NCAA Final Four 2003

NCAA Final Four 2003

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 11/29/2002 for PS2  

While 989 Sports developed games have often been a curse rather than a gift, I’ll admit that I’ve been rather excited to receive them in my mailbox. Not because they’re fun to play, but because I like to see what steps have been taken to assure that this year’s game will outdo last year’s game. It seems that with every year, the goals have been significantly decreased. Starting with “gain market dominance” and eventually ending up at “Jesus Christ, this is embarrassing. Let’s just make a decent game for once guys.” Of all of the 989 Franchises released this year, only one of them managed to rank above par, NBA Shootout, can it’s younger brother follow suit? Or does it do everything in its power to make sure that the rotten stench of 989 lives on? Hmm… what’s that smell?

This year’s game marks a major improvement in the series, I'll give it that. Some major tweaks have been made to make sure that the game will be ready to play with the big boys. There is a new dynasty mode that adds some much needed longevity to the game, the practice mode is actually a really nice addition and the player models have been improved. It's all for naught though, when the game plays this bad, it doesn’t matter how many features it has.

As it seems to be with each seceding year, the 989 Sports franchises lag a step or two behind the competition. Oddly enough, this is actually one of the rare instances where it’s not so true. Games based on college hoops have been and perhaps may always be, some of the worst games on the market. They lack depth, they lack polish and most of all, they lack anything that warrants a purchase. Interestingly enough, this game manages to avoid most of these pitfalls but still manages to feel like a sub-par game.

Let’s start with the gameplay, it’s just plain awful. It’s so unrealistic that you just can’t help but wonder what was going through the programmers’ minds when they were coding the game. There are a number of nice additions such as a shot meter to tell you the ‘sweet spot’ when you’re hitting a jumper and special moves that are mapped to the right analog stick, but it ends there. Gameplay is flawed, taking shots while your foot is clearly on the three point line will net you three points as opposed to two. Even more interesting is how the announcers will chime in with “he was clearly behind the line for that three ball.” I guess they haven’t heard of modern marvels like instant replay. When inbounding the ball your receiver will often stand right on the line resulting in an out of bounds infraction when you pass it to him. The only way to avoid this is to pass it down court and face a possible steal or call a time-out. Offensive rebounding is far too simple, I was able to miss about five shots on a single possession and snag the rebound on each occasion. If you thought that the rebounding in the EA Sports games was simple you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The defensive AI is just horrid, you can usually trick the AI by doing complicated maneuvers like dribbling and uhh, dribbling. Apparently the AI has no problem with watching you stroll right past them en route to slamming the ball into their net. They’re not too bright when they have the ball either, you can usually relieve them of the ball by simply mashing on the steal button. Blocks are rather hit or miss, sometimes you’ll block a shot from a mile away while at other times, you can be in a guy’s face and he’ll sink a 30 footer. Watching the replay will conclude what you already knew, that the ball magically sailed through your defender’s hand en route to the twine.
The animations aren’t too swell either. They really need some work in order to smoothen the transitions. The animation is so flawed that you’ll actually see players clip through each other. It’s not just some minor clipping either, sometimes you’ll see player’s heads protruding through opponent’s chests, arms going through crotches and balls that go through players. Players jerk around the floor and perhaps worst of all, they can actually shoot the wrong way. That’s right folks, they’ll shoot with their backs to the basket and magically, the ball will find its way towards the hoop. Don’t believe me? Check out this VIDEO for the embarrassingly blatant evidence. What’s this? Players are composed of about 4,500 polys but it doesn't really matter when they're moving this poorly.

This game is missing a ton of animation, what happens when you ‘steal’ the ball from an opponent? You’ll see the ball magically become attached to his hand. This game really could have benefited from what I like to call “transition animations.” You know, those things that make movements and actions flow together. I hear it’s a new concept but some of the companies have started picking up on it, like five years ago. The designers were touting the use of specular lighting (lighting that highlights specific areas to give objects a sheen) to emphasize the sweat on the player models but it doesn't really have the impact that they probably would have hoped for.

The announcing is quite atrocious as well. Much like the other 989 franchises this year (with the exception of Gameday) you’ll find the announcers repeating themselves far too often. Idiotic lines like “that’s from home run range” are the cup of the day here. Does someone want to tell me what the hell baseball has to do with college basketball? Even more questionable is the commentator’s judgment on some of the action. The rest of the commentary is rather bland as well. By the end of the game you’ll hear the announcers repeating themselves. The rest of the audio is actually quite well done, however, even adding some nice reverb effects to mimic the sound of a huge open gym. Adding the cheers for the teams were quite nice too and really helps you get into the game.

This game, much like the other 989 Sports franchises, just isn’t fun to play. I understand that this is a rebuilding year but in my mind, a game shouldn't hit retail until it's up to the highest of standards. They did the right thing with their MLB franchise for the PS2, why didn’t the logic extend into the other facets of the company? I understand the need to put this game out at the onset of the basketball season but I would have liked to see what Killer Game could have done with a few more months of time.

Let’s be honest here, when a game starts touting that it includes “all 300 Division I-A Teams” you know that you’re in trouble. Really, it’s like making a baseball game and touting that it “includes all MLB teams and players.” It’s ridiculous and really is a testament as to the weakness of the overall product. All right, so the game includes a huge number of schools but does it matter when the game plays this bad? Gameplay is below par, the graphics are below par and to be honest, I’d hate to be the kid who has this game waiting for him under the tree this Christmas.
This is a below average basketball title that has a few nice things going for it, but is marred by some bad AI and gameplay.

Rating: 5.1 Flawed

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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