The college football season is almost upon us, and that means the flood of college football videogames has begun.
First to cross the finish line is "NCAA Football 2003," Tiburon and EA Sports' latest offering for PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox.
I took a look at the PS2 version, and came away greatly impressed.
If they stuffed any more goodies into the game, it would have had to come on two disks. You get 117 Division 1-A schools, 27 Division 2-A schools, 200 fight songs, cheerleaders, a great announcing package and enough twists and turns to make this a dramatically new game.
"NCAA Football 2003" is based on a version of the engine that drives the perpetually popular Madden NFL series, while adding exclusive college quirks that make the game the equal of Madden for college fans.
Boot up the game and it asks you for your favorite college team. Fill in Fresno State, as I did, or use your own alma mater. You can then play a quick game matching your team against one of its traditional WAC rivals.
I beat the cleats off San Jose State, although the San Diego State Aztecs gave my Bulldogs all they could handle.
In many football titles, offense tends to lean toward either passing or running. But in "NCAA Football 2003," there seems to be an excellent balance. There's no need to lean exclusively on the pass, because running plays often are successful.
The game offers a variety of ways to play, including a neat Rivalry mode which lets you play such fall classic matchups as California and Stanford's annual tussle for the Ax.
You can also stage practice games and play a traditional season. But if you want to get your money's worth, the best bet is to pick Dynasty. Over the course of dozens of seasons, you play, recruit new players to fill holes, redshirt others to keep a supply of talent and hire - and fire - your head coach.
There are tons of new plays, and the tricky option play, a college evergreen, works beautifully. You can even create your own school (no, you can't issue yourself a diploma) and stock it with the kind of behemoths that can win you a national championship.
Graphics get an A-. The players are clean and sharp, and appear quite lifelike. Stadiums are nicely drawn and filled with fans. The players could move more smoothly, but they're an improvement over last year.
Sound is another A-. The howling fans and jaunty fight songs lend a real game-day feel. The commentary by Lee Corso, Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit is solid and really fits the action, although it tends to get repetitive after a while.
Control gets an A. Once you settle in, the controller becomes an extension of your hand. Passes go where they're thrown (including into the hands of defensive backs if you're off target) and runners hit holes precisely where they appear.
"NCAA Football 2003" gets an A. It's the best college football game I've had the pleasure of playing, period.
"NCAA Football 2003" is rated E, for ages 6 and up.
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