STAFF REVIEW of NCAA Football 2004 (Xbox)

Tuesday, September 2, 2003.
by Rick Wallace

NCAA Football 2004 Box art A light mist hangs over Happy Valley as strings of traffic pour in from all the major routes. Yup its Saturday!!! Time for some great college football in University park, PA. Marching Bands, ranting coaches and top ESPN announcers, this game has it all. Choose from over 160 Division 1-A and 1-AA schools or take one of your favorite classic teams from past years onto the field. NCAA 2004 creates such an atmosphere of college football its almost ridiculous. I found myself looking for that unprecedented #1 ranking in the polls, only to get shafted by the computer ranking system a few times. Its so true to real life! Its a great feature to have to wonder if you'll get ranked #1 or be victim to a conspiracy. With the addition of the Sports Illustrated trademark, you'll be aware of any ranking conspiracies or other valuable information such as Heisman candidates, upsets, players of the week, and more.

Run the option, call and audible to play action if those safeties are cheating up, or just go over the top if your QB has the arm. Every college play you could dream of is in the game along with formation like the wishbone or Maryland I.

This game has everything from practice squads to a truly deep dynasty mode. Now of course college atheletes are non liscensed players so do not look for popular names to be on the field. You'll just see their number. You can edit this if you like. As you progress through dynasty years, those #'ed players will be replaced with named players you recruit. If you are looking for that college football game to satisify every need you have then look no further than NCAA. I suggest you go pick it up right now, because you'll be hooked if you are a college football fan. WE ARE........PENN STATE!!!

When it comes to creating a sense of college football, NCAA has nailed it on the head. Control is surpisingly quite smooth and easy to learn. Running the option is an artform in this game, which it is in real life. Don't expect to run it pefectly every single down, because the AI will adjust quickly. You need to mix up your plays a little.

The play selection screen is simple in the fact you pick you formation and then you pick your play. Running plays will be blue while pass plays will be yellow. Depending on what school you pick will determine what play selection and formations you get.

Dynasty mode in this game has to be among the best out there. You can choose one or a few schools to play with through the years. You'll be offered contract extensions or other coaching opputunities with other schools as you progress through each year. As you get better and win more, the better oppurtunies arise. Also, the more you win, the better chance your school has of moving into a better conference and increasing their prestige. Your players will also increase or decrease in abilities from year to year depending on your performance.

In the offseason you have the wonderful task of trying to land a few of the blue chippers looking to play some college ball. You'll receive a certain amount of credits for a 5 week period. You must use the credits to pay visits to your recruits and try to entice them to play ball at your school. Be sure to keep and eye on your team needs and fill those before trying to land the #1 guy in the country. Players will either show interest towards your school, or just basically snob you off, so keep and eye on their reactions to your offers. You don't want to waste credits on guys that have no desire to play for you. Once the recruiting is over, you'll have to cut your roster to 55 players if it isnt already there. Then you'll go through a breif training week, where you'll see what guys improved and what guys stayed the same. The off to your next season. Hint: If you want a shot at #1 with a smaller school, be sure to adjust your schedule with a few ranked teams before starting the next season.

As you play your games, you earn credits which allow you to buy Madden cards. These cards range from team boosts to cheats to classic teams unlocked. Before you know it you'll have enough tokens racked up to buy all 340 cards. The classic cards need to be earned in the Classic Team Mode.

Classic Mode puts you in famous game situations from college history. You'll be placed on the field and need to win the game in the time remaining. A few of these situations are pretty tough, while a few other are easy as pie.

You'll find record books, trophy cases, career stats and anything else you could hope for in a football game. And for those of you that have Madden 2004, you can import your graduating seniors into the Madden game for drafting in the NFL. Now thats a really kewl option!!

The stadium renditions for most of the schools seem to be right on. I am amazed to play in some of the football stadiums. The crowds are not the most innovative feature but you see plenty of movement and the band bouncing back and forth while tooting a tune. You gotta love the intro's to a few of the teams, like Notre Dame for example. The classic patting the sign as they walk down the steps in not left out. Most of the teams just come out of a tunnel, but I there are a few unique intros like ND.

The cheerleaders haven't changed much. Its nice animations but they still look a little on the jagged side. You'd think an animation could be top notch. The mascots still show reaction to play on the field along with cannons firing for those schools that have them. Coaches also get animated on the sideline showing their appreciation or disgust for calls made on the field.

One of the best visual animations I think I saw, was right after I scored with my running back. He ran right up to the ground camera in the endzone and posed Heisman like. Next thing I knew I got an unsportsmanlike conduct call for excessive celebration. UG! Darn freshman!

Framerates are very smooth, and the players look outstandingly real. The face are still a little on the spooky side as they can tend to have that blank stare going, but how often are you going to be checking out someone's face instead of trying to juke around his whole body.

College football is all about the atmosphere, and NCAA recreates that atmosphere with superiority. The marching bands playing alma maters when a TD is scored is the most noteable college reality int he game. You're crowd will be loud and into the game when you are doing good, or quiet and almost non existent when you are stinking up the field. You'll here players chanting, QB's audibling, and ref's calling penalties with clarity.

The announcers from ESPN's college gameday are the perect accent on a pretty much flawless game. Listening to Lee Corso and his quirks and comments can get quite funny. At times, they'll tick you off in the pregame when they go against you and pick the other team. But that should inspire you to prove them wrong and they'll admit it at the end of the game. Play by play is dead on and called as the action happened...Not a play later like some games have been known to do. As you break records, they'll congratulate you or they'll show doubt in some of the calls you make on the field. Depending on what school you are playing with or the school you are playing against, you may or may not have a televised game. If the game isnt televised, then you'll have a PA Announcer calling your number on the play just like at a real live game.

So basically music, television announcers, and on field sounds in this game are super and take this game to untouchable levels for any competitor looking to match NCAA.

Bring more schools into the mix as you did this year. Maybe get a little deeper in the recruiting process such as offer potential recruits trips to the school during the year to check out the facility and stuff.

The game is solid and I would hope only extras would be added, but no changes to the gameplay.

Overall: 9.6 / 10
Gameplay: 9.6 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.4 / 10


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