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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

 

 

 

       

 

 


Taking the college hoops scene to the next level, 989ís NCAA Final Four 2002 for the PS2 should make the discriminating sports fans happy with its impressive new features, fairly decent, if flawed, gameplay and realistic motion-captured players. While not as technically polished as it could have been, the sheer scope and depth of the simulation is impressive. With over 300 teams, a cool Dynasty mode, improved controls and individualized playbooks more than compensates for any rough edges in the gameplay.

Itís not the easiest thing in the world to make a believable and enjoyable sports simulation that satisfies both casual and hardcore fans, especially not one that attempts such as massive job of recreating the NCAA college basketball league and the famous March Madness tourney it holds every year. It would be easy for many developers to take a cheap route and only include a partial simulation, but thankfully, 989 Sports has decided to take the bull by the horns and has instead opted to recreate the full depth of the Division I league and not just for a single season either. While the engine and controls havenít really changed much, thereís still a solid gameplay beneath the main game that makes it more than enjoyable to play, though in all honesty the engine and graphics are a little behind the curve technically. The good news is that the game has been mostly tweaked in the more significant changes occur in the many new modes and several new modes that are included in this yearís title, NCAA Final Four 2002.

Players will find several new modes of play and tweaks in this yearís installment that add significantly to the titleís longevity and depth. The most significant of these is the new Dynasty mode, which allows the player to coach a program through multiple seasons, with all the ups and downs that entails. Thereís also a new career mode that allows you to work your way up from assistant coach at a smaller school to the head of a larger program. This can be quite exciting and gives the player a window into how much effort and challenge it might require in real-life. There are also several standard modes included such as single game, practice, tournament and other modes that arenít quite as time-consuming. Overall, this creates a good balance to the action and makes this a decent choice for casual and hardcore college hoops fans alike.

Visually, the game is impressive with excellent recreations of each schoolís courts and players, In fact the game includes more than 39 motion-captured player models, giving the game a realistic variety in player sizes which makes the game feel more authentic. The game also features a lot of different animations as well with several included for each action including dunking, shooting and dribbling. There are also some pretty cool facial animations which adds even more realism to the game. The courtsides are very well done as well with each schoolís court recreated in great detail making them look astonishingly authentic, which is all the more impressive when you consider the designers had to do this for 300 different arenas. The character models and animations look great and players can select from a variety of camera angles including a really cool action cam that makes you feel like youíre right in the middle of the action. To add even more authenticity to the proceedings, players can listen to the commentary from Eddie Doucette and Billy Packer. In addition, NCAA Final Four 2002 also features cheerleaders on the sidelines, who offer some inspiration for you during each game.

Thereís a lot of depth to the gameís play mechanics and strategies, with players being able to utilize a number of different strategies and approaches, with offensive and defensive configurations playing a critical role in each match-up. Each team also has their own customized playbook that the coaches can use and also has numerous strategies that will affect their rankings. This is only helped by the intuitive controls that make the game more enjoyable, allowing novices and experienced players alike to perform well. The players are responsive and move swiftly, allowing you to pass, dribble, team up on the opponents players, cause turnovers and more with little complications. The most impressive thing about the controls is the new Touch Shooting meter that is both simple and intuitive because it allows you to have a much higher degree of control of your accuracy when youíre going for the basket. This makes for a deep game with plenty of strategy but doesnít sacrifice fast-paced, action-packed gameplay for excessive realism thus giving Final Four 2002 a good balance between the two extremes.

Despite all the good points, there are still a few problems that detract from the experience. While the more aggressive computer AI is a good thing, it also comes into play too often, making cheap moves such as forcing turnovers and fouls to the point of annoyance. The computer players also make incredible, unfair moves too often to compensate when they fall behind. While this keeps the games competitive, it isnít entirely realistic when the teams are dramatically mismatched and keeps the stronger teamsí stats unnecessarily low, which is a critical element in successfully completing the career mode. Another major problem is that while there are different character models, they donít appear to make that much difference in terms of the teamís overall performance. Additionally, the interface for foul shots is a bit awkward making them successful far less often than in reality. However, the biggest problem comes in the overall feel of NCAA Final Four 2002 which makes getting into a good flow or a rally extremely difficult, thereís little chance of building up much in the way of momentum when the computer is almost 100% accurate in shooting, which is really annoying. Still, if you can overlook some of the gameís flaws, this is a decent title with a lot of depth, these are all minor problems which you can compensate for or arenít really that big of a deal. In the end, the tweaks and upgrades makes for a decent basketball sim, though one that isnít as polished as one would like.