NCAA GameBreaker 2004 is another promising step forward for 989 Sports and is one of the better college sims on the market this year. Many elements of the game have been improved, with better graphics, improved AI and a deeper coaching mode making for a much more comprehensive title. The roster of schools is impressive and the game includes 117 Division 1-A college teams and another 57 classic squads, making for a comprehensive simulation.. As you'd expect, GameBreaker 2004 includes several standard game modes including full Season, comprehensive Tournament, and single-game Scrimmage Modes. The game allows also allows you to create a custom schedule, or play out the season as it actually happens. If you don't want to sit through an entire season, you can also jump right ahead to the Bowls and play in the biggest games of the season. These game modes are standard, but this year's edition also adds a new practice mode, where players can polish their skills. This welcome addition lets you to master the various techniques and different plays in a pressure-free zone.
Once you've practiced your moves and decided which mode you want to play, its time to hit the field. The gameplay interface and mechanics are excellent this year, and represent a vast improvement over the previous installments in the series. The play calling menus are straightforward and easy to understand. The controls are generally excellent and allow you maximum control whether you're playing against the computer, a human opponent or online. Players can use the onscreen icons to determine where to throw the ball and find their receivers downfield. Running the field is a simple and the opposing AI will stop at nothing to block your progress. A good team will have a solid defense as well, since anticipating where the opponents are heading is a key to heading them off. From last year's game, the changes in the AI are evident in the more aggressive running games and tougher defenses. The developers at 989 Sports have also implemented completely new and more comprehensive playbooks for all the teams this year. The Playbooks are geared towards the tactics used in college football and better reflects each school's playing styles. The new playbooks gives the gameplay added realism and authenticity that makes each game less predictable and more exciting. NCAA GameBreaker further adds to the strategy by allowing you to edit and customize your own playbooks, which allows you to change ineffective tactics and create new hot lines to keep your opponents off-guard. The enhanced playbooks definitely add more depth to the X's and O's part of the game, and make for a more satisfying simulation overall.
Another key improvement comes in the vastly improved kicking interface, which is smoother and more intuitive, making field goals ands kick offs much easier to perform. The controls are easy to learn and players should have no problem passing, running, and dodging defenders. Gaining yardage is made easier this year, since the receivers play smarter, allowing you to earn first down without too many frustrating incompletes that you know should have been caught. Another big improvement lies in the defensive play calling, which is harder to anticipate, making it more effective at impeding your runs. Playing against the computer is much less predictable and the linemen are more aggressive when it comes to blocking your plays. While the overall feel of the game is much better than it was last year, GameBreaker 2004's gameplay is a bit rough in parts, especially when it comes to AI, which is still a tad questionable. Still, the game plays much smoother than previously and 989 deserves credit for polishing the gameplay mechanics as much as they have.
For those who want to get off the field behind the scenes and be the Athletic Director, GameBreaker includes a Career mode that allows you to steer your team to the championship. In this mode, you can build your team by recruiting the best blue chip players from High Schools and Junior Colleges. You can check out each player's stats and abilities and decide which ones you will pick from around the country, create walk-on players who can dominate their positions and more. This mode allows you to play through an entire season and adjust your rosters and lineups as you see fit. Achieving a good record at the end of the season means your players can compete for the Heisman Trophy. A successful regular season also opens the door and allows you to play in the annual bowls for the prestige and honor of your school. Going a bit deeper, players can also create their own team from scratch and customize their location, team logo, mascot and more. Once you've created your custom players and teams, you can play them against real teams in the various modes
Despite all the improvements outlined above, the biggest change in GameBreaker 2004 is the addition of online play, which lets gamers compete against other players worldwide using either broadband or cable modems. Logging on is a snap, and once you're online, you can enter the Lobby where you can set up games, talk to other players using the Headset. Players can also check live stats and their schools rankings in a number of categories during the season. Being online also allows the game to implement real-life weather conditions, and allows you to download updated stats and rosters each week, which helps to keep the game current. Players can then compete in any of the standard modes, play against others in tournaments and more. In another nice touch, you can track your progress in all 989 titles without changing accounts and having to log in again. From a technical standpoint, GameBreaker's plays as smoothly as one could expect it to. It supports both dial-up and broadband connection, we tested it using a cable modem and found the game's performance flawless with little lag or downtime.
Adding to the immersion of online play, you can now communicate with other players and issue commands using any of the standard PS2 USB headsets. This also lets you chat with other players in the Lobby so you can build leagues or trash talk. There are numerous voice-activated commands, and they're easy to learn and master, allowing you to feel like you're right there on the field. This adds a new dimension that really helps to immerse you into the game and ups the excitement level. As the most-touted elements in GameDay 2004, the extensive online mode and voice commands live up to their expectations. These additions deliver a compelling reason to own the game, especially if you're a fan of college football.
GameBreaker 2004's graphics engine has been substantially overhauled to give the game a much higher level of definition. Player models have been redesigned with new animations, movements, and better physics modeling to give them a more convincing appearance. The players look more natural with improvements made to give their characteristics more accurate proportions. As you'd expect, you'll see the usual array of cheerleaders and coaches along with more than 50 real-life mascots egging you on. From an audio standpoint, GameBreaker 2004 does an excellent job in recreating the intensity of college play. The cheering crowds and player grunts and yells are included, as are the real-life fight songs. The action is complimented with excellent play-by-play announcing from Tim Brant and Keith Jackson offer both the nuts and bolts along with color commentary. There are a few minor glitches with the camera system and the frame rate suffers from some glitches now and again, but the overall appearance of the game is smooth and polished.
While it's not as smooth or polished as some
rival football titles, NCAA GameBreaker 2004 has undergone a fairly dramatic
facelift that offers a vast improvement. Between the smoother graphics, tighter
play controls, improved AI and better playbooks, the game play is far less
choppy than previous installments. The various modes have also been beefed up
with the additions of a new practice mode and a more comprehensive Career mode
that offers a lot more depth. However, the biggest addition this year is the
online mode, which heightens the intensity of competition while offering
seamless play. Another new feature are voice-commands which are enabled using
the USB headset. Even though most college football fans are probably going to
bypass the game, it definitely has a few things going for it and deserves at
least a rental to try out its many cool new features. Online play and voice
commands add a lot to the overall experience and make NCAA GameBreaker 2004 a
candidate for the season's most-improved sports gaming franchise.