NCAA Final Four 2004
System: Playstation2
Publisher: Sony CEA  
Developer: 989 Sports
Released: November 2003
Genre: Sports (Basketball)
Capabilities: Memory Card, Analog & Vibration feedback, Online multiplayer, USB Headset & Keyboard

Review Written: December 15, 2003

I was quite disappointed with 989ís pro basketball offering this year, NBA ShootOut 2004, so I was expecting more of the same gameplay but with NCAA teams in their college hoops title, NCAA Final Four 2004. I was surprised to find out this title was developed by a completely separate studio, but its gameplay isnít any better than the one in ShootOut.

I donít know about you, but I live in a relatively small town where we donít have NCAA Division 1-A basketball at our college, so with most of the other college sports titles I play I automatically look for the handy create-a-team function to add them to the mix. Hold on a second, I searched high and low through every menu and there isnít a frigging create-a-team option at all! At least there is a create-a-player feature, but only for use in exhibition and not in the main Career or Dynasty modes of the game. The lack of creation options got me ready for the unique gameplay I was about to experience.

At first I really liked playing Final Four 2004, it seemed to have a better flowing game pace than the sluggish one in ShootOut, and I am a sucker for the college atmosphere in sports games, complete with a nice variety of fight songs and chants during drives to the hoop. However, a couple games things seemed a little easy, too easy. The right analog juke system is nice, but worked almost all the time to deke out defenders. Driving in the paint just wasnít fun anymore. At least the AI now knows how to play a good perimeter game, as it isnít as easy to sink three pointers as it was in ShootOut.

Gameplay also seemed quite jerky; players would seem to transition from running down the court into magically shooting the ball in mid-air within a nanosecond. It just seems completely unnatural. The controls also have some issues, as passing has become a serious problem. Yes, you heard me right, PASSING! There are times I intended to pass a ball to the closest player to me, and instead the ball went into a completely different vicinity than I wanted it to. This rarely happens in other hoops games, and Iím surprised it happens about five or six times a game here. There is also a different free throw system in Final Four 2004, and I absolutely loath it because this free throw system relies more on luck than skill like the one in ShootOut.

Besides from the standard exhibition, arcade, tournament, and single season modes available to choose from, there are two main single player modes. The first is Dynasty mode where you have complete control over one of the nationís top college teams. Actually, Ďcompleteí is rather stretching it because there isnít that many options available in the off season as there are in its competitors. The only thing Iím particularly fond of is setting your practice regime to where to have the players focus more in practice. If youíre like me and really am not that good in the recruiting process in the offseason, than the computer will gladly take over the duty for you. However, getting the top high school picks is surprisingly easy as all it takes is several visits to that playerís home to persuade him to joining your school, after that worrying about other colleges trying to pick him up before you is non-existant. The other main single player mode is Career, which is essentially the same as Dynasty, but starting off at a smaller school, and moving up through the ranks to the big conferences after continuous big win seasons.

Yes, there is the excellent online play in Final Four 2004 that all other 989 sports titles have this year. It has the same robust amount of features such as win-loss stat tracking, buddy lists, message boards, user email, USB headset compatibility for live voice chat and a live sports ticker that updates with scores from real life sports across the nation. I enjoy all these extras just as much as the next guy, but why bother with them when the actual gameplay is too problematic and hectic to actually enjoy.

I was actually surprised to see player models sport a bit more detail than the ones in ShootOut. The players seem a bit more polished when compared to 989ís other hoops title, but the aforementioned jerky animation quickly puts them to shame. The developers did a nice job on making an immersive college atmosphere; there are nice pre-game shows of mascots running across the court with cheerleaders, and an abundance of college fight songs that run rampant during the menu screens. The commentary is handled by Eddie Doucet doing the play-by-play and Billy Packer on color, and they just do a lousy job overall. 80% of the time it is just Doucet sporadically saying random one-liners. Packer has some interesting thoughts, but it is just too bad I keep forgetting heís even there as he only manages to get about several lines in each half.

RATINGS

Graphics: 7.3
Sound: 7.0
Gameplay: 5.5
Replay Value: 3.8

Overall: 5.9

989 just canít get it right these days. The only thing done right in NCAA Final Four 2004 is the amazing online components, but almost everything else is a missed opportunity. The gameplay will you drive you nuts within moments. The Dynasty mode is put to shame when lined up to what EAís March Madness and Segaís ESPN College Hoops bring to the table. Any college basketball fans will be far better off avoiding this and going with one of those two titles instead.
 


 

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