There is something genuine about college football. We get to watch a bunch of kids in their late teens to early twenties playing their hearts out each and every week, without needing a paycheck to show up. Well at least we hope it’s for free but that’s an entirely different conversation. EA has managed in the last couple of years to really capture the excitement of the games that we see on Saturday and the question is can they keep it up?
I really struggle writing reviews for annual releases because you have to find a balance of talking about what’s new in the game while still maintaining a critique on the product. So let’s get out of the way what’s new and then get into my experience with NCAA Football 13. First and foremost the big focus on NCAA Football 13 is the Heisman Trophy which is noticeable right on the cover with Robert Griffin III and Barry Sanders. With the new focus on the Heisman they offered up a new mode called the Heisman Challenge where you can play as past Heisman winners and re-create their winning seasons.
Unfortunately to me the new Heisman Challenge falls flat as just yet another mode. On my first play through I played as Barry Sanders whose speed almost seems too fast for the game. The mode has clips of Barry talking about his Heisman run and some of his memorable moments through the season. Then you’re left to beat his stats for the season TDs, Yards, etc. After a few games it just feels like the Road to Glory mode without having the drive to improve. The mode becomes a tedious process after you get through your first and unless you have a personal connection to one of the Heisman Winners going back for a second play through won’t happen.
The on-field action feels extremely familiar to anyone who played last year’s game. The game still has a noticeably faster pace than what is found in the Madden franchise, with some huge improvements in the passing game. My first few exhibition games on the Heisman difficulty level made me look like I was playing with my eyes closed. There is a heavy emphasis now on hitting players in stride and penalizes you for running around in the pocket and trying to throw against your body. If your quarterback is a pocket passer I will give you a word of advice, stay in the pocket. The improved passing is actually even more impressive with the new catching animations which make the past games look obsolete.
NCAA Football 13 does have a few shortcomings that do hold it back. First off the difficulty settings need to be retooled. I am not a skilled NCAA/Madden player but on anything but the hardest difficulty setting I was easily winning games. The hardest difficulty setting then seems like unless your defensive player has a tackle rating of 90+ you can’t take down the opponent on the first hit. It just feels very “gamey”. The other big issue that has plagued games in the past is the commentary. Oh the commentary. Why can they not get the yardage correct? I gain five yards and the commentary says six, or I am up 21 at half and the commentary will say a defensive battle. It just feels like the game and the commentary are disconnected. And with games like MLB The Show and the NBA 2K series showing how great video game commentary can be, this is just not acceptable.
To me the best times in NCAA Football 13 are either online or in the Road to Glory mode. Sadly the Road to Glory mode only has had minor improvements from last year’s version so if you’re like me and played a ton of it last year the incentive to go back in is minimal. The online play has both the normal online suite of modes as well as the online dynasty which is an incredible mode especially if you can get a group of friends to play with. The online play is still your best competition and provides some of the best aspects of the experience.
At this point in the series lifetime it’s all about improving rather than starting from scratch and I actually think the developers did a great job of that this year. The new animations for catching and throwing the ball are bigger improvements then what it might sound like. Yet I would be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t mention that in replays the game still looks pretty bad. Throwing the ball seems to come out of the wrist and you have weird detection problems happening all the time. I still also notice a good deal of frame rate problems whether you install the game or not.
The battle between Madden and NCAA Football rages on and I think this year might be a big year for both franchises in terms of making an argument for which is superior. To me for pure “fun” you can’t beat the college experience. The developers over the past few years have managed to bring the heart of college football alive and in this reviewers opinion is just a blast to play. I really enjoyed the new ESPN integration which has a ticker at the bottom of the screen and in-game score updates for teams in the conference and top ranked teams in jeopardy. Those small touches do make it feel even more like a Saturday game.
There is no denying that NCAA Football 13 is a small step forward for the franchise, especially in comparison to the past few years. However where NCAA Football 13 continues to succeed is in bringing the action we love on Saturdays to life. If you bought last year’s game there isn’t a huge incentive to go out and pick this one up for full retail price, but if you’re looking to get a fix of college football, NCAA Football 13 is an amazing game of football.