The next couple of years will be a defining time period for EA’s sports titles. One has to believe that only so much tweaking can be done to the same (albeit great) formula. I fully expect to see some more drastic changes than we’ve become accustomed to in the next 2-3 years. The mantra of sports games for this generation has been played out by now – each year is a similar game engine, and you try to make enough improvements and add enough new features to warrant the new purchase.
So even with this current generation of NCAA Football titles in its waning years, I’m happy to report that EA has done more than enough to warrant the new purchase. Not everything in NCAA Football 13 is perfect, but visual improvement, tweaks to the gameplay, and some exciting new ways to play add up to an experience that is worth going through – even if you already own last year’s iteration. If you read my review of NCAA Football 12 last year, you’ll know that I had very similar feelings about that game as I do this year. There are not many game series that could get away with incremental improvements every year, but this is one that can. Why? It’s because it’s fun, engaging, and the prospect of a new season of football in real life beefs up the excitement of playing it in the virtual realm.
The burning question, as always, relates to what new features EA has brought to the table to make it a fresh experience. The first of these involves the presentation of the title. There are touches throughout the experience that make this the most immersive, best looking, and most realistic football sim to-date – some subtle and some not so subtle. The music and feel in the menu system screams college-campus-on-game-day, setting the mood from the start. The minute you jump into a game, the first thing you’ll notice is the atmosphere. You’ll be drawn in to the experience. And the best part is – this is a different experience everywhere you’ll play. The opening series of a game at the “Big House” will feel like a nerve-rattling, high-decibel-level showcase, while a low-tier game in a stadium of 5,000 people will feel like a small-town event. The crowd plays a big role in the game, and in the mood of the game as a whole.
EA boasts that it has added in 80 authentic stadiums to the game as well, and while I won’t name the 80 they have added, I will tell you that they all look great. For high-profile schools, animations have been added for ritualistic pre-game ceremonies like run-outs, mascot activities, etc. The folks in the stands, who finally don’t look quite so robotic, belt out signature chants and calls. After championship and rivalry games, on-field trophy presentations are made, just as they are in real life. The ESPN ticker returns as well, streaming live scores and updates from the real world. These may seem like minor additions, but the value they add in the way of atmosphere and authenticity cannot be overstated.
On the field, the most notable improvements lie in the new passing system. Up until now, the most important job you had was selecting the receiver that would give you the best chance at a reception and delivering the ball before the pass rush got to you. This year, a dedicated system is here to make quarterbacking – the entire process, not just the throw – much more engaging. Prior to the throw, you’ll now be able to take tight control over movement within the pocket, variations of pump fakes, rush-avoidance techniques, scrambling, and drop-length. Dedicated controls for this type of movement add an entirely new dynamic to the play as it unfolds before the ball is ever thrown. While casual fans may not appreciate this, anyone who understands the importance of a quarterback’s movements in the pocket will love it. The developer has also added additional throw types along the continuum that spans from the bullet pass to the floater. The pressure and time on the button will determine the trajectory and velocity on the ball, which allows you to zip in into a closing gap or float it over an interception-minded linebacker.
The closest thing to a “power-up” this game has to offer is “reaction time.” This is a feature that allows you to trigger a slow-motion setting, providing for easy maneuvering and run-path selection. You have a running total of 5 seconds of reaction time that you can use, and by getting big plays, the meter refills. I am somewhat of a purist, and didn’t expect to like this feature, but it actually is quite entertaining, adding a level of strategy to the offensive game. Of course, if you so choose, you can turn it off, or simply not use it.
Although new animations could be filed under “visual improvements,” they serve to make the game exponentially more fun to play as well. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of new movements in play this year – from tackling, to juking, to jumping, to maneuvering. Each year, it seems that we see the same animations less and less, but NCAA Football 13 seems to make the biggest leap forward yet in this area. There has only been a few times in my hours with the game that I’ve noticed a canned animation. This is a huge accomplishment, and a promising step toward completely fluid gameplay.
One of the biggest challenges in a video game is to get all of the characters on-screen behaving realistically. In a football game, there are 22 players on the field at once, all with a specific job to do. EA has done a remarkable job creating realistic behavior for these 22 players. It’s certainly not perfect, and you’ll still encounter your fair share of “what are you thinking?!” moments, but it is the best it’s ever been.
The staple addition to the selection of game modes this year is the Heisman Challenge. This mode will let you take control of some of the greatest college football players in the history of the game for the entire Heisman season. Along the way, you’ll be benchmarked against their actual statistics from that year, serving as your ultimate goals for the season. Trying to match and ultimately surpass these outlandish statistics will force you to appreciate just how unbelievable these Heisman seasons really were. Additionally, you can even place these Heisman winners on any different current college team, and see how it plays out. Some of the notable players included in this mode are Hershel Walker, Barry Sanders, Eddie George, and Robert Griffin III.
Dynasty mode and Road to Glory mode are both back, of course, and both are polished up and add some features to the experience. With no drastic changes, I will not bore you with the details, as these modes are well known and similar to recent years. The biggest change in Road to Glory mode is that you can now play the entire season of your player’s senior year of high school, giving you more influence over your college options.
Though the undercarriage of the game has not changed, EA has done a tremendous job of adding features, tweaking gameplay, and providing visual touches for NCAA Football 13. Heisman Challenge mode really puts this one over the top, providing a new experience and hours of gameplay outside of the well-known modes of play. Even if you have NCAA Football 12 sitting on your shelf, this is a must-own for any virtual football fanatic.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of NCAA Football 13 provided by Electronic Arts.