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Graphics: NCAA 99 can be played in either software accelerated or 3Dfx mode. Direct3D support won’t be available until a patch is released sometime soon. The software version ran fairly well and looked about average. There was a fair amount of pixilation and the detail wasn’t all that crisp. The 3Dfx mode was a definite improvement. The polygons were a bit too jagged in places and I didn’t think the players looked as smooth and realistic as in games like FIFA 98. The animation was pretty good and all of the hits and moves looked good. I liked the fact that the names I assigned to players showed up on the jerseys…I thought that was a nice touch. The stadiums were fairly realistic except that the crowd was a little sorry and the lack of sideline detail didn’t really mesh with the feeling of a “big college game.” One problem I had was the “mystery of the disappearing football.” This usually happened on passing plays when the ball would just disappear when it reached a receiver. As I played I’d think, “Did that ball just disappear?” Then I’d do an instant reply and move the action frame by frame and, sure enough, when it got to the hands of the cornerback who had just intercepted the pass I’d see that it wasn’t cradled or hidden — it was just gone. Other things like having the players’ jerseys get dirty and wet would have added further realism. I thought the game looked good and the animations were nice, but I wasn’t overly impressed.
Interface: I was pleased with the interface in NCAA 99. The game was easy to install and get started. The gameplay options were basic but adequate as far as fixing the weather, quarter length, and so forth. Within the game the controls were pretty standard for a football game. One thing I would have liked from the play calling screen is the ability to reverse the plays, so I could simply have the plays work in the opposite direction. Instead, moving the direction pad left or right changed the set, when I really wanted to quickly run that HB sweep left instead of right. Also, I thought the “throw away” key was in the wrong place on the keyboard and should have been assigned to 6 and not 5. Probably the best part of the interface was all the information and control I had in the dynasty mode. Making changes in formation, my playbook, or recruits was quick and easy. Moving in between the schedule and team information screens was largely uncomplicated. Overall the interface wasn’t fancy or overly inventive, but it did the job and made the game simple and fun to play.
Gameplay: The dynasty mode was a major plus for this game. The implementation was done well and it really added some replayability and longevity to the game. One thing I tried to check was the consistency the computer showed in determining the final outcome of games that I didn’t want to play. It usually seemed to be pretty even-handed in deciding results. For the most part though, I found my results were decidedly better than the computers in completing a season, so I wouldn’t recommend allowing the computer to decide all of your game results for you as a quick way of advancing your dynasty. The tournaments were fun and I enjoyed going back and playing some of the Great Games, but I mostly stuck with the dynasty mode. Quite simply, I liked the fact that there were consequences to my actions on a broader scale than just a single game. At times I found the recruitment part a little suspect because I’d have a fantastic program and concentrate heavily on one position and never get a blue chip prospect at that position.
The game itself was fun to play. I thought the animation for the players was good, although from what I’ve seen so far I think this year’s Madden might be better. We’ll have to wait and see on that one. The game seemed to handle the concept of rankings fairly well, although teams seemed to be too slow to rise up the ranks sometimes, and way too quick to drop. I had a #10 ranked team and lost to the best team in the country by three points. The next week I was out of the Top 25. I know the rankings are pretty fickle in real life, but that seemed too unrealistic. Because multiplayer is only supported either using the same machine or via LAN or modem, I wasn’t able to try it out. Overall I found NCAA 99 to be an enjoyable game and I think gamers who played last year’s version will appreciate some of the enhanced features and the dynasty mode.
Sound FX: I liked the FX in NCAA 99 for one simple reason: they were appropriate. Chuck White, the announcer throughout the game, had that nice quality to his voice that sounded like the PA announcer in any college football stadium I’ve been to. The on-field sounds were accurate and fit in nicely with the action in the game. The atmosphere was appropriately set with the sounds of the crowd cheering for good plays and groaning and booing if the visitors scored. Along these lines, I thought they should have been used a little more often and with more variety. I was hoping for more cheers of “Defense, Defense” or “First Down, Touchdown, Go Go.” You know, that rah rah stuff you hear at every game. The crowd sounded more like a pro game where they basically cheer for what’s happening in the game and don’t do “school spirit” stuff. So, I thought the FX fell a little short there. On the upside, the fight songs for the different schools are still in there and add to the collegiate atmosphere. Like NCAA 98, the volume should have been cranked up a little more when the songs played, but they were a nice touch and added further to the feeling of the game.
Musical Score: The music within the game really consisted of the fight songs used throughout the game. Since these were more like sound effects than music, I did not rate this category.
Intelligence & Difficulty: I found the game to be challenging and the AI to be pretty good in some places, not so good in others. For example, the opponents seemed to get lulled to sleep, so to speak, if I tried a number of plays in one formation and then switched. A couple of passing plays from the shotgun followed by a sweep right always seemed to gain big yards. I also found that when on defense if I controlled a lineman and moved him from his set position, the defense reacted poorly. It frequently opened up huge gaps for a pass rush because it looked like the defender didn’t know who to block since his assignment wasn’t in front of him. It wasn’t 100 percent foolproof, but it sure worked more often than not. At the higher difficulty levels the opposing players seemed to read plays a little better as they developed. I wasn’t able to find that one play that I could consistently run and score on, something that has been complained about in recent Madden titles, but I’m sure they are out there. Options were tougher to run, cornerbacks played tighter defense, and the offensive plays seemed more varied and unpredictable. So from that standpoint the game seemed to do well. I think as far as football games go NCAA 99 did quite well and should provide a solid challenge for you.
Overall: NCAA 99 is a step up from last year. How big a step? Well, the dynasty mode is certainly a plus from a replayability standpoint. The graphics were changed but still need some work as the players look too blocky and not realistic enough. Should you buy it? If you’re looking for the best college football game around then look no farther. Is it the best football around? Well, I might have said yes based on the Madden of last year, but with Madden 99 and Sierra’s upcoming football title both looking pretty strong, I’m not sure I’m ready to make the leap of faith just yet. Still, if you’re really ready to get into this year’s college football season in a big way, I can tell you that NCAA 99 definitely did that for me and I think it will for you too. It’s a solid game with good gameplay and it’s fun to play. It made the improvements necessary to keep pace with the changing climate and keep the four stars NCAA 98 earned last year.
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