiums
are included, adding more realism and authenticity. You can check your progress
each week in the national ranking charts, and can also win the awards such as
the Heisman Trophy and if your QB is gifted enough. There are several awards to
shoot for in the game including several coaching awards and other rewards.
Off the field, GameBreaker offers a comprehensive back-end which allows you to play a deeper, more cerebral game. You can trade players, and recruit potential stars from High School and Junior College level, which adds to the realism, especially if youíre playing through multiple seasons. You can also use the player-edit mode to create your own team and save them for later use. As an added bonus, you can then import these players in 989ís GameDay 2003 title which is pretty cool if you own both. As the coach, you can also make decisions about assistants and players, making it easier to build a solid lineup, and adding more depth to the game. While the individual matches are exciting, the real fun comes in following the team for an entire semester, or even watch a schoolís program develop over several years. You can play a full season of games, adjusting your rosters and players as you see fit. A complete list of each weekís schedule is displayed before each game, so you know what the other teams in the league are up to and can also track potential opponents. Thereís a huge reward for doing well, which is playing in the coveted Bowl games at the end of the season, though reaching this exalted spot wonít be easy.
In addition to playing through the games normally, GameBreakerís most interesting mode allows you to take on the responsibilities of a coach and build your way up from an assistant special teams coach at a small school all the way up to heading a large nationally-known program. You have complete control over all aspects of the game, both on and off the field. You can set the playbooks, creating your own moves at will. Another task you have is to recruit players, hire assistants and change your strategies on the fly as you move up the ranks. Success or failure in this mode depends on your knowledge and skill and it isnít as easy as it seems. Itís well done and this is an interesting mode of play and offers a nice change of pace from the usual football game.
GameBreaker has a decent menu-system thatís easy to understand is a definite improvement over last yearís edition, allowing for more flexibility and easier navigation. The game plays smooth and fast because GameBreakerís on-field controls are responsive and fluid. One cool addition this year, is the addition of what are called "Hot Paths." After youíre done calling a play in the huddle, you can switch strategies to throw your opponents off balance. You select which of your receivers you want to deviate from the plan and then create a "hot-path" down the field that allow you to run your receivers in a different direction from the standard plan. Hot paths add a lot of strategy to the game, but also make it harder to anticipate what the compute controlled teams will do. The controls feel very nice and are quite responsive to the playerís commands allowing you to tackle, run, and juke around the field with ease. The PS2 controller is particularly well-suited to a gane like this and we found the button placement and configuration easy to understand.
One of the most noticeable changes in this yearís edition is that GameBreaker 2003 sports a new graphics engine. There are vastly improved character models and a more dynamic feel with more than 500 new animations for running, tackling, catching and throwing which adds to the excitement. GameBreaker has also implemented a two-man announcing booth for the first time, with the legendary Keith Jackson joined by popular analyst Tim Brant. Despite some noticeable improvements, it still falls behind some of its competition, which is especially disappointing considering the improvements seen in 989ís GameDay title.. Even though it looks great in close-ups, the onscreen action can seem a bit blurry when you zoom out, making it hard to tell your players apart. The biggest problem is that the camera angles, make it difficult to spot and locate your players downfield. Luckily, you can compensate for this by selecting different angles and adjusting. Still, itís not as smooth as one would expect, though itís not enough to completely wreck the experience.
In the end, itís a mixed bag for 989ís college game. Itís a big improvement from last yearís edition but, NCAA GameBreaker 2003 certainly has its share of problems, especially with the presentation, which isnít as polished as one would expect. This does get in the way of action at certain points and makes the game more frustrating than it should be. Unfortunately, while you can still play head-to-head GameBreaker doesnít support online play, which is another strike, especially in light of the full support GameDay gives the PS2ís Network Adaptor. You would think such a broad roster of teams would lend itself perfectly to this, maybe next year. However, the plusses outweigh the negatives Ė the actual gameplay is fast and challenging with the computer putting up good resistance to your moves. The addition of the Hot Routes adds a lot of unpredictability to each game and makes things much more challenging. Another positive is that game has a huge roster of teams and players, and you should find your favorite team, which is definitely a plus. GameBreaker isnít perfect but it does a good job of capturing the feel of college football. While casual fans may want to steer clear of this in favor of the better produced NFL titles, fans of the college sports scene will probably enjoy the depth and range of options.