Like GameDay 2001 and its college football counterpart, GameBreaker 2001, the college hoops series from Sony's 989 Sports division has moved into the next generation with NCAA Final Four 2001 for the PlayStation 2. Despite its solid 128-bit graphics, the Final Four series has taken a step in the wrong direction with the PS2 version of the game. Unlike the original PlayStation version, Final Four 2001 for the PlayStation 2 has sluggish and disjointed gameplay, which hardly makes up for any visual improvements.
NCAA Final Four 2001 for the PS2 shares its features set with its PlayStation cousin. The usual suspects such as the exhibition, season, tournament, and arcade modes of play are in the game. Additionally, the game features over 300 Division I-A teams from top conferences such as the ACC, Pac Ten, Big 12, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big Ten, SEC, and Conference USA, among others. It also includes team-specific playbooks and on-court play styles - Temple runs its match-up zone and UNLV plays an up-tempo game. It also keeps track of extensive player and team statistics - everything from points per game to field goals made is tracked for every player on every team. Additionally, the season mode in Final Four 2001 has the coaches' and writers' polls, which show the latest top-25 rankings, and it maintains a bubble watch, which lists teams that are on the cusp of making the 64-team NCAA tournament field.
One of the things Final Four 2001 on the original PlayStation had going for it was that it was one of the fastest hoops games on the market, college or otherwise. Even though the gameplay didn't feel realistic, the games were usually high-scoring offensive affairs. In its transition to the PlayStation 2, the game has lost some of that speed. The slower pace helps develop more realistic scores, but it also accentuates the game's defects. With the half-court game coming into play, NCAA Final Four 2001's flaws on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor are magnified. For example, the computer-controlled players don't act realistically, as they hardly set picks or box out for rebounds. Additionally, there are entirely too many fouls in the game, and most of them occur during jumpers. On the defensive end of the court, pressing the proper controller button automatically faces up the offensive player, as it should. Once in this position, however, you lose control of your man. The defensive player automatically shadows his offensive assignment, and control of the player cannot be regained until the face-up button is released.
Naturally, NCAA Final Four 2001 on the PlayStation 2 has been improved visually over the PlayStation version. The game features new dunk and dribble animations, and the player movements are more fluid overall. As in other college basketball games, jersey numbers, rather than names, identify the players. For example, Seton Hall's Eddie Griffin is number 33 and Arizona's Jason Gardner is 22. And although the players have detailed facial textures, they don't look enough like their real-life counterparts to be visually identifiable, which is disappointing, given the power of the PlayStation 2 console. However, for the most part, the player models look realistic and animate smoothly on drives and dunks. The arenas are also very detailed, with crowds made up of individually animated 2D sprites and real-time 3D cheerleaders on the sidelines. But other than the team-specific colors and logos, the courts share very little in terms of ambient detail with their real-life counterparts.
Quinn Buckner moves into the next generation of sports commentary, returning as the game's announcer. Buckner's signature slam-dunk and steal calls are amusing. His banter is generally kept pretty light, but his general play-by-play commentary is usually in tune with the on-court action. The crowd and player trash talking have been juiced up for the PlayStation 2 version, and school bands have been added to the audio mix. The game's presentation is also brought into the next-generation with a TV-style presentation, with new camera angles, pop-up statistics, and nice touches such as showing the teams running a layup line before tip-off.
As expected, NCAA Final Four 2001 on the PlayStation 2 looks solid visually, but the game has lost some of its gameplay speed in the transition to Sony's 128-bit console. Currently, it is the only college basketball game for the PlayStation 2, but considering its glaring gameplay flaws, it's hard to recommend NCAA Final Four 2001.