For the past few years I have been lucky enough to play, and ultimately review, EA Sports NCAA Football game. Throughout these years I have seen the franchise make some steady gains and with each new release the development team at Tiburon somehow keep upping the ante. EA Sports NCAA Football game is no longer considered an appetizer for EA Sports’ own NFL Madden franchise, which releases in August. Instead, the NCAA Football franchise is now a full course meal offering up the most authentic college football experience on a video game console. Can the development team do it again this year and deliver an even better college football experience? Well in some respects the team managed to do exactly that; however, NCAA 13 still feels a lot like NCAA 12 so I am not so sure there is “enough new” here to justify the $60.00 dollar plunge.
When it comes to football games, the gameplay is obviously the most critical component. As I just suggested, NCAA Football 13 is very much the same as last year’s game, but as with every new entry into the franchise we do see more animations, some new gameplay mechanics, a new mode or two, and some additions to existing modes we have already come to love. That is exactly what you get in NCAA 13. In a nutshell it is NCAA 12 with a few more bells and whistles. Yet that is not a bad thing as NCAA 12 was damn good game.
If you have never made the leap from Madden to NCAA Football you will be relieved to know NCAA Football 13 plays out very much the same way as Madden 12 and NCAA 12. If you are new to football gaming NCAA 13 will sport a learning curve, but it does a nice job at giving you some tips as you play your first few games. There is also a comprehensive practice mode where you can learn all the ‘ins and outs’ of the college game. Regardless, it only took me a couple of quarters until I started to get into the groove of things again and with the exception of some new animations, not much tweaking has been done with the core gameplay from where I sit.
Given I spend the bulk of my time in the Dynasty mode, at this point I will just highlight some of the new additions made here. For those of you who have no clue what Dynasty mode is; it is NCAA Football’s core mode where you pick your favorite college team and make your way through a typical college football season and offseason. This year the Dynasty mode is a tad deeper than previous years as there is a new way to scout players, dynamic pitch grades, triple threat athletes, and a new ESPN ticker. Not much has changed on the field however, but these new additions do add a new layer of depth and are clearly geared for the more hardcore NCAA Football gamer. For the more casual NCAA fans like myself, things like scouting, pitch grades, and recruiting enhancements really hold no appeal as frankly I simulate all that stuff. When it comes to my Dynasty season I am all about playing my weekly match-ups with my beloved Washington Huskies. This being said, if you plan on playing multiple seasons and you are someone who spends time scouting and taking advantage of everything the mode has to offer then it is safe to say you will love to the new features that bring the game even closer to life.
I should also mention that the Dynasty mode also features ESPN’s new studio analyst Rece Davis giving you updates from other Top-25 games. The updates pop-up a little too frequently for my liking but it is a nice little addition nonetheless. Again, this is one of the “little things” that just make the entire experience feel a little closer to the real thing and almost feels as though you are watching an NCAA game on “America’s Sports Channel”.
In terms of other game modes, NCAA 13 marks the return of “Road to Glory” and introduces us to the new “Heisman Challenge”. In Road to Glory you start at the beginning of your senior season and you can play through a grade 8-12 regular high school season including playoffs. After you are recruited by a college you then have to decide whether you are going to play offence or defense and continue your Road to Glory. New additions in this mode include such things as new stadiums, scouting reports, improved AI, addition of kick off and punt returns, leaderboards, and a new reaction time mechanic. The new reaction time mechanic is neat, but frankly I could have done without it. To activate “reaction time” you simply pull the left trigger when the ball is in play. This slows down time and allows your Running Back, for instance, to hit holes they otherwise would not be able to hit at full speed. Given the speed of the game, I never really found that using this gave me any sort of real advantage. So while it is a neat addition, I just don’t see the NCAA faithful embracing this new feature.
The Heisman Challenge marks the first time real athletes have appeared in-game. In this mode you get a chance to replicate the legendary seasons of several other players who have won the Heisman in the past. You are provided with a list of goals and objectives to complete over the course of a single season which directly reflect the statistics posted by each athlete during his Heisman-winning year. For my season I selected Barry Sanders and slapped him on the Washington Huskies roster. I have to say it was awesome thrashing through defences like Barry used to do. Each week his yardage stats would be ‘off the charts’; however, when attempting to replicate Barry’s magical 1988 season you have to play outstanding. Barry broke 25-NCAA records that year so needless to say you have to give him the ball almost every down. At the end of the day, I loved this mode much more than I thought I would. The games themselves are much quicker as you can simulate plays until your player steps on the field. All in all, the Heisman Challenge is a nice addition offering up a nice change of pace from playing a typical NCAA season.
