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NCAA Football 2003
Score: 94%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: Tiburon
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 8 (w/Multitap)
Genre: Sports

Graphics & Sound:
How do you follow up a classic that was groundbreaking in its visual/audio presentation? Well, you give EA another year to add icing on top of a beautiful cake. Expecting better graphics for NCAA Football 2003 is like asking Ferrari to make a better engine. But, they did it. The stadiums look sharper than last year's installment. Team colors are absolutely perfect this year, with mascots looking as real as any you've seen on National television. LSU even has the tiger eye in the middle of the field. Of course, Death Valley is the real measuring stick to how much attention EA pays to stadiums. The real goalposts are double-posted, while the field has yard markers every five yards. On NCAA 2003 there is a single-posted goalpost with the traditional ten yard markers. A true LSU fan has to dock at least a point for missing these little odds and ends.

But, back to the good stuff. The players look very good this year, with taller players being taller and heavier players looking like they can put down boxes and boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes. New tackle animations have been added as well, with bone crunching hits making my insides hurt every time I'm on the receiving end of one of those. The jukes look a little better, and the receivers catch the ball just like they do on Saturday afternoons. When you get down in the trenches, NCAA 2003 looks a little better than last year's (believe it or not). With the addition of smoother movements, and more variety amongst the players, EA has once again made a game that more than one of my friends have said: 'Dude (that's me), that looks real!'

The sound is perfect. They've kept the commentary from last year, but added all new commentary. This is great because you never feel like you're hearing the same thing twice. Now when you find yourself in a situation like running the same play twice, the commentators have more than one thing that they'll say. It adds a lot of realism, and to this day, I've only heard some of the comments once. The music brings college football to life. Finally this year EA has added tons of fight songs. LSU's is even there. All the fight songs are note for note, and are teeming with so much brass, you feel as if the marching band is trooping down your street instead of in your TV screen. The crowd noise is a little better than last year in that the crowd will go silent if your team is doing poorly. Just like in real life. So from the grunts of a perfectly rendered stiffarm to the B-flat tooting of the visiting team's band, you can bet your money that this is the most impressive football game ever on any system.

Football, football and more football. For those of you that want to play quick, there's the Play Now Mode. It's similar to last year where you can actually choose the two teams that come up every time. In my case, it's LSU versus Auburn. There's the little used Season Mode that has you take your favorite team through the season. My favorite, and every other football fanatic's, is the Dynasty Mode. EA has brought back the create-a-school feature that has every wannabe coach bursting at his/her collective seams. I made a school called 'Baton Rouge College of Music.' They are a cupcake school that I have brought to national prominence through an effective game plan and cutthroat recruiting. At the end of the Dynasty Mode is every licensed bowl game, and every trophy or award that's any trophy or award given out at the end of the year. You can save these trophies in your trophy cabinet that NCAA 2003 has this year. It's really a neat thing if you move around a lot as a head coach, so you can visually track some of your greatest accomplishments as a coach. Rival trophies have been added this year, and I've whipped Arkansas so many times, that the Boot is pretty much mine. Also this year is the college pennants/cards that let you have various team boosts and also unlock hidden teams like the mascot teams and All-American teams. Another feature that EA added this year was the addition of a ton of mascots. It seems as if every mascot is on the game, even the elusive kangaroo from the Akron Zips. Great stuff, and if EA continues to make football this real, you might as well throw away the televisions. Oh, and wait until online capabilities come out.

My only beef with NCAA Football 2003 comes in this particular aspect of the game. I couldn't find a comfortable difficulty. Junior Varsity is a breeze, no really. Varsity provides a little challenge, but I played 15 minute quarters against varsity and LaBrandon Toefield (LSU's tailback) ran for over 1000 yards. That put him on pace for 12,000 yards in a season and about half-a-thousand touchdowns. So, I moved it up to All-American. It was very realistic, except that the AI made LSU do some amazing things. One of my best receivers (92 catch) was dropping 8 out of 10 passes at one juncture. You've got to be kidding me. The computer also gets hellish pressure on your QB, while you're hard pressed to get one sack in two games. (This is with my pass rush slider all the way up, and the computer's pass block slider all the way down). Another thing that irked me is every computer controlled middle linebacker can intercept pass after pass, no matter what team. Your linebacker, or corners, or safeties can't intercept hardly a thing unless you put the AI slider all the way up. Sure I'll calm down now, but don't get me started on Heisman difficulty. Toefield had 5 fumbles and I threw three interceptions. Not to mention the fact that every single penalty was called against me. EA boasts better pass defense, but if anything, it's strictly for the AI and not the player.

Game Mechanics:
The controls are as fluid as last year. There have been some new moves added, which are easy to get used to. I don't know if this was done intentionally, but trying to get your CB to jump is very difficult. A lot of time there's a delayed reaction, and some of the time it's instantaneous. There is also new defensive shifts and audibles. All but one of the camera angles are useful, with every other angle cutting off the playing field - right where the computer throws to, no doubt. There are seemingly a hundred playbooks which gives good variety and provides an avenue of 'having to learn a new playbook.' Kind of like changing your coaching style - like real football. The interface is very good and easy to move about in. Memory card usage is still high (but worth it), but it's actually down from last year. Hey, I can always appreciate saving the resources you know?

Riot Rundown: I love this game. You get over the hump with the AI difficulty soon enough. Of course you find money plays, but that's the fun of college football. The flow is a bit different this year than last, but it's still the premier football game that you can get your hands on, and I expect that to last the next 70 or so years. Bravo EA for putting a good strain on my sleep time again. I can't wait until next year!

-Sydney Riot, GameVortex Communications
AKA Will Grigoratos

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