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NCAA Football 2003

Only a few short years ago, college football videogames were mere shadows of their NFL counterparts. Only diehard college pigskin fans would ever think about picking up a copy of an NCAA football game. Times sure have changed since then. Now, Electronic Arts’ NCAA Football series not only rivals Madden, but also exceeds it in many ways. In fact, this year’s version of EA’s college football franchise, NCAA Football 2003, just might be the best gridiron game ever released.

One of the biggest reasons that NCAA Football 2003 excels over Madden and other Pro Football games is the sheer number of teams offered. 144 Division 1-A and 1-AA schools are represented along with accurate stadiums and mascots for most of the major teams. With the huge discrepancy between Division 1-A’s bottom feeders, such as the Navy Midshipmen, and the elite, such as the Miami Hurricanes, wild and crazy blowouts will occur as well as spectacular upsets. In Madden, if the Bengals upset the Raiders it’s about a tenth as exciting as if Connecticut upsets the Texas Longhorns.

Another thing that sets NCAA Football 2003 apart from Madden is the electricity of the collegiate atmosphere. The team specific fight songs, crowd chants, intense rivalry games and crazy, dancing mascots all work together to create an exciting atmosphere that is missing from most football games. The commentary in NCAA Football simply puts Madden’s to shame. Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso are two of the most humorous and entertaining announcers in real life and they add to the game’s great energy. EA was wise to record and enormous amount of dialog so the commentary is always spot on and never repetitive.

The graphics in NCAA Football 2003 are not quite as good as in NFL 2K3 or NFL Fever 2003 on the Xbox, but they are certainly above average and never take anything away from the game. Nice graphical touches abound such as the player’s helmets reflecting, in real time, the actual stadium being played in, uniforms gradually becoming dirtier as the game wears on and fields becoming spotted with marks where cleats have torn up the grass. The amazing animation quality in NCAA Football 2003 helps set it apart from all other pigskin games. One-foot toe drags at the sidelines, clothes line tackles and pumped up touchdown celebrations are all animated flawlessly and live up to the standard set in all EA football games. Some noticeable slowdown does occur near the endzones after a huddle break, but it does not hinder gameplay because it never happens during an actual play.

The gameplay in NCAA Football 2003 is the typical greatness you’ve come to count on from Tiburon. Both the offensive and defensive lines battle for position, receivers leap for mistimed passes and running backs dance through the holes with perfect realism. Picking plays, calling audibles and making pre-snap defensive adjustments are all a breeze to pull off due to the highly intuitive control set-up. The momentum-based player movement, despite receiving criticism from NFL 2K fanatics, truly captures the ebb and flow of football better than any other sim on the market.

Of course all the options you have come to expect from EA ‘s pigskin titles are included such as practice, exhibition, season and dynasty modes. You can unlock pennants by achieving various goals during gameplay. Pennants can be cheats, extra stadiums, mascot teams, All-American teams or team-specific rating boosts. All the A.I. and penalty sliders are completely adjustable, allowing for complete, user customization. All major stats are tracked in season and dynasty modes, player awards such as the Heisman Trophy are handed out, and all major bowl games are represented. College football fanatics will certainly find enough to do here to last until next year’s release.

NCAA Football 2003 not only raises the bar for all other college pigskin games, but for all football games in general. The great college atmosphere, tight gameplay and uber-deep dynasty mode propel this game into a league all its own. It is annoying that the season and dynasty modes take nearly an entire 251-block memory card, but at the great price of $19.99, you can afford to spend 20 extra bucks for the card. The short and skinny of it is this is the best football game out on the GameCube right now, and all gridiron fans would do well to pick it up immediately.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @Joshua_Luke.

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