Although the gameplay itself plays very much like NCAA 12 there are some minor enhancements that I need to mention. If you are like me and let the Quarterbacks and Receivers do all the work for you in the passing game then you can skip to the next paragraph. But if you are the type of player that likes to place the ball to the receiver with pin-point accuracy then you will like the new Quarterback dropbacks and the new Total Control Passing scheme. There are now 20 new Quarterback dropback animations including a new screen pass dropback that includes your QB floating away from defenders in order to throw a pass over a rushing defensive lineman. The total control passing system essentially allows direct placement of passes. You can lead receivers into seams or throw a back shoulder fade into the end zone. I am warning you however that this new mechanic requires a certain skill set which is unfortunately something I do not have. I simply found it difficult to pull off as I have become accustomed to playing a certain way after over 10-years of playing NFL video games. This being said, the hardcore fans will love this and it may give them a leg up on the competition when it comes to online play.
There are also new pass trajectories this year with over 20 in all. There have also been some enhancements on the defensive side of the ball. The “read and reactive” defensive AI eliminates “Psychic DB’”s and “Super Linebackers”. Anyone who has played Madden 12 will know exactly what I am talking about as interceptions had to be at an all time high with linebackers and DB’s making crazy interceptions. EA Sports has addressed this as defenders can now only make a play on the ball if they actually see the ball. Despite the new addition, I still noticed quite a few interceptions again this year. That being said, it is still early and perhaps with more time online I will see if the development team successfully managed to address this area.
So with all these new additions, how does the game play? Well, much like last year if you have a good Running Back who can grind out games for your team you should be able to crack the Top-25 as the running game seems to have gone untouched. Likewise, the passing game feels that same from last year. The interceptions are still a little high; however this only encourages you to conquer the total passing mechanic. The adaptability of the AI to adjust to your tendencies is something that has been around for a little while and once again those “money plays” are even harder to repetitively keep pulling off. It can be frustrating at times as I tend to keep reverting back to plays that work; however, the improved AI makes for a more intense experience and one that is very authentic.
Presentation wise, NCAA Football 13 includes 80-new stadiums, traditions, cheerleaders and mascots. The new Florida Atlantic University Stadium and North Texas University Stadium are included. Texas Cheerleaders and the USC Song Girls are also ‘in the game’. There is also a revamped menu. Overall the bar has been slightly raised again in the presentation department. There is no doubt EA Sports has done a fantastic job replicating the authenticity of the NCAA game and this year we seen even more animations and some tweaking done with the games lighting. Not to mention there is now the inclusion of 233 new uniform pieces. Everything from Under Armour to Nike is well represented. Likewise, the true progressive lighting creates the natural progression of sun and clouds across the sky after every play. It looks great but this new realistic lighting can also give the illusion that things could look better than they should. For instance, the late afternoon games at Husky stadium and its surroundings did not look as sharp as I thought they could.
The new player animations are noticeable. For instance, I noticed players stretch as they attempted to reach the end zone and I also I noticed some crazy helicopter tackles. Players seem to run with a little more fluidity and a player’s momentum seems to factor in on every play. The result is that every play on every down has its own look and feel. In previous years we would see the same canned repetitive tackling animations over and over. Those days are long gone.
In terms of the negatives, I did notice some occasional clipping issues and the some of the menus inside the specific modes seem like a cut and paste job from the previous year. The familiarity is nice but I just expected something a bit new here. In terms of the clipping issues, my player who scored touchdown would often run right through the referee. This issue is slight but noticeable nonetheless. The overall gameplay itself is not hampered by any slowdown as it runs as smooth as silk.
As far as the sound is concerned, NCAA Football 13 is rock solid. Once again, the developers managed to duplicate that college football feeling to near perfection. From the authentic commentary by Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and sideline reporter Erin Andrews, to each school’s marching band and on field tackles and banter, NCAA 13 has plenty of ear candy.
Once again, EA Sports has managed to pump out another NCAA Football game that truly shines; however, although the new additions to the franchise, including the Heisman Challenge, are nice, I really question whether the additions do enough to truly push the franchise forward. At the end of the day I still see plenty of room for improvement. Simply put, NCAA 13 still looks and feels awfully similar to NCAA 12. This being said, this is not a bad thing as NCAA 12 was very good game. So my advice would be if you own NCAA 12, there is a good chance you may just want to skip this year, but if you don’t own last years game then feel free to purchase NCAA Football 13 with confidence as it is a rock solid gridiron game.