Final Four 97 allows you to play any one of 64 NCAA teams (not based on the 1997 Final Four) over the course of a 30 game season, or cut right to the chase and play the NCAA tournament. In typical fashion, you can simulate a game, take control of the team, or have limited coaching functions while watching. You can assign simple plays to function keys, but it's unlikely that it will make any difference because of the poor AI and game logic. Most of the problems are obvious in your first hour with the game, which always begs the question, "Did anyone play this thing before it was released?" You can start with the absurd - being able to pump fake your way from the free-throw line all the way to the basket (the game switches your pivot foot, moving you in random directions), move to the obvious - an AI that allows fast-breaks on almost every in-bounds play, and end with the obscure - being able to avoid three-second calls by continuously pump faking in the key.
But why bother pump faking when you'll rarely miss any of your shots, most of which are slam dunks? When you finally attempt a three-pointer, no one crashes the boards, regardless of your offensive settings, and when you miss, you tend to really miss, rarely drawing iron. There are plenty of special slam-dunk animations, but the game couldn't squeeze in a simple fade-away jump-shot (even NBA Jam has fade-aways). When one of the rare shooting fouls occur, you'll find that free-throws require no skill - just press the button and the game determines whether or not the shot goes in.
Other problems include a computer opponent that can't deal with the two-minute drill in a close game and the improper use of the game clock during that same time. While it's true that most games can't run a decent two-minute drill (it shouldn't be that hard - shoot, then foul, shoot, then foul), the clock issue is particularly aggravating. During the latter portions of the game, it continues to run after a made basket, and nothing is more frustrating than watching the seconds tick away while you're waiting for a player, who was at half-court when the shot was made, slowly run to the basket in order to in-bounds the ball.
Like NBA Live 97, the computer can't auto-substitute. Why no game can do this is something of a mystery. It's not that complex; remove any player who gets two fouls in the first half, and if someone gets four in the second, yank them until late in the game. It seems the game only uses the Fatigue statistic for substituting, meaning you can foul-out a player early in the game, before they get tired.
Speaking of tired players, it looks liked every defender is exhausted, because they get back on defense so slowly that full-court pass will almost always setup an easy fast-break dunk. Another defensive lapse is the "steal" button, which makes it easy to get 10-20 steals a game without much of a risk of fouling, and if you do manage to knock the ball away, the computer players have a difficult time picking up a loose ball.
There are many potentially good features here but we're not reviewing a game's potential, we're reviewing this final product. It's clear that some more playtesting would have gone a long way toward fixing these fairly obvious problems.
People who downloaded NCAA Basketball Final Four 97 have also downloaded:
NCAA Championship Basketball, NCAA Football 98, Oldtime Baseball, NBA Inside Drive 2000, NBA Action '98, Micro League Football Deluxe Edition (a.k.a. Micro League Football: The Coach's Challenge), World League Basketball, Hardball V Enhanced (a.k.a. Hardball 5 Enhanced)
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