Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 08/14/02 | Genre: Sports
I want to be brutally honest for a moment. 989 Sports has really stunk it up the past couple of years. They have failed to produce high quality titles. However, after a year off from most new sports releases, new additions to their development team, and a new outlook, NCAA GameBreaker 2003 arrives for the PlayStation 2. Built off of the GameDay 2003 engine, GameBreaker provides a much more enjoyable experience than past titles in the series but ultimately lacks the polish to "make a run for the National Championship" of college football games.
GameBreaker 2003 features a multitude of things--including 117 Division 1-A teams and stadiums, 66 all time teams, 27 bowl games, top 25 rankings, The Heisman Trophy award, and All American Awards. Also included in the package is a career mode. Here, you can begin a career as an offensive coordinator at one of the "lower quality" programs. As you succeed at the school, in following seasons, you can move up the coaching ladder and head over to more established programs.
One feature I found to harm the great career mode is the ability to create a player with very high stats. It was possible for me to take the University of North Texas (listed as North Texas within the game) and add quality freshmen players with fully maxed out stats all over my offense and defense. While you might consider this cheating, I would like to have seen developer Red Zone throw in a realistic create a player mode. While occasionally there will be great players, it shouldn't be possible to create these types of players and force them to walk on to any second rate football program. While it was helpful to me during my coaching stint at North Texas, I found this option greatly diminished the realism of the game... This was more apparent after I took out one of the National Champion contenders--the University of Texas Longhorns--7 to 3 on the road.
Despite the unrealistic outcome of that game (not to mention several others I participated in), I must point out that the visuals are not very good in GameBreaker 2003. While this game is built off of the GameDay 2003 engine, GameBreaker pales in comparison to GameDay. While I understand that 989 Sports is unable to go and grab the actual faces of college players and place them in the game, what I don't understand is the lack of different faces. Every third player looks the same. Also, there is not any variety in length of hair and very limited variety in skin color.
Another complaint I have of the title is the lack of detail in the gameplay. Quarterbacks can zip a pass into a receiver with triple coverage and complete it with ease. The defenders hardly make an attempt at stopping the passes. In the games I have played, only twice has a defender blocked my pass to a receiver. Also, when a ball is thrown directly at a defender, they let it bounce of their chests and don't make an effort to catch the ball. In total, I have had two interceptions in the games I have played.
The designers also forgot to tweak the routes receivers run. When running a route in real life, receivers will look back and run towards a ball thrown. However, in GameBreaker 2003, receivers keep running deep routes. They won't stop for the ball and they don't react realistically to their surroundings. For instance, if your QB is under pressure and you are forced to get rid of the ball early, your receiver will not try to change his route--in order to help you out. He will continue to run down the field. However, the defenders will go after the ball. But as I mentioned above, they can hardly ever intercept it...
The GameDay series is normally a fast brand of football. On the other hand, GameBreaker 2003 is football in slow motion. If you don't get up to the line of scrimmage with at least 10 seconds left on the play clock, you will not get your play off. This can become increasingly frustrating as you cycle through the plays--looking for the right one to choose. I would have liked to see the developer throw in a "recommended play" button. This would help quickly get to the best play for the situation. The Madden series uses it and it can be most helpful.
On to the audio side, Tim Brant and Keith Jackson provide commentary. For the most part, they do a great job. However, there were many times where the commentary was way off. For example, after rushing really well for the majority of the half, I get stopped for a 3 yard loss. The commentary team begins to talk about how bad my rushing attack is and if I could get it going, I might be able to open the pass. Similar situations happened with the passing plays. Overall, I like the commentators--they just need to fine tune how they respond to a given situation.
Overall, GameBreaker 2003 is the best college title 989 Sports has put out in a long time. While I would only recommend this title to a die-hard college fan, be on the lookout for 989 in the future. I expect next years version to be much better--improving upon the mistakes from this 2003 version.