Monday, January 28, 2008

NCAA game simulations are must-have software

New games show real court sense
College Hoops and March Madness have authentic feel to them
EA Sports 'NCAA '08 March Madness'With college basketball in full swing (and with the big Duke-North Carolina game coming up Feb. 6), I've been playing a lot of NCAA hoops video games.

Last month, I tested 2K Sports' College Hoops 2K8 and rated it an A. As I played EA Sports' NCAA '08 March Madness over the holidays and the past few weeks, it was hard to not compare the two.

Both games really get the look and sound of college ball.

In NCAA '08's case, the arenas, player models and uniforms have been re-drawn to look more realistic. EA Sports also utilizes the best announcer in college basketball, Dick Vitale; the commentary from Vitale, play-by-play man Brad Nessler and sideline reporter Erin Andrews lend credibility to the proceedings.

NCAA '08 has emphasized the big men this year with something called "Dynamic Post Control," giving players more control over post play. The big men have more tons of moves, although there are too many guys who come off like the second coming of Kevin McHale. I'd like to see average players have abilities more commensurate with their real-life counterparts.

But that's a small quibble.

The game has more than 70 classic teams, like the 1982, 1993 and 2005 Tar Heels teams, the '92 and '94 Duke teams, and even the N.C. State squad from 1983. You can pair them up and go at it.

I also liked having custom playbooks in NCAA '08 for every team, plus a new "Lockdown Stick" feature that allows you to play tough defense. But again, this could be more realistic, as I found some benchwarmers able to lock down other team's No. 1 options.

In NCAA, you'll notice players reacting differently to crowds at home and on the road. Your stud freshman might get 15 points per game at home but struggle in a tight road game. All this adds to the realism.

There's also a new feature called "Impact Moment," where you can direct your player to interact with his team, the other team, the crowd or the cheerleaders. You can use it only when your team's intensity meter is full. It can change the direction of the game -- for good and bad.

A deeper dynasty mode allows you to take over a team and run it from top to bottom over many years. That extends this game's shelf life immeasurably. You can also take control of simulated games at any point, play the high school McDonald's All-America game, or play in an online league with up to 32 players.

In the end, picking between 2K8 and NCAA '08 is a tough call. I think player movement is a little smoother in 2K8, while graphics and details are a little better in the EA Sports version. I rate them both an A and suggest you rent them first or try them in the stores before making a decision.

I don't think you'll go wrong either way.

Watch `Madden' on Gameplay

• DISH Network subscribers can watch the 2007 EA Sports Madden Challenge on Gameplay HD, a full-time gaming channel, beginning Feb. 2.

The 1 p.m. broadcast will introduce contestants; subsequent episodes will also air 1 p.m. Saturdays.

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