NCAA 2002 Preview

EA's dusting off the Madden engine in an attempt at delivering the most realistic college football game ever. Read our hands-on report of the game and see if it lives up to Madden's lofty standards.

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NCAA Football 2002
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The pageantry, purity, and tradition of college football are what set it apart from the pro game. Tight gameplay has been the hallmark of most college football games in the past, but few have delivered the aesthetics that make the sport so endearing. While Dreamcast owners continue to wait for the console's first college football game, EA Sports is putting the final touches on its first college football game for the PlayStation 2: NCAA Football 2002. While undoubtedly a direct descendant of Madden, the first next-generation NCAA Football game looks to have the series off on the right foot.

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If you like a great deal of depth in your college football games, NCAA Football 2002 has plenty. With the full NCAA license in tow, EA Sports has jammed this game's code with 117 Division 1-A teams and 27 Division AA squads. With more than 117 authentic stadiums included, playing the game equates to a three-dimensional history lesson in public assembly. In addition to a head-to-head exhibition mode for up to eight players, you can play season mode or dynasty mode--both of which can be played on four difficulty settings. The season mode is what you'd expect: You pick a team and begin climbing up through your conference in hopes of receiving a bid to one of the 26 authentic bowl games. EA obtained exclusive rights to the bowl championship series, so you'll only find the Rose Bowl, the Nokia Sugar Bowl, the FedEx Orange Bowl, and the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in NCAA Football 2002. Awards and distinctions such as the Heisman, all-conference, and all-American are given to deserving players at the conclusion of the season. As the year progresses, your team will be ranked in the BCS standings and the top 25.

While the season mode has plenty to tinker with, the dynasty mode makes it seem like an arcade mode. In the dynasty mode, you and 11 of your friends act as the coach of your respective teams. You start out with a three-year deal with the goal of playing in two bowl games or one national championship game in three years. You can even recruit high school players based upon their hometown, speed, and grade point average. These players will stay on the team for four years and may then be drafted into EA's Madden NFL 2002. Coaching statistics are kept for bowl games won, championships won, winning seasons, and conference titles. As you gain prestige within the coaching profession, zeros will start being added to the end of your salary as a reward. As in the season mode, all the bowls, rankings, polls, and stats are available, including career stats for every player. As you play games in the season or dynasty mode, you accomplish campus challenges by meeting objectives like rushing for 100 yards, hooking up with a receiver on several consecutive passes, or accumulating a large number of sacks in a game. The campus cards can then be redeemed to unlock a team full of mascots, old-school all-American teams, and 15 all-time classic teams.

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If you're a fan of the gameplay in EA's Madden games, you'll be able to jump right in and excel at NCAA Football 2002. The gameplay mechanics and control scheme are identical to those found in its NFL counterpart with the exception of a few tweaks to suit the collegiate game. Teams will run out of the wishbone, and triple option plays are not out of the ordinary. Some teams will even run the deliberate yet devastating power I set. With such a heavy concentration in option plays and quarterbacks keeping the ball, the lateral button is used much more frequently than in Madden. The computer AI is especially impressive in this regard--quarterbacks will keep the ball and turn upfield if the pitchman is covered. The kick meter has also been changed to resemble the circular meters most commonly found in golf games.

Customization is always a big part of EA Sports' games, and NCAA 2002 is no exception. You may adjust the referee sensitivity for 10 different penalties or adjust the computer AI for quarterback accuracy, pass blocking, receiving, running, and run blocking. EA Sports' first next-generation college football game already plays like a polished game. The last two months of development time should make it even better.

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If you've played the PlayStation 2 iteration of Madden, then you know what to expect from NCAA Football 2002's graphics. The player models have been pulled directly from EA's NFL game, so you can still expect the same blank stares, awkwardly blinking eyes, and segmented necks. But with the bad also comes the good. In addition to the incredibly smooth momentum-based animations included in Madden, the game has been augmented by several new wrapping tackle animation routines that demonstrate the fundamentals of the college game. All the other details from Madden have spilled over into NCAA Football 2002 as well, such as weather-dependent uniform accessories, polygonal coaches and players on the sidelines, and a variety of weather settings. Madden's cheerleaders have been swapped out in favor of licensed college mascots, and after impressive scores, they can be seen celebrating on the sidelines. Other minutiae are prevalent, such as mud and snow being kicked up by players, real-time lighting and reflections, and pride stickers on helmets, which are awarded to players for making big plays. Each of the 117 Division 1-A stadiums looks amazingly accurate with identical light placement, scoreboards, and seating.

The team of Brad Nessler, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit handles the play-by-play and color commentaries. Corso is probably the most visible of the three, yet his role in the voice work for the game is minimal. While we haven't spent weeks of time playing the game, the rate at which statements repeat seems vastly improved when compared with the repetitive "Maddenisms" found in EA's NFL franchise. The announcers will chatter about rivalries, conference rankings, and much more. The ambient sounds really help the college atmosphere come to life. There are oodles of team-specific chants and fight songs, as well as interactive crowds that react to the action on the field instantaneously. Announcing has yet to be added for games between smaller schools, so this will likely be one of EA Sports' final tasks before shipping the game.

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Click for full-size image

If you're looking for a PS2 college pigskin game to coincide with the kickoff of the upcoming season, NCAA Football 2002 is the only game in town. Thankfully, it's shaping up to be the most accurate console interpretation of college football yet. The dynasty mode is beyond deep, there are 144 teams to choose from, and there's multiplayer support for up to eight players. If you're a big-time program booster, a faithful alumni, or just a fan of college football in general, look out for NCAA Football 2002 when it's released at the end of next month. Keep an eye out for our full review in the coming weeks.

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