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Sega Sports NCAA 2K2 (DC) Review

Publisher: Sega Sports

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Even though the college football season is at the midpoint, a review of Visual Concepts' NCAA 2K2 for the Sega Dreamcast is better late than never. Football fans and Dreamcast users have been craving a college football title on Sega's hardware for a couple of years. With the promise of the superb Visual Concepts NFL2K engine behind it, the prospects were encouraging for an incredible football game based on the NCAA. With lofty goals in mind, VC and Sega set out to do just that. The challenge of equaling or surpassing EA's venerable NCAA series was palpable. That series has always been known for providing a game that mirrors the pageantry and spectacle of the college game. So the question is can the new kid on the block beat out the veteran series or does it need to hit the showers?

Presentation/Graphics : 80
The very first time I set my eyes on NCAA 2K2 I almost yacked. Granted, I had been playing plenty of NCAA 2002 on the PS2 which has some beautifully crafted graphics. But the fields in NCAA 2K2 seemed a little too bright for my taste and detracted from the overall look of the game. On the positive side, however, the stadiums had their appropriate designs implemented. Fans of the college game will instantly recognize stadiums while standing on the field. As an added touch, the crowd has visible animations. The only thing missing is the dynamic attendance seen in EA's effort.

The players' appearances are diverse. It looks like VC did some work in updating player models as now some lineman have huge guts which hang over their belts. There is plenty of diversity in player size and shape. The uniforms look great, though the lack of helmet decals for positive play is missing. If there is a fault with the player models it is that they don't look lifelike due to flat skin textures and blocky movements.

The blocky movements are definitely seen during the game action as some of the players move in a jerky manner. This is disappointing, as most of the animations are pretty good. The game's speed may have something to do with it (even on the slowest setting the game plays fast), or maybe it's just time spent with the latest EA games that have a more realistic pace. Either way you often don't have time to enjoy some of the better animation sequences such as interceptions, receptions, tackles, and more. It's only during replays that you can truly appreciate some of the better animation sequences.

Where the game breaks down graphically, and it's been a problem with the NFL2K series from the start, is collision detection. Before a play you can move your defensive player through your teammates. In addition, you'll often find arms penetrating through players on runs or catches, and the ball's path doesn't seem to be influenced significantly by bodies. Sometimes balls are vacuumed into another player rather than naturally bouncing into his arms. Another graphical gremlin is sloppy framerates. In some stadiums the action gets extremely choppy and renders the control difficult at best. Playing at home as FSU was tough, but as the Wolverines the frame rate was fine at Michigan Stadium.

Presentation/Audio : 80
One of the high points of the NFL2K series has always been the audio. The fictitious two-man booth provides a decent running commentary, and nothing beats the on-field chatter of the players. Both aspects remain intact in NCAA 2K2 as well as some additional college-specific sounds. During games you can hear the marching bands playing in the stands. While the tunes come through clearly, only a handful of schools actually have their songs in the game. And those that do have songs quickly get annoying. Fight songs are endlessly repeated and end up being more annoying than adding local flavor to the game. I was annoyed a few years ago watching the Rose Bowl and hearing the Trojan fight song repeated ad infinitum during the game; I'm equally annoyed hearing Michigan's fight song played over and over, and I am even a graduate of UM.

In the booth, the action is called fairly well with the exception being multiple calls about your team coughing the ball up on the last possession. The commentators have a short memory as many times this follows a previous series during which you posted 3 or 7 points. In all other cases the play-by-play seems to be right on top of the action. As far as color goes, the booth tries their best, but I don't need to hear the same thing about Britney "Spoons" multiple times during the game.

Fortunately the game options allow full customization of the audio. You can dial in a television-style presentation or listen to the game from the perspective of a fan in the seats or a player on the field. And one thing that has always set the NFL2K series apart from the competition has been the on-field trash talking and strategy calls. Each play you'll hear defensive and offensive players barking out commands and telling others to pick up a blocker or receiver. The chatter is really appreciated since the overall presentation lacks the feel of the college game.

