|System: X360, PS3, PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA CANADA||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 17, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4 (1-2 Online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
For my taste, the camera is a bit wide (in every mode zoomed in at maximum) but Im not sure how close you need to be considering none of the players have names. Even so, this is definitely a game meant for the big screen, especially if you want to read states or coaching tips.
Voice talent also does a lot of the heavy lifting, as Dick Vitale and Brad Nessler follow the action and Erin Andrews provides sideline summaries and half time reports.
Although this game runs on the NBA Live engine, it is interesting to note that there is a very observable difference between the two games. In keeping with its new emphasis on presentation, NCAA 09 is probably one of the more authentic basketball games around. Leaving behind the aggravating one-man full-court presses, unstoppable cherry picking, and star invulnerability of NBA Live, EA has managed to craft a steadier, more realistic gameplay mechanic driven by post play and, of course, the pick and roll.
Players will find that A.I., particularly defensive A.I., is much smarter in this game, sometimes to its detriment. Unlike Live, defenders wont fall for every pump fake and stutter step you throw their way. Even for up-tempo teams, gamers will have to rely on setting up screens and looking for open shots if they want to make it to the Final Four.
Those expecting point guards to cross everything with an opposing jersey will quickly find themselves behind. This new A.I. manages to provide for much more balanced and realistic games (think low scoring, fewer shots from three-point land, etc.) but it, at times, feels a bit too charged. It is not uncommon for CPU opponents to walk away with steals especially if your passes are wild. It can feel a little cheap, especially considering the fact that your teammates tends to hand out wide open three-pointers and baseline lay-ups like holiday fruitcake, while opponents are double-teaming and jumping passing lanes.
For NCAA 09, EA has taken an increased interest in coaching. Every team has been given a particular play style (of the three, up tempo, balanced, and half-court), which corresponds to their team strengths and weaknesses. Half-court teams for instance are constantly looking for short range shots and high percentage scoring, while up-tempo teams are more aggressive and look for fast-break opportunities. Gamers receive attribute boosts to their players for following their teams tempo strategy, including one of three pregame coaching options selected before games and at the half. A tempo meter (which will take you a moment to decipher if you dont watch the tutorial videos) sits above the score display and flashes on at various times during the game. Supposedly, this gives you a boost, but I found that I won games just as easily following these as well as ignoring them, though CPU teammates will respond differently if you coach them to box out on all offensive boards during pregame, for instance. For the most part, teams are faithful to their tempo styles, and winning comes down to doing what you can to best control the overall speed of the game.
Controls are responsive, tight, and familiar to anyone who has played earlier NCAA or NBA Live games by EA. For newcomers there is a learning curve, but its not terribly steep. This may still hamper their abilities to win considering most games will come down to who can manage the offensive and defensive schemes better.
Online play is restricted in terms of new and interesting modes, one of which (Rival Challenge) amounts to little more than a glorified waiting game, as you search your connection for opponents. Disappointingly, there is only two-player online play (though local play is inexplicably four). EA has apparently not gone out of its way to provide players a real reason to go online.
Though NCAA 09 is probably the first significant NCAA basketball title for next-gen systems, gamers may be just as well served to pick up Live 09 or any other similar title. As it stands, outside of its presentation, there isnt much to write home about. For the newly enrolled, its a solid entry in a familiar and seldom changing formula, for veterans, you may as well skip this class.
Leon Hendrix III
CCC Freelance Writer