Review: NCAA 13

61295-tsu_tb-thumb-480x270-61294.jpg

Texas State receiver demonstrating one
of the newly added catch animations against my Teambuilder squad…
still not sure how he got that open.

By Jahmal Peters

Contributor

Summer is a great time of year for
college football fans.

It’s a time of year when every fan
believes that their team is poised to achieve greatness no matter how
outlandish the expectations may be and it’s only after the season
begins that the cold hard reality sets in and they are once again
reminded of their team’s place near the bottom of the food chain.

While college football fans can enjoy a
few more months of unwavering optimism, their gaming playing
brethren won’t be as lucky.

EA Sports’ NCAA Football 13
is the latest iteration of the company’s annual college
football game, and with minimal updates and an overemphasis on DLC,
the game is more UCLA than USC – promising but a long way from
dominant.

NCAA 13′s major new feature is Heisman Challenge.
It should be noted that “major” only encompasses the level advertising
it received, not the actual depth of the feature.

A spinoff of the existing Road to Glory mode; Heisman
Challenge puts you in the shoes of a select group of Heisman Trophy
winners, including reigning Heisman Trophy winner and cover athlete
Robert Griffin III, but with an interesting twist.

The Heisman winner is not limited to his original
team, he can suit up for any of the 123 teams (University of South Alabama
didn’t make the cut; more on that later) in the game.

That means Florida’s 2007 Heisman Trophy winner
Tim Tebow can don the garnet and gold of bitter rival Florida State
and Florida fans can exact a level of revenge by bringing the Seminoles
beloved ’93 Heisman winner Charlie Ward to play for the Gators.

In total there are 16 playable Heisman winners:

Quarterbacks: Robert Griffin III (Baylor ’12), Tebow
(Florida ’07), Matt Leinart (USC ’04), Carson Palmer (USC  ’02),
Ward (Florida State ’93), Andre Ware (Houston ’89), Doug Flutie (Boston College
’84) and Jim Plunkett (Stanford ’70).

 

61288-palmer-thumb-480x270-61287.jpg

2002 USC Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer in Bruins
blue and gold. That’s not rain, it’s Trojan tears.

Running Backs: Mark Ingram (Alabama ’09), Eddie
George (Ohio State ’95), Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State ’88), Herschel Walker
(Georgia ’82), Marcus Allen (USC ’81) and Archie Griffin (Ohio State ’74,
’75).

Wide Receivers: Desmond Howard (Michigan ’91) and
Tim Brown (Notre Dame ’87)

Heisman Challenge (along with Road to Glory) features
a slow motion option dubbed Reaction Time (similar to Max Payne’s
Bullet Time) that is meant to stimulate to sensation of a player being
in the zone but since it slows down both the player and oncoming defenders
it adds no strategic advantage and serves little purpose.

While Heisman Challenge satisfies the novelty “what-if”
sentiment, the lack of depth does little else to make it appealing.

The players in game resemble their real life counterparts
in appearance alone. The contrast between Sanders’ trademark elusive running style and George’s smashmouth style is lost in this game. The
former runs just as hard as the latter while the latter is just as elusive
as the former. And if it weren’t for the name and number on the backs
of their respective jerseys, there would be no way to differentiate
Leinart from Tebow under center.

Compounding the problem, several of the Heisman players
(Tebow, Leinart, Ingram, Brown, Plunkett and Griffin) are only available
through pre-order bonuses and DLC, making a feature that already has
a dearth of options all the more lacking.

Improved Gameplay

One area where the game does make significant strides
is in the on-field gameplay, specifically the passing game.

In years past the passing game was plagued by what
has become known as “psychic DBs” and “super linebackers.”
Essentially corners and safeties would always know when the ball was
in the air and miraculously make a play on it no matter how badly they
were beaten by the receiver. Similarly linebackers would stay in their
zones and leap impossibly high in the air to swat passes that should
have sailed over their heads.

Both issues have been addressed and when coupled with
a multitude of new catching animations, revamped drop back animations
and sped up throwing motions to address the issue of quarterbacks taking
unnecessary sacks due to exaggerated mechanics and you have a passing
game that is an absolute thing of beauty.

If a receiver has a defender beat deep and the quarterback
as the arm strength to hit him in stride its six points. Meanwhile weaker
arm quarterbacks can focus on underneath routes and screen passes to
pick apart a defense that would have shut down those passing lanes in
previous versions of the game.

Unfortunately that’s about the extent of the upgrades
to the on-field aspect.

Despite both being staples of college football; the triple option and its modernized derivative, the spread option, are
still very much broken.