Interface/Options : 70
Like every sports game out there, NCAA 2K2 is no different when it comes to the game modes. For quick action there's an exhibition mode where you decide who plays who. Or if you have a favorite team you can take them through a single season in the season mode or coach them over multiple years in the legacy mode. For beginners, the game offers a practice mode.

While NCAA 2K2 does have a dynasty type mode, its implementation is haphazard at best. Those wanting a game within a game filled with deep recruiting strategies, national recruits, and visits from everyone from head coaches to equipment managers have to look elsewhere. Once the season ends, your seniors and early outs leave requiring some positions to be filled. You then have five virtual weeks to recruit. Each week you can set up 5 visits from your staff. That's a total of 25 visits where some players will need multiple visits to get swayed to your school. Once the period is up you can check your recruiting class and any unfilled positions are taken by walk-ons. You can then redshirt players. That's it. I was hoping for a recruiting season similar to 2002 and was severely let down by what was included.

Also missing from the game is a detailed AI options set. Gameplay options include one of three difficulty settings and slide bars for penalties. But there are no slide bars or toggle switches to customize the offensive and defensive AI. Thus, if you find your receivers are too good and want to lower their catching ability, you're out of luck.

The statistical engine keeps some questionable stats. Once I was able to find the top 25 poll through the confusing stats page, I was amazed at the teams in the top 25. The top 25 was filled with teams from middle and lower class conferences while many traditional powerhouses were kept out. Teams like Ball State get too much respect. Furthermore, there are no supplemental polls like the BCS rankings in the game. Along with the goofy rankings, some individual stats are extreme. National leaders have stats about 20 percent too high to be considered realistic.

Gameplay : 83
Giving an adequate assessment of any sports title is always in the eye of the beholder. What makes a sim and what makes an arcade title often is clouded by personal choice. For a game like NCAA 2K2, you can find both sim and arcade components in the game. Thus, it really boils down to how fun the game is. As a reviewer all I can do is state the positives and negatives and hopefully you'll read past all my biases and make your own decision.

One of my biggest gripes with football games is defensive AI. More times than not this usually boils down to the secondary play. The first thing I test in any football game is how aware the safeties, cornerbacks, and linebackers are to the passing game. The NFL2K engine usually has an above average secondary, and the tradition continues with NCAA 2K2. What sets the secondary of the NFL2K engine apart from the competition is that before a pass you can watch defenders covering receivers. As soon as the ball is thrown various defenders become aware of the ball and run towards the intended receiver. If throwing over the middle and underneath the coverage your receiver will quickly find himself surrounded by tacklers. If you compare the secondary play to that of EA's NCAA 2002, you'll find a secondary that is not as aware. Often they don't make a move until after the receiver has the ball in hand. It's a fine distinction, but it shows the quality of the defensive AI of NCAA 2K2 and the NFL2K engine in particular.

While the secondary play has some moments of brilliance, you can still exploit the passing game. However, this is more due to your ability to pick up coverages than an overall deficiency in the AI. Many times the CPU secondary will play a zone coverage and by choosing your patterns well, you can find the open receiver in the middle of the field or in the flats. It really boils down to how well you can read defenses since the pass rush from the defensive line is substantial. Reading defenses is a key element of the game since, unlike EA's NCAA series, you can't arbitrarily throw into double- and triple-coverage. Doing so often leads to an interception. Likewise, throwing over the middle can be tricky if a linebacker is playing zone in the middle of the field. When you are on defense you have to choose your coverage to maximize your team's strengths. I like to play as the Rice Owls in the college game, and I quickly found out how poor their secondary is. In man coverage my opponents blew by my corners.

The difference in speed and talent is much appreciated. In some football games teams and players are evenly matched. In NCAA 2002 I could easily handle my opponents, including Top 10 teams. In 2K2, the disparity between the good and bad teams is tangible. Playing as Michigan I wiped the floor with the out-of-conference MAC opponents, but as soon as I hit Washington and the Big Ten schedule the competition improved. Playing as Rice I couldn't even hold FSU's jockstrap. The game doesn't keep the contests artificially close like other titles.

