reviews\ Nov 19, 2002 at 7:00 pm

NCAA Final Four 2003 - PS2 - Review

Oh it’s that time of year again when the basketball season is back in full swing and fans are anxiously watching their favorite teams or keeping their eye on the college basketball scene for that one player that will one day be drafted in the NBA.  Once again, 989 Sports released this year’s edition of NCAA Final Four 2003 for those sports fans among us that have college b-ball fever. 


This year’s game also features plenty of game modes to really get into and there are even more extensive game modes such as Dynasty, Season and Career.  Season takes gamers through an entire season of college b-ball (that’s twenty-eight games including a conference championship tournament).  Meanwhile Career mode is s multi-season deal as gamers begin their careers as a Graduate Assistant and work your way to Head Coach.  In Dynasty mode, a mode that will surely be a favorite, are for those gamers looking for a longer mode with much to do.  Here you take your favorite college team through many seasons and you can even build up their skills by putting your players through rigorous workouts to improve their free-throws or other skills each player needs work with.


The other modes such as Exhibition, Quick Start, Tournament and Arcade have been seen before but are still welcome additions to the game.  You can lead your favorite team or school (there are 303 division teams from Jacksonville to Kent State) in an Exhibition match or Quick Start game that puts you directly into the game.  If you want to play a fast paced intense game then try Arcade mode.  There is enough here to satisfy any basketball fan.


Control-wise the game moves along fluidly with a few new offensive and defensive moves.  The right analog stick is now used to make neat spin moves, behind-the-back dribbles and a few other moves with great ease.  There are also rating icons below the feet of star players and icons indicating which player is the fastest or a great shooter.  The icons work both ways so you know who the star of the other team is so you can have one of your players keep an eye out on him. The only visible problems this game faces are that sometimes what looks like is going to be a great slam dunk ends up being an inaccurate shot at the basket.  Making a shot to the basket is also a real pain.  The problem lies mostly with the fact that every time you shoot at a basket, you have to hold and release the circle button until the ball icon reaches a green circle icon.   


The games’ other flaw comes in the form of the player AI.  Your teammates can be a bit on the slow side when you need them the most.  Sometimes a simple pass to the nearest player can be a lob across the court where your other player is just standing around or covering another player.  The computer-controlled opponents can also be a bit thickheaded sometimes with players that hardly pass the ball around your tight defense.  They can also be oblivious to your attempts to try to grab at the ball as they slowly make their way toward the basket, but when it comes to stealing they can do it with ease.


Visually speaking, Final Four 2003 is not a spectacular looking game but it does feature some good lighting effects and somewhat realistic player models.  The overhead stadium lights cast a reflection on the glossy hardwood floor or a player’s slick body.  Each college stadium looks nice enough with bleachers filled with enthusiastic sports fans.  And the players themselves--although they do look great in their uniforms and do move realistically--aren’t as sharp looking as the players in NBA 2K3 but are decent enough.   


The game’s sound is also something of a mixed bag.  On the one hand you have really great background noises such as fans calling out for defense or cheering a magnificent slam-dunk.  Then there’s the sounds made by a player during dunks or fast and furious.  But on the other hand, there are some sound effect details that die-hard b-ball fans will not find here and the two-man commentator team can be repetitive.


NCAA Final Four 2003 is far from superior but it has enough game modes and teams to make this a worthwhile play.  Even if you’re a huge follower of college basketball, it‘s still best to rent this one first before considering purchasing it.


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 5.6
Hoop fans will find the controls pretty straightforward and the game does move along fluidly without any bumps or hiccups.  Gamers can easily find themselves pulling off fake shots or going for that intentional foul, but it’s the use of the right analog stick that will have gamers pulling off defensive and offensive moves such as shoulder-fake post moves or a separation move. 


On the technical side you can change the line up and even choose your defensive style.  You can even create a player and choose their attributes and abilities to fit your team’s needs.  Play well and your players will be rewarded with awards like the John R. Wooden Award.  You might also just find yourself under a Bubble Watch to play in the NCAA Tournament.


Graphics: 6.7
The player models will surely be the game’s biggest draw, visually speaking, of course.  Great attention was placed on things such as uniform folds and wrinkles or the muscles which flex realistically.  While the faces might look a bit odd at times, they players look great in action, especially during a replay of a dunk or great shot.  Yet sometimes the graphics can be a bit odd such as the player’s faces or the fact that sometimes the ball doesn’t look to be attached to their hands.


Each college stadium looks great with fans in the background waving their arms as cheerleaders wave their pom-poms.  Each college stadium has different designs with some stadiums looking better then others.


Sound: 6.5
With its hip-hop opening theme to jazzy music featured in the menu select screen, Final Four 2003 isn’t big on the tunes.  You will, though, find a marching band playing it up during breaks and it does a great job of putting you in a college game.  The same can be said about the background sounds, which are peppered with the voices of a cheerleading squad performing enthusiastic cheers while the crowd reacts to some awesome dunks.


The two-man team of CBS Sports’ Billy Packer and Eddie Doucette is not bad at all, but they can be very repetitive when it comes to successful shots being made.  They are especially good at keeping up with the game, though, and pointing out great plays.


Difficulty: Medium
There are four difficulty levels featured in the game: Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior.  No matter what level you choose, the player AI is what really puts up a challenge . . . and I don’t mean that in a good way.  Sometimes you will find yourself passing the ball to a player that’s farther up court rather then the player closest to you.  And to make things worse, the opponent team rarely shows signs of seeing you as much of a treat.


Concept: 7.0
The number of teams available will amaze sports fans and you might just find your own college among the line up such as Michigan State, Cornell or even Dartmouth.   Aside from this, 989 Sports has also gone to great lengths to make each team go by the actual playbook making the team play faithfully like the real-life team.  If a team is known for its excellent three-point attacks then that’s how the team will play.


The addition of Dynasty mode will also be much appreciated by those gamers that want a more comprehensive mode.  As a coach you will be put in full control over every aspect of your team’s status.  You can sharpen their skills in practice and make sure the weaker shooters get better at shooting while the weaker players should be told to hit the gym.  There’s also a recruitment option that will have you searching the states for top prospects and trying to coax them to sign up with your team.  The more you visit a school the better the chance to get a recruit to attend your college.


Multiplayer: 6.9
If the opponent AI is too frustrating to put up with then the game offers up multiplayer action fit for up to eight players (using the Multitap, naturally).  You can choose to play a four-on-four game in an Exhibition or Arcade mode game and there are enough teams to choose from in the long line up of colleges.


Overall: 6.4
While not being a jaw-dropping basketball experience, NCAA Final Four 2003 has enough to keep college hoop fans busy for awhile.  The game has improved from last years game with it’s more in-depth game modes and slight visual enhancements, but otherwise the game still has a long way to go before being the ultimate college basketball game. 

Above Average

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