The NCAA Football franchise has always been a shining example of how yearly iterations of sports games works and works well. One of the top reasons why this was the case was its consistency in innovation. But, as you will notice, the past tense was used here.
NCAA Football 13 fails to do what it always did best. Instead, EA Sports has played it safe this year and brought very little to the table to make veteran players even slightly interested. If you are a newcomer or have not checked out NCAA Football in years though, I’d keep reading.
For those wondering what the biggest addition and appeal in this year’s title is, it is undoubtedly Heisman Challenge. With 10 Heisman winners available to play and more available in downloadable content, it is up to you to choose and relive the history of your favorite college football athlete. However, don’t expect it to live up to the realism or even the excitement of the real thing.
One of the new additions exclusive to Heisman Challenge and Road to Glory modes is called Reaction Time. This game mechanic allows you to slow down time for a limited period and is consumed and replenished as the game progresses. While this is an interesting addition to the series and can be fun from time to time, it ends up being an overpowered, gimmicky addition that really takes away from the experience more than it adds.
As you make your way through the season you will quickly find that combination of the sheer number of plays called in your favor and Reaction Time bring about a disappointing amount of unrealistic plays and statistics — which is also the downfall of Road to Glory mode discussed later. This isn’t to say that the mode isn’t fun, because it truly is. Playing as an overpowered player really is what it was like for some of these players. But for a simulation football game to make such a prestigious and impressive accomplishment seem so easy is disappointing to say the least.
For those that wish to make history instead of relive it, Road to Glory mode is back and is not without its improvements. One of the most noticeable changes is the tuned recruitment process while in high school. After that though, the new additions, like Reaction Time, start to have a negative impact on the experience.
Once out of high school and in college it is time to climb your way to the top of the depth chart. In years prior, many complained that this process took a bit too long. But to simulation fans like myself, this was a welcome gameplay design. Unfortunately, this process seems to be much easier and adds to the downfall of realism in the series.
The playcalling AI has been tuned in such a way that guarantees that the position player you chose is given the ball eighty to ninety percent of the time. And as with Heisman Challenge mode, this along with Reaction Time brings about some negative impacts. One of these impacts being the ease at which one can climb the depth charts.
As can be seen in the image below, after only five games and 9 touches as running back I was at the top of the depth chart. Josh Fernandez, on his way to a potential Heisman year, replaced by a true Freshman. Practice was the only place where I seemed to impress the coach and doing so is easier than years past. One touchdown play resulted in enough to make the coach see enough out of me.
While getting to the top of the depth chart results in getting into the action quicker, the lack of realism in one of the most important choices as coach is a bit overwhelming. But, as with Heisman Challenge mode, Road to Glory mode is a ton of fun as long as you are into more of an arcade football feel. For those simulation fans, Dynasty mode is your best bet.
True college football experience is the biggest theme in this years Dynasty mode as there have been a ton of recruiting enhancements as well as the addition of scouting. Scouting allows for the discovery of a player’s true attribute ratings. As with recruitment, a bank of hours is given to the player and is consumed upon scouting specific players. This allows for players to be given a much more accurate look at their potential recruits and makes the Dynasty mode experience much more deep.
The other big addition is the ESPN bottom line ticker which allows you to keep an eye on the scores around the nation in real-time. While this is not only a welcoming addition in presentation, it also adds another element of strategy as the results of other games can have a direct impact on your playcalling and substitution choices. The overall ESPN presentation is still fantastic and is something other sports games in EA Sports arsenal need to look into as well.
In the end, it is the gameplay that is the most important element in every sports franchise on the market. Thankfully, NCAA Football 13 continues to impress in this department and is the primary reason why veterans may be appeased and newcomers thoroughly impressed. This years focus is on the passing game.
It was three years ago now that both NCAA Football and Madden finally got the running game right. The passing game however has always been an issue as receivers continued to make unrealistic catches and defenders made unrealistic plays on the ball. This year, NCAA Football 13 introduces timing and receiver awareness which requires players to expect the ball before making a play on it.
As a play develops, a receiver’s icon will not illuminate until they are at the point in their route where they should be looking for the ball. If a pass is made to a player that is not ready for the ball it is much more likely that an incompletion or interception will result. While this is not without its faults, it is an addition to the game that has greatly helped improve my strategy and outlook on the passing game. Between this and the addition of new throwing animations, total control passing which allows for direct placement of passes with the left analog stick, and new pass trajectories, NCAA Football 13 plays the best out of any title in the franchise.
The gameplay improvements are fantastic but, in the end, NCAA Football 13 fails to provide enough to warrant an upgrade over last year’s title. While it is still an enjoyable game, much more thought will need to go into this purchase if you are a seasoned veteran. But as mentioned previously, if you haven’t found yourself on the college gridiron in a while, it is well worth your money.
This review is based on a retail copy of NCAA Football 13 for the Xbox 360.