It must be hard to make sweeping changes to yearly-installment sports games because few developers stray from their tried and trusted formulas. Luckily for the NCAA Football franchise, the formula is quite strong. The gameplay is consistently smooth, the presentation feels like a television broadcast, and diehard college sports fans have plenty to dig their teeth into with recruiting for their favorite team. But does NCAA Football 13 warrant a purchase if you already own any of the previous years? That largely depends on your devotion to college football, and if you want to relive Heisman Trophy legends’ careers, and even put them on your favorite team.
What would Doug Flutie look like in a Syracuse jersey? I found out. What about Barry Sanders playing for UConn? It looked dumb, I can’t lie. But, Heisman Challenge is a highly addicting and enjoyable addition to NCAA Football. You get a several Heisman winners, including Marcus Allen, Andre Ware, Eddie George, Robert Griffin III, and Desmond Howard. You get a list of objectives to meet during a season—like throwing for a certain amount of yards and scoring touchdowns. The goals line-up with the individual players’ real life college careers, so if you are a fan of college football, it’s a blast to play through history.
If the basic concept sounds fun, the execution may deflate your balloon, but only slightly. Some of the challenges are extremely easy. If you are playing as a running back, for example, just about every play will go to you. Of course this makes the game actually fun, so we can’t complain that it’s boring, but it’s frequently too one sided, almost too easy. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll discover that some of the winners from the ‘80s had some incredible careers. For some, Heisman Challenge is where they’ll spend hours upon hours trying to beat records, set new records, and moving those legends into their favorite squads.
The mode, along with Road to Glory, comes with a new gameplay feature. Heisman players can use Reaction Time to slow down time, similar to Max Payne 3. The concept makes sense: these are the best players; they must have some edge over their competition. But I couldn’t help but feel this takes away from the realistic gameplay and presentation developer EA Tiburon tried to create. For me, this is a leave it alone feature. But if you are interested, know that it effectively slows-down time to give you the edge. You get those extra few seconds to line-up a perfect pass or dodge defenders.
The gameplay remains pretty strong, and new tweaks make the passing game more enjoyable. There are a ton of new throwing animations and quarterback dropbacks. There is also more freedom through Total Control Passion. This feature allows you to find holes in zone defense by using the left analog stick to carefully place your passes. In addition, there are 20 new pass trajectories. All of this sounds great on paper, but unless you play NCAA Football games like it’s your job, you probably won’t notice these tweaks. However, what you probably will notice if you’ve played other NCAA Football games is that this is the best passing in the franchise to date. Receivers quickly react on the sidelines and play action actually works this year.
The other end of the field is fairly weak. Defense is still boring and basics, like interceptions, seem random. Sure, I threw a few terrible passes, mistaking the stupid ref for a defender, but many times my receivers acted so relaxed it was like playing flag football. While the actual passing game is fun, catching the ball can be annoying. I couldn’t help shaking my head when my receiver missed a perfectly placed pass, only to see the pigskin bouncing through the hands of a defender. Of course, this could be really smart development as we are playing with college athletes, not pros.
Dynasty mode got a healthy update this year. You get new player scouting, dynamic pitch grades, and triple threat athletes. You now have devoted time in preseason and during each week for scouting, adding a realistic sense of urgency. It is easy to get invested into a prospect and then feeling your heart sink with busts. Phone calls also feel more realistic—or so I imagine, I’ve never actually recruited an athlete. Players will now talk about their highest interest. There is a lot to explore in recruiting, and those who like the micromanagement of building a team will probably love the changes.
If you are at all casual, you probably won’t want to bother with recruitment as load times on game menus are simply terrible. Load times throughout the entire game are extremely slow, so moving through the multiple menu process of acquiring new athletes feels like a chore.
There are some missed opportunities in NCAA Football 13. I would have liked to play Heisman Challenges during their actual seasons, with retro stadiums and a different broadcast depending on the era. The videos of the legends talking about their seasons are great, but let us experience it. Also, several of the Heisman Challenge athletes are locked for pre-order bonuses or DLC. That simply stinks. This is a new mode, something exciting, something fresh. Why not give it to us in one shot? In addition, the commentary is strong throughout the game, except during Heisman Challenges. They can’t keep up with the actual game and spout the same stats regardless of how you choose to play your Heisman winner.
The presentation remains strong, with plenty of authentic stadiums, traditions, and mascots. Lighting is strong and real-to-life stadium sounds are great. There are some new addition this year, including North Florida Atlantic University Stadium, USC Song Girls, and the Military parachutists. Unfortunately I experienced some sound clipping and graphic glitches. Players run through refs like they are simply shadows. Fans seem to disappear sometimes, and players bounce off one another after a play ends. Still, the presentation feels like a regular gameday, and we’ll probably need next-gen to see much different.
NCAA Football 13 is a strong entry now in the franchise’s 20th year. It’s probably one of the better NCAA games in recent history, but not a huge upgrade over last year’s edition. Online is strong and there is little delay or lag during gameplay. If EA Tiburon can make some tweaks to Heisman Challenges, improve load times, and fix some of the basic presentation glitches, we could be in a for a real champion next year.