NCAA GameBreaker 2004
System: Playstation2
Publisher: Sony CEA 
Developer: 989 Sports
Released: August 2003
Genre: Sports (Football)
Memory Card, Multi-Tap for up to 8 players, Network Adaptor for online play, USB Headset

Review Written: September 15, 2003

Before it was quite common to overlook most college football video games, but then last year’s NCAA Football 2003 flew off the shelves and now it is hard for any other college football game to make a name for itself. Sega’s college football series retired after just two seasons last year due to its lackluster sales. Now 989’s oft-ignored NCAA GameBreaker series is the only other college football franchise left on the market. It has a couple big additions this year such as online play, but the lagging gameplay and graphics makes it fall short of the first down when compared to EA’s college offering.

The game engine is derived from 989’s other football offering, NFL Gameday. It is easy to get a quick grasp for the controls because many of the control functions are the way they are in NCAA Football 2004 such as having B to spin, X to dive/tackle, and using the shoulder buttons to stiff arm and juke. This wouldn’t be your average football game either if it weren’t crammed with the many audibles and hot routes you can call at the line of scrimmage, and I can assure you that GameBreaker has them all. One thing I like about the playbook is it has special packaged plays for pass and rush coverages or short yardage gains/blocks. I prefer this a bit more than just getting the one recommended play I get from the “Ask Corso” option in EA’s game.

Actual gameplay has a bit of a mixed feeling. It seems the defense likes to open up the middle quite frequently and let me get big rushing gains often. I went a few games before I was finally tackled for negative rushing yards. Also, about half the time I’m scrambling out of the pocket with my QB, there will be no defenders heading the way my QB is scrambling, which will almost guarantee him a good 10-15 yard run each time. I don’t think it is common to see QB’s average 90 rushing yards each game nowadays, but GameBreaker makes it possible. Playing defense takes a bit of getting use to, the AI’s offense can be a bit unforgiving at times, and if you pick the wrong defense just once, don’t be surprised if the comp scores a touchdown that very instant. I also find it hard to break through the offensive line, even when blitzing. Pressing X repeatedly to fight through blocks flusters me when EA’s and Sega’s football games spoiled us with the handy defensive swim moves to break past the O-line.

One of the touted new features to this year’s GameBreaker is the support of a USB headset to make some last minute adjustments before the snap. There are 38 different commands you can call into the headset by holding the R2 button which will do things like send players in motion, call audibles and hot routes, or shift the defensive backs. I had to be pretty precise with my voice, because there were a bit of occasions where the game didn’t understood what I said and it prompted me to the quit screen.

GameBreaker has all the standard modes we come to expect out of pigskin titles. There are the self-explanatory Scrimmage, Practice, Season, and Tournament modes that will always be there to satisfy us for either quick gaming sessions or without worrying about all the micromanagement that Career mode has to offer. While the Career mode may not be as deep as NCAA Football’s Dynasty mode, it still has all the fundamentals that you come to expect. You got to start off each season recruiting new prospects from high-schools and junior colleges as the seniors graduate into the NFL. GameBreaker’s handy “Blue-Chip Recruiting” will narrow the list out to make sure you get the right pick for your team. While progressing through each season, awards can be tracked for players of the week and Heisman trophy candidates. If you don’t fare well you can be booted off as head coach or you can quit and join another team’s coaching staff.

GameBreaker boasts 117 division one teams, and 66 historical teams, but if you’re like me and disappointed when your home team doesn’t make the cut, then you’ll jump straight to the Create-a-Team mode where you can customize your teams own uniform and arena. You can also create “Walk-Ons” (clever name, I like) or rename any of the players on the roster to match them up to their team’s real life counterparts (this is due to NCAA’s rules to not allow royalties to players; therefore the real names aren’t listed in the game). One odd qualm I have with the edit player options is when you add player names, even though they show up on ball carrier icons during gameplay, they don’t appear on the player’s jersey or on any of the stat overlays. Why the developers didn’t do this is beyond my imagination.

The biggest addition to this year’s game is online play, and let me tell you the amount of online options are impeccable! The game makes use of the 989 Sports Network much like the same way as NFL Fever uses the XSN Sports Network. Besides doing all the standard online functions like tracking win-loss records, you can also set up online tournaments, add other users using a convenient buddy list that lets you see if they’re playing a different 989 game and invite them to join you in a match-up! There is even an actual ticker that gives you up to date scores from real life sports contests and games going on in other 989 titles. Then you can also send email to your fellow competitors or read and post in message boards right there from your television! GameBreaker also supports the USB headset for real time voice chat during gameplay, or you can use a USB keyboard if that suits your fancy.

GameBreaker’s graphics lack the polish that I come to expect out of today’s football games. The player models look decent at best and there really is not anything that stands out and makes me go “wow!” There are some cool animations for tackles where you’ll see players doing 360 flips in the air, or players getting dragged down from behind. But the amount of them is sparse and I grew tired of seeing the same tackle animations several times in each game. The stadiums give me the same feelings too. The ugly sprites of the crowd stand out more than any other football game on the market, and the not-so-detailed turf won’t leave any lasting impressions either.

The presentation is average, there are some slick transitions for instant replays, but the replays themselves are nothing to marvel over. No halftime or post-game shows here, but there is the standard little pre-game report briefing us on the teams. I at least thought there would be that key play of the half feature that was in Gameday’s halftime report, and I’m disappointed that it isn’t included here.

The good thing about college games is that they don’t suffer the fate of the modernization of NFL games getting licensed soundtracks. Instead, an abundance of college fight songs run rampant while browsing menus and they definitely set the tone for gameplay to boot as you hear them being played in-between the snaps. Play-by-Play is done by Keith Jackson who does a decent job with that distinctive broadcaster tone and doesn’t sound like a robot like other video game commentators tend to be. Tim Brant provides the commentary; he has an Irish tone of voice that supplements his witty jokes. They combine for a decent commentary team overall, and my only complaint is that they aren’t as continuous as in the Sega Sports titles, or NCAA Football.

Career and Online modes are probably where you’ll spend hours of your game playing time. Then there are all the extra creation options for making your own players and teams that will consume a while of your time too. However, 989 desperately needs to tack on a couple of extra gameplay modes to stay fresh with the competition, NCAA Football has extra Rivalry and Mascot modes of play with additional trophies and pennants to be earned as rewards. GameBreaker has no such bonuses, and they should have added one this year, maybe they’ll learn their lesson with next years game.


Graphics: 6.1
Sound: 8.6
Gameplay: 7.2
Replay Value: 8.0

Overall: 7.4

NCAA GameBreaker 2004 is a modest effort from the folks at 989 Sports, but yet it falls short this season when matched up to NCAA Football 2004. While EA’s game may feature better graphics, gameplay, and amount of bells and whistles, 989 surpasses it in the online play department by a mile! If you’re considering getting two college football games this year, or just want to try a change of pace, then go ahead and give this one a shot.

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