NCAA March Madness 2005 Updated Hands-On

We spend some time going down the roster of features in EA's latest college baller.

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Recently, EA stopped by to give us an updated look at NCAA March Madness 2005, the latest entry in the publisher's college basketball franchise. In our previous coverage of the game, we gave you a look at the many fresh gameplay changes in this year's title, including the new floor-general playcalling system, as well as the arena pulse feature, which is similar to the one found in NCAA Football 2005. In our most recent time spent with the game, we got up close and personal with the many new and upgraded features in this year's title, all of which seem to be coming together very nicely.

Apart from its new gameplay elements, NCAA March Madness 2005 is set to include a bounty of features that should please just about any college hoops fan. 325 schools are included in the game, as well as 75 classic teams, ranging from the 1954 Kentucky Wildcats to last year's Connecticut Huskies team. You'll also be able to use a handful of these classic teams in a new mode called the Pontiac college classics. In this mode, you'll be able to relive 10 different scenarios from the annals of college basketball's history. These scenarios play out very similarly to like modes found in recent sports games, such as ESPN NFL 2K5's 25th Anniversary mode, which plops you down in the middle of a game with a specific and immediate objective to accomplish. You'll be able to re-create some pretty cool scenarios, including the incredible Duke versus UNLV game of the early '90s.

This year's dynasty mode has also seen some substantial improvement over last year's title, and it actually takes a number of cues from its college football sibling. The interface has been overhauled with the now prototypical EA Sports PDA, and from here you'll be able to access all the same sorts of things as in other EA Sports titles, like e-mail from your coaches, players and other assorted staff members. The game also includes the same sim-intervention feature as NBA Live 2005, which allows you to sim through games half by half, providing you the opportunity to step in if you're losing. You'll also be able to fully customize your nonconference schedule at the beginning of each season. The mode's recruiting and player management systems have also been largely revamped to include all the disciplinary features from NCAA Football 2005, in addition to its NCAA interest system, which puts pressure on you and your program if you don't keep your players in line to a satisfactory degree.

Much like NBA Live 2005, March Madness features a store mode, of sorts, where you can purchase a bevy of extra items, including classic teams, new jerseys, shoes, and other forms of clothing. The store is modeled after a school bookstore, further adding to the collegiate atmosphere of the game. There will also be a hall of fame area where you can check out all your various awards and collected rivalry pennants.

The presentational changes made to this year's March Madness also seem to be coming together very well. Aside from the upgraded on-the-court graphics, the game also features some new, little touches, such as the new time-out menu system. Here you'll be able to call specific plays and make substitutions against the background of your team standing huddled in a circle while discussing its next move. There's also a new halftime presentation that gives you a look at the play of the half from a number of different angles. Similarly, at the end of the game, you'll be able to check out the play of the game.

If, for any reason, you weren't exactly enamored with last year's March Madness, 2005's upcoming release seems to be taking great strides to get the series back on a winning track. We like what we've played thus far and are looking very much forward to the game's November 15 release. We'll bring you more on the game, including our full review of it, in the coming weeks.

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