Now that EA Sports has gotten comfortable with 32-bit systems, its line of college sports games, which was so popular on the previous generation of console systems, is finally being released. The first of these is NCAA Football 98, a pigskin title that isn't much more than last year's Madden 97 painted in college colors.
NCAA 98 should be a popular game in college dorms because of its authenticity. Students and alumni alike will appreciate the game as it provides most of the actual college stadiums (a whopping 122 in all), the NCAA license, and many of the real Bowl games. Only the players' names are missing, due to NCAA rules regarding monetary compensation for college players.
College football is all about atmosphere, and NCAA delivers a tasty college flavor. Although the grainy, sprite-based players are unimpressive, the 3-D college fields give the game character. Rose Bowl announcer Chuck White provides the commentary, and the intelligent crowds, who respond to the action on the field, provide the excitement.
NCAA's gameplay is pretty good, and delivers what is expected from an EA Sports game. The crisp, responsive game control is identical to Madden, except that the shoulder buttons on the controller pitch the ball in option plays that are commonplace in college football. There's a ton of plays, and even better, team-specific playbooks. Nebraska, for example, is loaded with running plays in formations such as the "fullhouse backfield," while Miami's playbook has plenty of passing plays and formations. Unfortunately, too many of these plays work a little too well due to the weak computer intelligence. This makes one-player modes of play too easy for long-term enjoyment (unless you like tinkering with the season modes). Luckily, NCAA excels as a multiplayer game (just as past Madden games have), although the poor defensive AI makes the matchups offensively lopsided.
NCAA 98's strongest asset is easily its dizzying array of features covering every aspect of the college game, save the shady deals to recruit players. The most exciting feature is a dynasty mode that allows you to follow a college team through multiple seasons. Recruiting is automatic in the game, although you can specify what type of players you want on the team. These freshmen players improve as they become junior or senior studs, and then move on to the pro ranks, completing the cycle of college football. At the conclusion of each season you can make improvements to the attributes of the players. The unique thing about this mode is that these players who turn pro can be saved on a memory card, and can then be used in Madden 98. Among other features is a season mode which lets you climb through the rankings and eventually land in a Bowl game - if you're good enough. And there is also the create-a-player feature that's standard in most sports games.
With its awesome features, authenticity, and fun gameplay, NCAA 98 is the perfect game for college football fanatics, despite its mediocre graphics and computer AI. Football fans in general, however, may be served better by waiting for Madden NFL 98, which is looking like a more complete package.