Taking their college hoops game to the next level, 989 Sports' NCAA Final Four 2004 for the PS2 features many significant improvements that represent dramatic changes for the better. The changes start with a revamped graphics engine with more detailed players and much smoother character animation. The simplified controls are much easier to use, especially on shots, and this more intuitive approach makes things flow much better. The biggest change is online play that adds a new level of depth and competitiveness while still offering fast gameplay. 989 have also implemented additional customization options and a deep Dynasty mode, increasing the game's longevity significantly. Join us as we hit the court and find out how Final Four 2004 has gone from an also ran into a serious contender.
Following the excellent NBA ShootOut 2004, 989 Sports brings its robust approach to the college scene with the impressive and smartly designed NCAA Final Four 2004 for the Playstation 2 console. This year's installment represents another significant improvement for the series and is definitely worth considering for the college sports fan. Featuring more than 300 division 1-A teams, 50 mascots and their complete rosters, you'll find everything from small schools to big league powerhouses like Kansas, North Carolina and, UConn. As an added bonus, the game also includes authentic school fight songs that add to the atmosphere. This is impressive but the game offers sports fans a plethora of online and solo gameplay options plus extensive off-the-court management modes that make for a comprehensive simulation. The basic modes are quite varied. You can play a quick pick up game, or go deeper and experience an entire season of play through the eyes of a rookie player. Before you begin, you'll probably want to master the basics and the Practice mode allows you to do this by familiarizing you with the controls and techniques you'll need in the game.
Practicing your moves is a good idea for another reason, because 989 Sports has made some major changes to the controls that make the game play more intuitive. Some of the changes seem minor, but make a big difference in how the game plays. The biggest of these are the new dribbling and ball fakes moves, which allow you to break down the defense much easier. Tying into this, Final Four's ball passing systems have been simplified which makes it much easier to find your teammates down the court. The play calling system is also more intuitive, requiring you to press down on the d-pad to make offensive or defensive plays. This definitely helps the flow of the game, and allows you to change strategies on the fly. Rebound shots and posting moves have been simplified, making it easier to position your forwards while giving you more options. The awkward shooting system from last year is gone, replaced by a smoother approach that makes firing the ball much easier.. Other changes are more subtle, but improve the game's flow such as better ball controls, larger play areas and more. The controls feel much smoother and deeper than last year's game, allowing for better control, more moves and, added depth. Additionally, Final Four 2004's computer controlled teams are more aggressive because their AI has undergone significant changes. You'll find that AI opponents play more intelligently than in previous games, making them less predictable and harder to beat. This is definitely a much challenging game than last year, offering more depth and intuitive play.
Once you've got the basics down, you can jump right into the action. Select the Quick Start mode and Final Four 2004 sends you right to the court with two randomly selected teams. If you want more control, you can play an exhibition game with any two teams. The game also includes an Arcade mode, with simplified rules and controls, but like the exhibition games, results in these matches have no effect on your team ranking. If you want to go even deeper, you can play a full season mode and follow your favorite team from the first tip-off to the final horn at the Final Four. During the season mode, you can choose to play a full schedule against other teams. This can be by playing the games in real-time or you can choose to simulate games if you want to jump ahead later in the season. However, if you choose to do this, all the games between these times will be simulated as well. During the season, you can track your team's rankings, player rankings and check your position in the weekly rankings. If your team does well enough against its opponents, you may earn an invitation to the NCAA Final Four tournament and face off against the best for the championship round. During the season, you can also schedule practice sessions, which help to improve your team's overall skill. If your team isn't doing that well during the season, you may find yourself on the bubble. This means that you have enough wins to qualify for the tournament, but don't have enough to secure an automatic invitation. You can check the Bubble screen, which tracks the 20 teams competing for a spot, and you'll have to play your heart out if you want to qualify. If a single season isn't enough, you can play the Dynasty mode and attempt to build a team up over several seasons but acquiring top talent and trading players.
The comprehensive customization options in Final Four 2004 are quite impressive and allow you to create custom players, adjust rosters, recruit to strengthen your bench, change positions and change a player's abilites. The player creation mode is allows you to select your player's name, hair color, height, style, weight and more. You can also use this to create superstar players or enhance those already on your team. Once you've created your player, you can either increase or decrease their attributes using a preset number of points, plus unique points. You can assign these points in various skill areas - though you have a limited number to use. You'll need to use these wisely to create a well-rounded player, with a better overall ranking. Once you're done setting your roster and players, you can enter the team management mode and cut players from your rosters, recruit new players, change their positions and your team's overall style. The customization mode gives you the power to change most of your team's attributes, and allow you play the game in your own style.
Final Four 2004's many gameplay and control tweaks are impressive in themselves, but the biggest addition this year is the inclusion of online play with both dial-up and broadband support. Going online allows you to compete against other players nationwide to see who really is the top dog. You can view leaderboards, play in public or private tournaments and more. The game's community support is also impressive with email, chats, and message boards that allow you to meet up with other players. This is really cool and adds a new dimension to the gameplay. Final Four 2004 also lets you download real-time rosters, view results of actual games and update player rankings in real-team so your team better reflects events on the court. Setting up the game is relatively easy and you'll should have no trouble finding a game to play on. Players can enter the lobby and set up games, email other players and register to compete in online tournaments. The features are quite impressive with easy to navigate online menus that make it a snap to set up and play. The performance was excellent, with seamless gameplay and little lag evident when playing through a broadband connection. Online play is a welcome addition to the series, and makes Final Four 2004's replay value quite high.
Visually, Final Four 2004 is step beyond last year's game with improved player animation and better motion capturing combining to make for a more polished look throughout, though still a little choppy in places. The camera angles are better suited to the action, and the transitions from one side of the board are effective. There's little slowdown during the course of the game and the movements are nicely done. Players can select from several angles from above-ground to side and courtside views. These are nicely presented, and you can change these on the fly as well. Adding to the atmosphere, authentic college songs and cheerleaders compliment the squeaking sneakers on the court. The game also has excellent voice commentary with impressive play-by-play called in real-time. There are also funny mascots that run around between halves, adding character to the game. NCAA Final Four's production values are decent. While it's still not at the level of other sports franchises, the appearance is much improved from last year's edition. The overall look is slicker than you'd expect, and this makes for a realistic and authentic feeling basketball title.
989 Sports has made a lot of progress in the past year, and while the gameplay itself seem much smoother, the biggest changes come under the hood. The addition of online play is surely the biggest hook this year, and 989 has delivered on its promise of a comprehensive online experience. Final Four 2004 has made a seamless transition online and plays just as smoothly either on or offline. The gameplay itself has been tweaked in several important areas, to make for a smoother, more intuitive control system. The improved controls and more sophisticated AI makes for more competitive and challenging games. Additionally, the graphics seem more polished and make the experience feel more authentic. While the perception remains that other companies have the market locked, the significant strides 989 Sports has made this year with NCAA Final Four 2004 make it a serious contender that shouldn't be overlooked by sports fans.