Nothing gets me more revved up every year than the college football season. I've been known to start with ESPN's GameDay in the morning, move on to the early games, and even stay up well past midnight for the last game on Fox Sports Net. This year, Sega has bowed out of the college football race, giving EA a clear run at supremacy (although 989 Sports is bringing GAMEBREAKER to the PlayStation 2).
In the same way that MADDEN is the dominant pro football franchise with dozens of features yet still seems to find a way to add new features. One of my favorites is the College Classics that drops gamers into some of the most incredible situations in college football history. Moments like The Miracle in Missouri, The Play, and Going for 2 in the 1984 Orange Bowl are typical, and the reward for winning one of these clutch situations is unlocking those teams for use.
There's also the ability to create your own school, as well as start a dynasty as a coach. Each week of the season, new issues of Sports Illustrated will come out with a cover about the week's big upset, who the current Heisman hopefuls are, conference standings, and the polls. It's a cool extra feature as you work your way up looking for an elusive cover.
The gameplay has been tightened up quite a bit, with defensive coverage AI and patterns greatly improved. You can't just easily pass the ball down the field now. Another great aspect is that of play-action passes. If you call a play-action pass, the quarterback will appear to hand the ball off to the running back with the camera and player icon actually focusing on the running back. Then suddenly the camera will pan back to cover the whole field and the receiver icons will appear. The inverse is also true on draw plays, as the camera will pull back and bring up the passing icons and even though the running back has the ball.
For those who pick up the PlayStation 2 version, online play awaits you. It's the biggest reason to get the PlayStation 2 game, as you can get online and always find an opponent. It's a blast to go online and play, and the cheaters who paused the game have been addressed so that the drop issue is no longer a problem.
The graphics have been improved, starting off with new intro animations for the players as they come into the stadium. Notre Dame even has its authentic entrance as the players hit the "Play Like a Champion Today" sign as they leave the locker room. New animations round out the graphical package.
The sound is the best part of the game, with all of the fight songs, and one of the best crowds ever. The crowd will cheer for a short run, or a broken tackle, but will get really loud throughout a big play and eventually be deafening as you finish the 80-yd touchdown run. The ESPN GameDay crew provides the commentary on the games that are televised; otherwise you're stuck with the stadium announcer.
Quite simply, NCAA FOOTBALL 2004 goes to this year's Sugar Bowl. Fans of college football owe it to themselves to pick it up.