||NCAA College Football 2K2
Visual Concepts brings College football home to the DC - Review By Josh Hiscock - Page 1/2
It's a constant struggle. You know, the battle between life and death. Some days you wake up feeling on top of the world, some days you regret waking up at all. As the philosopher once said, "From the moment we're born, we begin to die." In a sense, the same holds true for consumer electronics; more specifically, computers and video game consoles. The cycle is a short, vicious one. The latest, greatest processors or consoles comes along, and for a short time, production bustles around them. Companies literally throw themselves at a particular product (see: Squaresoft's near-desperate attempt to regain the favor of Nintendo), or shun it like the Black Death (see: EA's regard, or lack thereof, for Sega). Good days, and bad days.
It's a struggle that Sega has unfortunately engaged in all too often in recent years. Their last four major home video game systems -- the Sega CD, 32X, Saturn, and Dreamcast -- have fulfilled the expectations of some, while simultaneously proving deeply disappointing to others. The result, unfortunately, has been the end of Sega as a hardware producer, and the beginning of Sega as a third party software developer. Like the phoenix of ancient myth, Sega is poised to experience rebirth from the ashes of its former self.
Perhaps its an obligation Sega feels, rooted deeply in Japanese tradition and culture. Perhaps it's an attempt to remain in the public eye while the restructuring takes place. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between. Whatever the reason, as the Dreamcast slowly makes its way to an early, ill-deserved grave, Sega is reaching simultaneously to its own past and its future, making plans for such games as Shenmue II to appear on the Dreamcast as a kind of Viking funeral, if you will. The soul still burns, and so forth. In so doing, they've taken a page from the deeply-rooted sports tradition of the Genesis, bringing to the beleaguered console a game many sports enthusiasts never thought they'd see: college football.
For some, it's a prayer answered. For others, it's the realization of a dream that falls somewhat short of the lofty expectations to which it must undoubtedly be held, both because of its role as the only such game ever to appear on the Dreamcast, as well as a direct result of the reputation of the Visual Concepts team -- deserved or not. Naturally, being the sports-crazed MANIACS that we are, NCAA 2k2: Road to the Rose Bowl was a game we simply couldn't wait to get our hands on. World Series 2k2 fell far short of expectations, this is true, but along with death and taxes, one undeniable certainty remains: Visual Concepts knows football. They couldn't screw this up...could they?
The answer is, not completely. Perhaps that sounds overly harsh? I don't know. I DO know that NCAA 2k2 didn't cause me 1/100th the anguish that VC's baseball effort did. In truth, NCAA 2k2 is a solid first generation effort. It saddens me that the Dreamcast won't, in all likelihood, receive a second rendition of what has the potential to be an absolutely fantastic game. At any rate, I've waxed poetic for far too long here. Let's get down to the business at hand: the good, the bad, and the final word.
The Good And The Bad
The best seat in the house.
The good news is, this is football the Visual Concepts way. For the uninitiated, that means it's "good stuff" (trademark pending). NCAA 2k2 is built around the NFL2k engine, right down to the trash-talking by the defensive linemen prior to the snap. There have been some improvements and additions; while many of the animations and player comments are virtually identical to what you'll find in the NFL game, there are some new tackle animations, as well as some added attention to minutae in the pre- and post-snap animations. Still, this is stuff you'd expect to see in NFL2k or the subsequent versions of the game. There's nothing there that screams out "THIS IS COLLEGE FOOTBALL!" In a sense, the difference between the games lies in the number of teams available, the atmosphere, the uniforms, and the environments.
Seein' as how this is Division 1-A football we're talkin' here, there's roughly 117 teams for you to choose from. I chose the Missouri Tigers (as what right-thinking, Husker-and-Jayhawk-hating, redblooded American wouldn't?!), and judging by the 63-7 score in week one, had decidedly more success than Coach Pinkel had against big, bad Bowling Green. The good news is, I recognized my Tigers. The uniforms were spot-on, if a little blurry looking, and Faurot Field in Columbia was definitely recognizable, even down to the overflow seating on the grass surrounding the Big M of the Midwest. That isn't, by the way, something I ever saw in EA Sports' NCAA 2002.
