NCAA Football 2003 by EA Sports
What is it?: PS2 Game
Price: $49.99 (except at Toys R' Us, who wishes to screw you out of five extra bucks)

by Tom Edwards , Editor-In-Chief,

    I've got a pile of reviews that need to be done, and I haven't been writing anything lately, so I figured I could combine the things that have been occupying my time and review them, therefore killing two birds with one stone, if you're the violent type who wishes to kill birds.

    Anyway, the NCAA college football series by EA Sports has grown from a warmup for the NFL Madden series and a quick money-grubbing way to take last years pro football game and stick college teams on it to an actually strong franchise all of its own.  While past games have offered little more to the mainstream football fan than different teams, bands, and the option play, the EA Sports team have managed to make the NCAA Football experience one of its own.

    Now, since major sports games are generally put out once a year, there are generally two ways of looking at the most recent versaion of the game.  You can look at it from the perspective of a new buyer, someone who has never played the series at all.  At the same time, you can look at it from the perspective of the person who owned last year's version of the game and wants to know what's new and better about this version.  A game that could be incredible for a person who has never played the game could be not worth the time of someone who owned last year's version because the game brings very little new to the table except updated rosters.  This is mostly the case for NCAA Football 2003.

    Air Force Entrance Let me start right out by saying that by no means is this a bad game.  It's a true college football experience.  The various college fight songs (they have almost every Division 1-A team) playing in the background as you make your selections for the type of game you play give you that feel that it is a college game.  Every Division 1-A team is represented, so if you have the sick fantasy of telling your friend that the University of Buffalo is a national powerhouse despite their C+ rating as you select the University of Miami, you can do that, and still get Buffalo's stadium and authentic uniforms.

    Dynasty mode is easily the selling point for the game.  Take control of any college team and run them through their first season.  Then, lose players to graduation and recruit new freshmen with the power of your program and your location.  Don't expect to get the #1 blue chip quarterback prospect if you're not in the top 25, unless you luck out greatly.  Instead, you are given a list of top players available, which are sorted by location (so you can grab a few guys from your college's state), top 100, and by position.  Each potential recruit has a 40 time, GPA, bench, and other statistics listed, but no atcual ratings... you don't see those unless he comes to your school.  You also see the recruit's interest in your school, so you know whether or not to waste your time.  When you see players of some ability who want to play for your school, make visits with your head coach or assistant coach, or make phone calls to the recruit (the amount of which you can make is controlled by a point system determined by the interest the recruit has in your program and how good your program is.)

    A new feature this season that was sorely missing from last year's version is the ability in dynasty mode to select your schedule.  In real college football, team schedules are carefully determined by the school to make them as easy or difficult as they want in order to make the program look powerful (against the creampuff teams) or earn some respect (by a lesser known team taking a tough schedule to show how good they can be.)  Too often last season people looking for a challenge would take over a weaker team and make them respectable, but never a top 10 team due to their weak schedules.  In NCAA 2003, the option of whether to edit the schedules or not is given to the gamer, not the game.

    The main feature that will bring in last year's NCAA Football crowd, however, is the Create-A-School feature.  Too often has a gamer like myself hoped to find a personal favorite school only to find them not included in "this year's edition."  EA has covered most of their bases by including every Division I-A school and some Division I-AA schools (read: Ivy League and black colleges), but there are going to be Division I-AA fans disappointed by their favorite school not being included (like I was), and the Create-A-School feature serves their needs.  By using three screens worth of options, a relatively close version of your favorite school can be in the game, with a relatively small amount of memory card space used.  I made a Hofstra team in less than 10 minutes, and they look almost exactly like the Flying Dutchmen that I watched, right down to the stadium.  Rosters can be edited as well, so if you have more time, or are a perfectionist, you can also put that team's roster in place (although the inability to edit the player's student standing - freshman, sophmore, etc., hinders this.)  Otherwise, a roster is made for you dependent on the type of team you select in one of the Create-A-School menus (run-and-gun, academic, powerhouse).

    The gameplay is almost exact to that of Madden, so those who have owned the Madden series in the past will be able to pick up NCAA 2003 immedately.  The college playbook is a college playbook, however, so the wishbone, the option, and various other formations not seen in the NFL are available to use in NCAA, making for some interesting playing, and a bit more of a challenge.  I can remember in the past playing NCAA and switching over to Madden and missing the ability to run the option or put my team in a 4-4 defensive formation.  This year will be no different.  One thing that Madden and NCAA fans have complained about in the past is the AI (computer smarts for you video game laymen) of the defenses run by the CPU.  Although I never complained that much, I do know that the interceptions seem to come more frequently than in past versions (I saw seven between two teams in a recent game I played), and that there is a slider system that allows the user to make several areas either harder or easier when facing a computer-controlled opponent (such as pass defense, run defense, pass offense, etc.)  Be warned, however, that I've run into one game already that decided to use the cheat method of victory (your team can't complete a pass, fumbles galore, and nothing the computer does is wrong), but that could also be chalked up to the team having a bad day.

    Overall, it all comes down to your preferences.  If you don't already own NCAA 2002, then by all means go out and get this game.  There is no NCAA football game that comes close to the features, graphics, and gameplay that NCAA Football 2003 beings.  If you do own NCAA 2002, and find yourself wondering whether or not the game is worth $50 for updated rosters and Create-A-School, then go out and rent it.  Play it yourself for $6 at Blockbuster, check out the features, and make the decision for yourself.  With Madden 2003 on the horizion (8 days away as I write this), choosing one can be a tough decision to make.