NCAA GameBreaker 2001 Hands-On

With no PlayStation 2 version of NCAA 2001 from Electronic Arts in sight, GameBreaker could become this year's college football game of choice for PS2 owners.

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NCAA GameBreaker 2001 for the Sony PlayStation 2 melds a bit of the old with some of the new. It borrows the PS2 NFL GameDay 2001 engine for its graphics and gameplay, and its feature set is virtually identical to that of GameBreaker 2001 for the original PlayStation. We had the opportunity to test the next-generation version of 989 Sports' college football series, and we found it to be a game that excels in some areas and falters in others.

NCAA GameBreaker 2001 opens with a rousing intro movie featuring the familiar voice of Keith Jackson, and it does a great job of re-creating the atmosphere of a college football game. Once in the options menu, the game presents you with several different modes. The PS2 GameBreaker 2001 has all the modes of the PlayStation version, including scrimmage, bowl season, tournament, fantasy game, and coaching career. In the coaching career mode, you can operate as a coaching hopeful. You enter a small school as a low-profile coach and move up the Division I-A ranks, and you ultimately secure a head-coaching job at one of the high-profile programs - this essentially serves as the game's dynasty mode. The personnel tweaking is handled through the game's athletic department feature. Here players can view rosters, recruit blue-chip players for several positions, and create walk-ons. In the create-a-walk-on mode, everything from physical attributes to 40 times and vertical jump results can be customized based on a traditional points system.

As mentioned previously, the game's graphics engine is the same as the one that was used for the PS2 version of NFL GameDay 2001, which means that, although the players are realistically modeled, the texturing on their uniforms and bodies is sparse, and it tends to meld together when viewed from certain camera perspectives. The collision detection, while sloppy in some situations, is generally acceptable. The same can be said for the game's animation, which is adequately smooth for the most part but looks choppy and disjointed at times. Several animations are missing effective transitional phases. A perfect example of this can be found in the passing game. Once a defensive back comes back down after contesting a pass, he will pause for a second and then transition into a running animation, but the wide receiver is usually not affected. As a result, receivers can catch the ball and take off for the end zone, while DBs are left behind for a fraction of a second. Our current build of GameBreakers also has excruciatingly long load times, but hopefully that will be fixed before the game's final release.

Along with the graphics engine, GameBreaker 2001 borrows its play mechanics from its NFL brethren, which essentially means that, like GameDay 2001, it heavily favors the offensive team. The controls are tight, but they're overly responsive, and the game doesn't take player momentum into consideration when making cuts. This familiar GameBreaker feel, coupled with the subpar defensive AI, makes it easy to rack up yardage, particularly with the running game. Offensive players can usually outrun most linebackers and get into the secondary with ease, and with backs like TCU's Ladainian Tomlinson or FSU's Travis Minor, it's easy to run for 200-plus yards in most games, even against presumably stingy defenses like Miami's. The balance in the passing game isn't much better. It is virtually impossible to knock the ball down regularly on deep routes, so there is a disproportionate number of long touchdown passes, and the fly routes become the play of choice, particularly when playing against friends. These problems are magnified by several dumb mistakes regularly made by the defensive AI. In general, defensive players take bad pursuit angles. But on the option plays in particular, this is amplified, as defensive players almost always fall for the fake - they chase the quarterback on a pitch-off instead of the man with the ball. Once again, the venerable Keith Jackson returns to handle the game's commentary. He is a favorite among most college football fans, and his colorful remarks and observations help immensely in giving the game a realistic feel. The school-specific bands are also a nice touch, and the sound effects from the game's massive tackle animations reverberate through the use of the PS2's considerable audio output. The crowd noise is comparably subdued, but overall, the game's audio effectively re-creates the boisterous atmosphere of college football.

Traditionally, 989 Sports' football series has had a decidedly arcade-style gameplay feel. That trend continues with NCAA GameBreaker 2001 for the PlayStation 2. The game looks virtually identical to its pro counterpart, NFL GameDay 2001, complete with the lip-synched player taunts. With no PlayStation 2 version of NCAA 2001 from Electronic Arts in sight, GameBreaker could become this year's college football game of choice for PS2 owners.

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