Have you played a college football game lately? Probably not. Most of us are too busy playing games with our favorite NFL franchises and players to even think about fooling around with teams from "Whattsamatta U" (or wherever). Against the glamour, glitz, and yes, glory of the professional game, it's easy to dismiss college sims as second-tier citizens of the football world, good for settling dorm-room bets and precious little else.
But to paraphrase the old sports cliché, "That's why they review the games." Having spent a season with NCAA GameBreaker 99, I humbly submit that, in this iteration at least, the college game is alive and kicking and is well worth a look from any serious football fan.
The primary reason for this is simple: GameBreaker provides a refreshing and invigorating change of pace from typical NFL-based games. This is most obviously the case in terms of the playbook, which gives you access to formations and plays that no NFL team would dream of running. The Wishbone, the Flexbone, and the Full House - all of which offer unique and creative play-calling options - are but a few of the offensive alignments available to you, while schemes such the 5-2, the 4-4, and the "Eighty" provide welcome relief from run-of-the-mill defensive plays.
As you'd expect, most of these oddball formations are geared towards the ground game, which has a much greater degree of importance in college football than it does in the pros. And that's another reason why GameBreaker is so much fun - this is a game where you can actually go four quarters without throwing a pass and have a great time doing it. Not only is the running game effective both inside and out - a rarity these days - it's also extremely flexible, due to the game's ingenious "pitch" control, which allows you to toss the ball to a trailing player just about anywhere on the field. The first time I ran one of GameBreaker's numerous "option" plays - with my quarterback shuffling down the line, waiting for the defense to close, then (at the last possible minute!) pitching the ball to the halfback - I was totally hooked. To this freedom add the possibility of 50- or 60-yard touchdown runs (yes, it can and does happen in GameBreaker), and you may find yourself running wild game in and game out.
And there's more. I can't exactly put my finger on the reasons why, but the atmosphere in GameBreaker 99 feels a lot more "electric" than that of its NFL counterparts. Maybe it's because of announcer Keith Jackson - whose voice is synonymous with college football - and his continual stream of homegrown witticisms and colorful commentary. Maybe it's the vibrant team colors and realistic stadiums. Or maybe it's the college bands playing in the background, drums booming and trumpets blaring. But whatever it is, it's infectious, and it makes playing the game much more exciting than it might otherwise be.
Those are the intangibles that run in GameBreaker's favor. But it's got plenty of objective strengths as well. The base graphics and gameplay engine are the same as found on GameDay 99, which is to say, they're pretty much as good as you'll find on the PlayStation. No, the graphics don't compare with something like Quarterback Club 99 on the N64, but they're perfectly serviceable. And regardless, what the graphics lack in detail they more than make up for in speed. GameBreaker is an extremely fast-moving and fast-paced game. Best of all is that the "downtime" between plays and scores is nominal - you spend your time playing GameBreaker, not waiting for the computer to catch up with your latest move. And as for the on-field controls, they're right on - the "Total Control" passing system is crisp, and you have plenty of spins, jukes, and other specialty moves at your disposal.
GameBreaker also shines in the AI department. The computer is a gritty opponent and will challenge you both on offense and defense. This isn't to say that the AI is good enough to stand up to a top-notch human player - it isn't - but it'll keep you engaged over the course of many seasons. And that's a good thing, because GameBreaker has so many options, it'll take you a long time to explore them all. You can play scrimmage, tournament, or season modes or try out the fantasy league option to run a fantasy season based on in-game statistics. GameBreaker also includes a series of team customization options - you can build your own teams, playbooks, and even individual players.
All in all, it's a complete and compelling package: solid graphics, great gameplay, loads of options, and most importantly, a fresh gaming experience. Football fans with an open mind or just the thirst for something new should definitely put GameBreaker 99 through its paces.