NCAA Final Four 2004 Review (PS2)
College basketball is arguably the most exciting form of the sport. Many would argue that college basketball is a better sport to watch then the pro game; and the atmosphere is like no other. Is “NCAA Final Four 2004” able to capture this excitement?
If you’re looking for a game with multiple game-play modes, “NCAA Final Four 2004” will not disappoint. The game offers a diverse selection of game modes, which will be explained in further detail below. This has become 989 Sports’ strength over the years; not only with their basketball games, but with all their sports games.
Online mode gives the gamer all the online action they can handle. First, you must create an account with a password. Once this is complete, you are taken to the online “welcome” lobby. This lobby allows you to create games, post messages, join tournaments and much more. You’ll collect points during online play and this determines your ranking and which skill level you’ll be assigned. Your skill level also determines which opponents you’ll play. Quitting a game will penalize you by reducing your points earned, thus prevent you from entering higher skill level game rooms.
Creating tournaments is a breeze. You can enter a password to privatize it. You’ll set a sign-up start date and sign-up end date, and you’ll choose when you want your tournament to start. There’s also another nice feature; providing the ability to send/receive feedback to/from other online gamers.
Two of the strengths of “NCAA 2004” lie within the “Dynasty” and “Career” modes. As a coach in “Dynasty” mode, you can take any team from Division I-A and try to build it’s program. There are three coach ranks to pick from. On “Graduate Assistant”, player recruiting is performed automatically by the CPU. The “Assistant Coach” gives you control over the entire recruiting process. You’ll have five visits per session to go after recruits, and as a “Head Coach”, you’ll have ten.
In “Career” mode, you’ll start off with a small school as a graduate assistant coach. You’ll work your way up through the ranks by winning games and recruiting players from around the country. At the end of the season, you’ll be evaluated on your coaching performance and then given the opportunity to sign on with an elite university. You can view your progress through the career menu as well.
How does the game-play compare on the court? “NCAA” packs most of the things you'd want in a college basketball game onto it’s disc. Last year’s game suffered from inept game-play at times. The passing game was a perfect example – the controls were clunky and frustrating. Thankfully, this portion of the game in “NCAA Final Four 2004” has been fixed. The slow movement speed of the ball while passing was another common complaint, but this has since been fixed as well.
However, not all is well in “NCAA 2004’s” passing game. Unfortunately, the ball physics on a long pass are poor. When making a long pass, the ball will fly up in the air, disappear from the screen and come back down again to the receiving player. This looks unrealistic and should be fixed for next year's game.
Since the original days of “NCAA Final Four 2004” for the Playstation, 989 Sports implemented a touch-shooting feature which was unique to the series and was enabled by default. I felt that this feature was distracting at times, seeing as how you had to look at this meter all the time when shooting. I'm happy to report that this year it has been removed all together.
Last year’s game was also plagued with poor offensive AI. CPU players would often run the fast break - but stop near the basket and take a jump shot, rather than running to the basket and lay-up or dunk. I’m happy to report that the CPU AI will run the fast break much better this year, but I did still see the “stop-and-shoot” AI on occasion.
The button controls can be frustrating at times. Oftentimes, when tapping on the shoot button, it will result in a shot, instead of the expected fake shot. This definitely detracts from the game, and needs to be addressed in next year’s game.
The rest of the control interface is intuitive. The digital pad is used to change your offensive and defensive plays, while the right analog stick is used to make your crossover dribbles, a la “Freestyle Control” in EA’s “NBA Live 2004”.
There is a lack of any offensive strategy from the AI, and it’s one of the most glaring problems with this game. Most of the time, the CPU will take the ball up the court and shoot quickly. They will only pass it once around and shoot, or take it on their own and drive to the hoop. This was evident on all difficulty levels. However, on the defensive end, the CPU does a good job of boxing out and getting rebounds.
Substitutions are performed correctly in this game. A player in foul trouble will be replaced by a bench player. Teams will take time outs when the momentum is not on their side.
Here are a few other assorted observations on the game. It takes a good 35-40 seconds for a game to load – and that’s a little disappointing. Stat overlays in the game are average at best. They remind me of something you’d see on a PS1. I wish more was done with this portion of the game. It lacks polish.
The game does a decent job representing the college game. Cheerleaders will cheer on their team and mascots will run about before the start of the game. Coaches are animated during the game, and you’ll will see them run up and down the sideline shouting out plays.
The player models in the game look decent. The players are blocky and seem to lack polish. However, the detailed arenas look very nice. All the major schools are represented nicely in this game.
The crowd noise is below average in this game. They sound monotonous, and it gets annoying after a while. Eventually, I had to turn the crowd noise down.
The commentary in “NCAA Final Four 2004” is poorly done, and it lacks any excitement whatever. 989 Sports should take a look at ESPN’s “College Hoops” on how to do commentary in a college basketball game.
One final note reagrding the audio: A loud “swoosh” sound can be noticed after a dunk. Just like in “NBA Live 2004”, this annoyed everyone who played it. Thankfully, you can turn this down by adjusting the audio sliders.
“NCAA Final Four 2004” is an average basketball game. I recommend that you rent it before you decide to spend your hard-earned money on the title. Many will be turned on by the plethora of game-play modes and options this game has to offer. Others will be turned off by the game-play AI, like I was. You can have the best graphics in the planet and all the gameplay modes and options you want, but if the gameplay isn’t up to par, the game suffers immensely. Unfortunately, that’s the case here with “NCAA Final Four 2004”.