In real life, teams dread playing Oregon and having to defend against the Ducks’ uptempo offense. NCAA 13 players will
dread playing against the Ducks or any other spread option offense team for vastly
different reasons – there’s not enough challenge. Players controlling the defense against any spread option team can easily blow up plays
in the backfield and hold the vaunted offense to negative rushing yards.

Defenders react too intelligently and too aggressively
for any veer-based offense to run effectively. You will commonly see
diminutive 180 pound cornerbacks making solo tackles on 220 pound running
backs attempting to run a zone-read.

 

61291-uo_osu-thumb-480x270-61290.jpg

The only way this many defenders would ever get into
the Oregon backfield unblocked is if the ballcarrier was already 30
yards upfield.

This could have been better if NCAA 13 had the real-time physics promisedf to debut with Madden 13, but the feature did not make it into NCAA 13 due to time constraints.

Dynasty Mode

Without question, the biggest and most notable addition
to dynasty mode is that of College Football Live host Rece Davis, a
live sports ticker and ESPN Studio Updates.

Davis sets the stage for each game with
unique tidbits about the teams, stadiums and any existing rivalries. When games are in progress, Davis will chime in with updates from other games being played
that week.

Visually, the studio updates are very nicely done and
mirrors what you would see during an actual ESPN college football broadcast.
The sports ticker across the bottom of the screen can at times be more
interesting than the on field action with its priority score updates
and upset alerts.

The audio on the other hand leaves a lot to be desired.
Davis, a virtual encyclopedia of college football knowledge, sounds
very robotic in his delivery while the studio updates can at times occur
too frequently and for frivolous reasons.

Do you really care that Texas Tech kicked a field
goal on its opening drive against Texas? Or that the Longhorns leading
tackler has two? Thankfully, the studio updates can be easily bypassed and the constant studio updates of insignificant scores doesn’t hamper
the overall appeal of the feature.

EA Sports added desperately needed features to NCAA 12 by adding a Caoching Carousel mode and letting players realign conferences. Despite both
features requiring patches and game tuners to function as advertised,
they were both well received and fans anxiously anticipated the upgrades
they might receive in NCAA 13. Unfortunately, neither feature was upgraded
in any significant regard for NCAA 13. EA Sports instead focused on upgrading
recruiting with a new dynamic system that changed based on team performance
and player interest.

For instance, a team like USC would appeal to pocket
passing quarterbacks and speed receivers since its pro-style offense emphasizes vertical passing. A team like Wisconsin, however, and
its endless stream of 1,000 yard rushers and run-oriented linemen
would appeal to recruits of those respective molds.

EA also implemented a scouting feature that allows
you to spend time determining if the five star running back you’re
scouting will live up to billing and become the next Trent Richardson
or flop harder than his fellow ’07 USA Today All-American Bryce Brown
(Go ahead and look him up, I’ll wait here).

The feature is more suited for players who intend
to roll with a powerhouse school like Alabama and need make a consensus
between two five-star running backs. If you planning on using newly
added UT San Antonio, you’re likely to skip scouting and instead throw
scholarship offers at any player interested.

 

61293-utsa_umass-thumb-480x270-61292.jpg

UT San Antonio and UMass competing in the 2013 “IneligBowl”
as neither team can participate in a bowl game during their transition
year.

 Speaking of UTSA, the Roadrunners are one of four
new teams slated to make the jump from FCS (Div 1AA) to FBS (Div 1A)
this year along with the Massachusetts, Texas State and South Alabama.
Three of the four are included in NCAA 13 with USA missing out due to
a miscommunication between the team and EA. But EA has already gone
on record as saying USA will be included in NCAA Football 14.

One would think this is only a minor setback given
the presence of Teambuilder, EA’s revolutionary online team creation
site exclusive to the NCAA series. Sadly, EA treated Teambuilder like
a scorned ex-lover and avoided almost completely in NCAA 13 so USA fans
hoping to recreate their Jaguars would do so at the expense of removing
an existing team in dynasty mode.

Final Thoughts

If you are a college football fan and have never played
the NCAA series, NCAA Football 13 is worth a look. It addresses a lot
of the issues that plagued its predecessor and captures enough of the
college football atmosphere to satisfy a casual gamer.

Conversely if you are an avid follower of the series,
you already know what you’re getting. The game is essentially NCAA
Football 12.5 with new features that likely won’t interest you and
minimal upgrades to the features that do interest you.

NCAA 13
EA Sports
PlayStation 3, XBox 360 (Reviewed on XBox 360)
Rated E for Everyone