The player models are a little bit on the strange side. The detail level seems to have fallen off some from NFL2k1 -- which could be related to the use of the older NFL2k engine -- and the use of model swapping techniques is much more evident here. Evidently everybody in college football is capable of shapeshifting. Not that it affects gameplay, but it's still bizarre to watch. In addition, despite the presence of the aforementioned new animations, the old still remain far more prevalent during gameplay. Hard to "ooh" and "ahh" over a shiny new toy if it's always locked away in the closet, eh?
Overall, NCAA 2k2 falls short of NFL2k1 graphically. Again, this might be related to the use of the older NFL2k engine, rather than NFL2k1, but by this point, nearly two years into the life of the Dreamcast, one would expect games to improve graphically. Still, I've long maintained that graphics are only ever secondary to the gameplay. As long as the gameplay experience is a rewarding one, I'm willing to accept lesser graphics (a lesson lost on the masses, it often seems).
Almost there, almost there...
On the subject of gameplay, here NCAA 2k2 delivers...mostly. Those who felt like NFL2k1 ran too quickly probably won't be happy here, as the game still runs quickly, and has the added "benefit" of the college play clock. With less time to pick your plays, you'll be marching down the field a whole lot faster. To this end, I'm pleased to report that the running game is improved over NFL2k (glad to see some of the changes made for NFL2k1 carried over). In addition, the defensive backs are smarter, making it a wee bit more difficult to pass. We're not talking Madden's patented drop-nine-of-ten-nearly-intercepted-passes-to-make-stats-look-realistic logic here. The nickel backs do a better job of tracking the receivers, and the defensive line does a good job of achieving penetration, forcing quick decisions. Unfortunately, the penetration thing doesn't work both ways -- if you don't master the art of the defensive line's special 'swim' moves, your chances of penetrating the backfield are about as likely as your chances of dating Britney Spears. In other words, Slim and None, and Slim just left town.
This being college football and all, the playbook is a damn sight thicker, sporting not only additional defensive packages, such as the "four-four," but offensive formations that you won't find in the NFL. That's right -- the option. If you ask any college football fan what a college game absolutely has to get right to maintain the feel of college ball, they'll chant "the option," to a man. Unfortunately, it seems that when Visual Concepts got around to mapping the controls for the option plays, they kinda sorta forgot that the "pitch" button -- X -- also happens to be the "speed burst" button. In other words, if you decide to do a QB keeper run, don't use the speed burst if you want to avoid turnovers, or you'll wind up pitching the ball to the middle of nowhere. Don't expect to gain much yardage with the QB either, for that matter. That one little screwup more or less negates the advantage held by mobile QBs in the Vick and Crouch vein, since their legs are effectively cut out from under them. Oddly, this holds true even after the signal-caller has crossed the line of scrimmage. Once you call the option, the X button will pitch the ball come hell or high water...or at least until you call another play. Such a drawback won't affect everybody (at least, not immediately), but it is a disappointing lack of foresight on the part of Visual Concepts.
I can hear the question now..."So who cares about the option? The college atmosphere is still the same, right?" Well...sorta, but not really. You see, the rights to the major bowl games (aside from the Rose Bowl) weren't the only things that Sega couldn't license for use in NCAA 2k2. It seems a fair number of universities were reluctant to allow their precious fight songs to appear here, meaning you have roughly three dozen songs that will play throughout the course of the game. In other words, for all my griping about NCAA 2002 mixing up the Missouri fight song with that of Ole Miss, I'm still outta luck when it comes to hearing "Every True Son" play for the PROPER team...until next season, hopefully. To an extent, this doesn't bother me as much. I know it's a design decision forced upon Visual Concepts, rather than sloppy programming, and I'm willing to make some allowances for that. Still, unless you happen to be a fan of one of the teams that DOES have its fight song included, you may find the atmosphere a little lacking.
Next: More Good, more Bad, and The Final Word