NCAA Gamebreaker 2001 Preview

In terms of gameplay, 2001 hardly departs from 2000's formula and those who've played GameBreaker 2000 will have little need to learn new skills.

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The law of diminishing returns states that, given fixed production variables, the production of a commodity will eventually reach a point where its levels of improvement will grow progressively smaller. Although this basic principle has its roots in economics, it also applies to the case of the NCAA GameBreaker franchise. Simply put, a game can only make so many leaps before technological limits hamper its progress.

In this case, those limits are the capabilities of the PlayStation. In GameBreaker 2000, players saw that the gameplay style and visuals remained intact - a hint that the franchise had possibly already begun to tap the PlayStation's limits.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, given GameBreaker 2000's generally great reviews. However, the law of diminishing returns poses a daunting challenge to NCAA GameBreaker 2001. Will the improvements made to this latest installment be diminished, or will it prove to be the exception and break the law?

Having only an early preview version of the game, it's too early to answer that question definitively. What is certain is that NCAA GameBreaker 2001 isn't changing anything that's not broken. Even in this preview, it's evident that the game picks up - in bulk - the gameplay and features of last year's version.

Most of the game's improvements and additions are subtle. The major changes lie with the 2001 season schedules and team statistics compiled from the 2000 season. The developers have also added extra motion-capture animations for moves and celebrations, and tweaked the playbook-editing and play-design features to be a bit more user-friendly. Still, if you ignored the new menu-screen styles, you'd be hard-pressed to find significant alterations in the gameplay or graphics between 2000 and 2001. The developers claim to have used new player models (there's even an option to resize them in the options menu), but the visual differences aren't apparent when the new models are compared with those of last year.

In contrast, the list of the game's features preserved from the 2000 version runs much longer. Once again, the game features 175-plus teams: all major Division 1-A schools and their home stadiums and 50-plus great historical teams. As always, the game's playbooks are geared toward college-style strategies and the teams' historical preferences. The game also keeps its career mode, in which players can simulate playing as a coach and work up to a top school. The fantasy-league mode (in which points are scored based on statistics) is left intact, as well as the scrimmage, tournament, and bowl-season modes (the latter offers 21 bowl games to shoot for). Also preserved is the ability to create players and eventually transfer them over to NFL GameDay 2001, as well as scout blue-chip high school recruits. In terms of audio, Keith Jackson returns with his play-by-play witticisms - which are perhaps more "valuable" now, given his recent retirement.

In terms of gameplay, 2001 hardly departs from 2000's formula - right down to the extra player-controlled celebration animations between plays and touchdowns. This game also offers the now-standard basic simulation playing style (for beginners) and the total-control option that puts more moves at your disposal, as well as letting you control pass-blocking options for the backfield. In the preview version, the control seemed just as responsive as in 2000 - perhaps a tad slow in spots - but the speed option implemented early in the franchise's history negates such issues. In essence, those who've played GameBreaker 2000 will have little need to learn new skills.

The preview CD seemed complete in terms of teams and gameplay functions, but the AI still seemed unpolished. In addition, some of Keith Jackson's phrases were either garbled or incorrect. With all these missing gaps, it would be premature to apply the law of diminishing returns to NCAA GameBreaker 2001 - but as the facts stand so far, it's safe to assume this apple won't fall far from the tree.

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