Review: NCAA 2004 -- Big bang for buck, or bust?

(Ed's note: Monday, July 21, we've added notes about NCAA 2004 Online play. See those notes at the end of this review.) For the money, there are few better bangs for the buck. Any addict of NCAA Football, one of EA's most profitable video games, can attest to hours of fun, competition and even stress. Paul Honda and Danny Cup Choy take a closer look at the newest release.

It could've been better. It could've been worse.

All in all, EA Sports' NCAA 2004, released Tuesday locally, is an exciting blend of current powerhouses, historical greats and improved graphics.

From the University of Hawaii football fan's perspective, however, disappointment may be too kind a word for the latest version of the best college video game (for PlayStation2) on the market.

Personally, I'm more of a Madden NFL Football fan than NCAA. However, I will admit that the dynasty mode of NCAA Football is highly entertaining, especially when recruiting has to be done. For me, the recruiting is more fun than a typical game between UH and UTEP.

Another great feature is customizing schedules to change out-of-conference games. This allows the player to drop, for example, Appalachian State, with someone like Ohio State.

But these are features that have been part of NCAA Football for awhile. The biggest pluses in terms of UH football in the game is the improvement of ratings for some Warriors. Isaac Sopoaga, an Outland Trophy candidate, was granted an 85 rating by EA. Chad Owens, who broke kick return records two seasons ago against BYU before a national TV audience, finally got some respect. His speed rating improved to 95.

Even Tim Chang got a bump to 86, a very solid rating for a quarterback. However, as Scott Robbs said, using Chang in the game can be hairy. One hit and Chang was injured when Scott played his brand-new NCAA 2004 Tuesday night.

Here's a look at the UH players listed by EA, along with their overall ratings and some notes by. I've added Danny Cup Choy's review after the list of players' ratings. Danny, a longtime NCAA Football addict, talks much more in depth about gameplay.

HAWAII

OFFENSE

QB

Tim Chang = 86

Jason Whieldon = 77

Kainoa Akina = 73

Jeff Rhode = 66

RB

John West = 76

Mike Bass = 75

Mike Brewster = 73

FB

#42 = 67

Who the heck this guy is, I have no clue. The only #42 on the UH roster is Leonard Peters, a DB. Not a good sign from EA ... dagnabit!!

WR

Chad Owens = 83

Jeremiah Cockheran = 82

Britton Komine = 79

Kanale George = 78

Clifton Herbert = 75

Nate Ilaoa = 69

Notes: Cockheran's speed = 85, still too low—he ran a 4.3 40 … Komine's speed = 85, same as Cockheran's!! What the heck?!! … George is a question mark right now according to Ron Lee … Ilaoa's rating … this is the worst rating by EA so far in this version of the game. Just look at his appearance in the game. They gave him a crewcut. He actually wears an afro. EA screwed Nate over royally.

TE

Daniel Inferrera = 62

Marcus Weems = 57

Notes: Don't ask me why. They have TEs listed even though JJ refuses to use one … Inferrera looks African-American according to EA … Weems is no longer around, supposedly.

TACKLES

LT

Samson Satele = 71

Brandon Eaton = 68

RT

Dane Uperesa = 74

Ryan Santos = 69

GUARDS

RG

Uriah Moenoa = 85

RG #74 = 76

LG

Shayne Kajioka = 82

Phil Kauffman = 71

C

Derek Faavi = 76

Marques Kaonohi = 61

Notes: There is no #74 on the roster. This could be #75, Chad Kahale, or #76, Jonathan Ekno … If Cav ever sees these ratings, he might blow a stack.

DEFENSE

D-ENDS

RE

Travis LaBoy = 78

Kila Kamakawiwo'ole = 68

LE

Houston Ala = 77

Kevin Jackson = 68

Notes: They gave LaBoy a 68 for speed … this guy was a high-jumper in high school … 68? Another travesty by EA … Overall, EA nuked the UH DE's.