If there is a fault with the offensive game, it's with the running scheme. As mentioned, I like to play as Rice. The Owls are one of the few teams to run the wishbone offense and nearly every play features 3 backs. I found the play selection to be inadequate for the Owls. While the Wishbone and Triple-I were in the game, the diversity of plays just wasn't there. There were few option plays. For other teams the playbooks were more in character, but even then the option game was not adequately represented. In fact, the option game of NCAA 2K2 is a joke compared to the wonderful implementation of EA's NCAA 2002. In 2K2, the option plays are run similarly to pass plays. You press a button to pitch to a back, but the response seems to be sluggish. Trying to stick the ball in the gut of the fullback as he dives through the line is next to impossible. Plus, there is no fake pitch button like in 2002. There's no greater joy than to be running down the line with a defender between you and your back. The defender doesn't know who to commit to so you show fake the pitch, watch him react, cut up field, and gain some yards. You get none of that excitement in 2K2. What is a staple for me in 2002 is never used in 2K2. Also ineffective are counter plays. The defensive line usually gets good penetration and the extra time needed to set up counter plays (and even some draw plays) busts the play. Most of all, though, 2K2 lacks the quality running game of 2002. I love to follow blockers and run through holes in the offensive line. I'm a huge fan of the running game. While 2K2's running game is decent, it just isn't as good as other games.

Some other nuisances with the game include AI QBs that rarely get sacked and AI defensive line formations. AI quarterbacks are highly effective at dumping the ball a microsecond before you get to him. It's a bit of a cheating AI. I get more gratification when the AI QB scrambles out of the pocket under chase and completes a pass than when he manages to dump it off just before a sack. When the CPU is on defense it often calls a six-man front on first down. I don't know when I last saw a six-man front in a game. Sure you can load the line up with linemen and linebackers, but not like what is implemented in 2K2.

One last comment is the kicking game. The kicking game hasn't changed since NFL2K, which means you move an arrow left, right, up, and down. You then press a button to fill a strength meter and press again when at the desired strength. Kicks and punts are pretty much automatic because of the dated method.

But overall, the positives of the gameplay outweigh the negatives. The tight control lends itself to more of an arcade style of play. Backs and receivers can switch direction on a dime due to toned-down momentum physics. Receivers don't stumble 2 or 3 yards after receiving a ball but transition more realistically. Furthermore, the small things like defensive motion before the snap makes the game feel more realistic.

Replay Value : 84
If you're a fan of the NFL2K series then you can really consider NCAA 2K2 as an extension of the winning formula. This time, instead of a few NFL teams, you get over a hundred NCAA teams of various ability. Each team can be played via individual games, a single season, or multiple seasons. The brand of football is somewhere between a simulation title and an arcade game, and it makes the play fun. There's an instant gratification that takes longer with a more sim-oriented title. While I like both NCAA 2K2 on the Dreamcast and NCAA 2002 on the PS2, I like them for different reasons. I find the titles complement each other. Neither title is world-class in terms of quality; they both have flaws. But NCAA 2K2 is fun. And unlike NCAA 2002, I have yet to scream at the television while playing 2K2 and accuse the game of cheating. If you want faster paced, semi-realistic, and entertaining football, NCAA 2K2 will keep you busy for the remainder of the college season.

Overall : 81
Despite the lacking legacy mode of the game and some issues in the running game, NCAA 2K2 is an incredibly fun play. When it comes down to the two best college football games on the market, 2K2 (DC) or 2002 (PS2), each one has its strong and weak points. The offensive and defensive passing game of 2K2 is better than 2002, but the running game of 2002 is heaven on earth. But when you throw in other aspects like discernible differences in play quality among schools and tight control, you have a game that captures a bit of simulation traits while playing like an arcade title. It tries to get the best of both worlds and succeeds in many cases.

By: James Smith 10/18/01

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