In the family of EA Sports titles, NCAA Football is like the second favorite kid, the one that can never quite live up to the reputation of the “golden child.” Sure, NCAA provides a lot of the same experiences as its older brother, but, when it comes to importance, NCAA always gets the short end of the stick. Nonetheless the franchise finds a way to stay competitive year-after-year, and NCAA Football 13 is no different.
The biggest changes for this year’s iteration include a handful of improvements both on and off the field. Presentation has been marginally overhauled through the inclusion of a fully featured ESPN broadcast, complete with score updates from other top tier games around the country. In fact, if someone were to briefly walk by the television while NCAA Football 13 was on, they might mistake it for an actual live broadcast.
There are still a few visual inaccuracies, or hiccups, spattered throughout any game, including the random screen freeze, but ultimately the title looks great, and features a presentation very much indicative of the college football experience. Commentary is dynamic, and takes into account even the most minute of details, but it’s inevitable that players will eventually start to hear the same stats and quips.
On the field play has also been greatly improved, with a wide variety of new QB drawbacks, passing trajectories (read: no more ugly lob passes), and defensive awareness states thrown in to make the game feel that much more real. Some of those elements will go unnoticed to the casual observer, but comparing the game to last year’s iteration, and how that was dictated purely by happenstance, those additions are creating a more authentic experience. Players will now require an acute awareness of all of their receivers, and be able to lead them when they are tightly covered, rather than toss a pass up and hope for the best.
To help facilitate crisper passes the typical letter button demarcating each receiver now has two states, a grayed out one that indicates they will most likely drop the pass and a lit up state that informs the QB they are ready. Unfortunately, mistakes aren’t treated as lightly as they were in past games — the defense is now very aware of the ball, and ready to pick it off if you get careless. Aside from those subtle touches, though, this isn’t football’s second coming, it’s just a minor improvement over last year’s game.
That slightly evolved version of NCAA‘s gameplay can be carried across the usual variety of modes, from Dynasty to Road to Glory, where the player is asked to take either a full college team, or a single player, through an entire season or college career. As expected, the attention to detail displayed in these modes is of the highest order, but it’s also a huge undertaking for anyone who wants to simply pick up and play. For those who live for this type of experience, though, there are some new clever ways to entice prospects, and the recruits themselves have also been made more dynamic, adjusting to the activities of their top prospects.
If you’re coming in to NCAA Football 13 looking for a drastic overhaul to Dynasty (both online or offline) or Road to Glory, a mode just unveiled with last year’s iteration, that isn’t happening here. It’s more of the same involved simulation experience, with a few clever touches thrown in.
NCAA 13’s biggest introduction is its Heisman Challenge, which allows gamers to take any number of past Heisman winners, from Robert Griffin III to Herschel Walker, place them on any current college team, and try and win a second Heisman trophy. It’s similar in style to NBA 2K12‘s “NBA’s Greatest mode,” and comes complete with pre-determined objectives, most of which require beating that specific player’s collegiate records. As you’ll discover the goal of the mode isn’t so much about winning the Heisman, but about seeing some of college sports’ most dynamic playmakers at work. Getting to use Barry Sanders’ blinding speed, while undeniably unfair to any defense faced, is unlike anything offered in a sports game before, and makes Heisman Challenge the real standout.
Playing as a single college athlete, which is possible in both Heisman and Road to Glory, has received a slight new addition in the form of a reaction ability that allows the gamer to slow down time for up to 15 seconds. This allows a cornerback that split second needed to jump a receiver’s route or gives the running back an added step to find a seam. Reaction time feels a little cheap in the grand scheme of a simulation sports experience, but its diminishing availability (more time can be accrued for completing big plays) helps keep the advantage somewhat grounded.
When compared to NCAA Football 12, a solid version of football fundamentals combined with a wealth of modes, this year’s iteration feels like a slight improvement, but not enough to justify another purchase. The inclusion of the Heisman Challenge will bring a lot of older college football fans into the mix, but it’s the gameplay that will make or break the experience. Your usual handful of new additions will give the careful observer something new to focus on or pay attention to, but those are ultimately surface details and something the casual gamer will never notice – nor understand.
NCAA Football 13 tries its best to take a huge leap, but it doesn’t do enough to complete the jump. An improved presentation was merely the first step in what should have been a game-changing experience, but instead we are left with exactly what we expected: a marginally better version of the satisfactory game that came before it.
Have you had a chance to check out NCAA Football 13? What do you think of the game’s new modes and features? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
NCAA Football 13 is out now for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant reviewed the Xbox 360 version of the game.
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