DT

Isaac Sopoaga = 85

Lui Fuga = 78

Lance Samuseva = 67

LINEBACKERS

ROLB

Keani Alapa = 69

Patrick Harley = 58

LOLB

Ikaika Curnan = 67

Kilinahe Noa = 58

MLB

Chad Kalilimoku = 69

Tanuvasa Moe = 54

CB

Kevin Millhouse = 83

Abraham Eliminian = 71

Gary Wright = 67

Kenny Patton = 60

FS

David Gilmore = 73

Leonard Peters = 72

Matt Manuma = 69

SS

Hyrum Peters = 86

Chad Kapanui = 60

K

Justin Ayat = 80

P

Kurt Milne = 59

Overall, the ratings are better than last year, but still below par. Inexcusable work by a billion-dollar corporation. Sheesh … if they really wanted ratings, they could've come to RSN and asked. Oh well …

I expect more from a billion-dollar corporation. At the very least, Vili could've been added as a mascot. But then again, EA is the same company that can't get the right color of pants for UH's road uniforms. On the road, EA has UH wearing green.

My advice to EA: GET THE COLOR-BLIND GUY OUT OF DESIGN/RESEARCH.

From Danny:

Paul already broke down the UH portion of NCAA 2004. After a couple hours of playing the new game, there are some changes in this game, for better or for worse.

1) The graphics are better, and the camera angles are different (I can't really say if they are better or worse yet). The cameras move with the play. For example, if your QB scrambles out of the pocket, the camera angles along with the QB, giving a much different look to the field than in previous NCAA games.

2) Speed is more pronounced. In previous games, you would look at a guy who had 95 speed and a guy with 85 speed...and you couldn't really tell a big difference. In this game you can, so quick teams are tough to beat.

3) Not as easy to pass the ball. In previous games, even on the hardest levels, if you found a one on one matchup and threw it on time, it was gonna be a catch, no matter what. This game is not like that, as CB's jump higher and hit harder, jarring the ball loose quite a bit.

4) Its more technical. I really like this part of the game. The plays you choose are much more technical, and you really have to analyze where each position will be with the play you call.

5) I really, really like the old school team feature.

I've already played one game with my favorite team ever, the 1997 Michigan Wolverines. It's great, and adds a whole lot to this new game. To me, the mascot games are kinda corny...but that's just me.

Personally, I think it's another great game by EA sports. Hawaii did get screwed again, though it honestly is an improvement over NCAA 2003. But I don't buy the game for Hawaii. I will play 1 season with them, but ill play a season with 10 other teams. If you are buying it primarily for the Hawaii team, then 50 bucks is questionable. But if you are buying it as a fan of college football as a whole and EA sports games...then definitely get it. Since I am disappointed with Hawaii's representation in the game, I can't give it an A. I'll give it an A-.

Danny's Grade: A-

Paul's Grade: C+ overall; D+ for upgrade of UH football team

Extras of Online Play

The "extras" of NCAA 2004 Online are phenomenal. Compared to Madden 2003, EA's first football online foray, NCAA 2004 is 10x better. It would like comparing "Star Trek" the series to the latest "Star Wars."

The chat room/lobby is very impressive. A player can see another's stats, a list of his last 10 opponents and scores, start an "EA Messenger" buddy list. On that buddy list, a player can see which area of the site his "buddy" is on. If his buddy is currently playing a game, the list shows score updates by the quarter.

All in all, pretty amazing stuff.

In addition, the negatives of the Madden 2003 Online play seem to have been smoothed over. The cussing found in Madden chatrooms has been "bleeped" out. When a player challenges you to a game, his name is simply added automatically (and temporarily) to your buddy list, which you will be aware of thanks to one of the many new sound effects. As you click on his name, you will see his record, background, previous games, etc. That helps you decide whether to play him or not, i.e. Is his disconnect (quitting) rate too high to bother with?

As for pullers—players who disconnect at the end of a game to prevent taking a loss—the jury is still out. On Madden 2003, the online pulling was one of the negatives that took away from the experience. I've had no problems on NCAA 2004, even after three opponents tried to pull on me. However, one player in the chat rooms told me that it happened to him twice.

As Danny said, the QB cam is interesting, too. As the QB rolls out, the camera angle adjusts to the QB's position on the field. It might give a few guys motion sickness, but it's another nice addition.

A final note about the graphics: The details of each player's movements is at a level totally unimaginable just five or 10 years ago. You'll have to see it to believe it. Visual lags still exist in the online system, but most of the time—about 90 percent—the games stream through beautifully.

My name is Paul, and I am an NCAA-holic. See you online.


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