NCAA Football 99 is a perfect example of why porting a console game to the PC sometimes doesn't work. In this case, many of the features in the PlayStation version of NCAA Football 99 were left out of the PC version, features that were in an earlier build of the game we received back in August. Should this make PC gamers feel cheated? Hell yeah, we should feel cheated!
Our guess is the developer, Tiburon, contracted a company called Farsight Technologies to do the conversion. EA Sports probably gave Farsight a firm release deadline, and Farsight ran into some problems with the conversion at the eleventh hour, so they dropped some features - make that a lot of features - to make that deadline. Although this is just an educated guess as to why this happened, the important thing is what you get when you buy the game. And what you get is quite a bit less than what PlayStation gamers get.
For starters, NCAA Football 99 isn't much different than last year. It still has a nice college football feel, with home crowd chants and school fight songs and playbooks and formations that more closely reflect the college game. Although most of the formations are two- and three-back sets, there are only two one-back sets, so if you (or your favorite school) prefer to run a one-back offense, your play choices are limited.
You can choose to play a one-time exhibition game or select a game from 40 "great games." But the real fun in NCAA Football 99 is in the dynasty mode, where you choose your favorite school and lead it through this year's season and beyond. I chose my alma mater, the Purdue Boilermakers, hoping to take them back to another bowl game and build on their newfound success last year.
The first thing I wanted to work with was the roster. As you may know, college sports games are not allowed to use real player names, so developers have to create players based on the real ones by trying to copy their attributes for the game: number, class, height, weight, speed, agility, acceleration, tackling, throwing, and so on. I took a copy of the 1998 Boilermakers roster and sat down to enter every player's name into my computer team. As I did, I realized that the game's roster was fairly accurate, but I didn't always agree with some of the attribute ratings for some of the players. I wasn't happy when I discovered I couldn't change attribute ratings in Dynasty mode like I could in the PlayStation version. Also, there were a couple players missing from the game's Purdue roster, and, unlike other sports games, NCAA 99 doesn't let you create your own player, so I was stuck with what I had.
Next stop, the playbook. Last year, Purdue hired a Western Athletic Conference coach, Joe Tiller, who brought with him a spread, pass-heavy West Coast offense. Basically, this offense is a one-back set with three or four wide receivers spread out wide across the field. What did I find in the game's playbook for Purdue? A lot of traditional two-back sets. And since there are only two one-back formations included in the game, the number of plays I had to choose from was pretty limited. If a play editor had been included (as it was in the PlayStation version), I could have created my own version of Purdue's unique offense. Again, I was stuck with what I had.
No matter. I would have to lower my expectations for a realistic game and adapt like a good college coach would with what I was given. I played a game or two at the junior varsity level to get used to the controls and pace of the game. The controls are pretty standard stuff, except the speed burst/plow forward button is tied into the stiff arm button, so the game chooses which one the player will execute based on the situation. I prefer to have access to all moves myself.
After a few games, the AI really started to show its problems. The biggest problem is the blocking. Many blockers will run straight towards the nearest defender without consideration for what their teammates are doing. What you get is one defender blocked by two or three blockers, while two or three defenders run straight towards your ball carrier untouched.
Another major problem is that running backs get "stuck" on their teammates, making it difficult to run up the middle. On one occasion, a running back was stuck inside a scrum for at least ten seconds, without making progress, before a defender finally brought him down. Of course, what should have happened is the referee should have blown the whistle when the ball carrier's forward progress was stopped. Not in this game.
Even if you became a fan of last year's NCAA Football, you might be a little disappointed this year. There's a lot to be said for testing and play balancing a game, something it seems NCAA Football 99 could have used more of. But it's the only college football game available for the PC, so NCAA Football 99 will just have to do. And it isn't entirely bad, it's just that it could have been so much better - as it is on the PlayStation.