It wasn’t long ago that the NCAA Football series was the football product from EA Sports that took risks and innovated. In fact, many perceived NCAA to be the testing ground for Madden, and that had its benefits and share of drawbacks. Madden played it safe to try and placate a significantly larger userbase while NCAA was able to target what college football fans and those passionate about the series wanted.
Roles between those two franchises however have reversed in the last couple years. NCAA Football 13 is a product with depth to please the hardcore and features to attract more casual players. However the entire package is plagued by uninspired execution and a lack of vision. Continue on for a breakdown of where NCAA 13 succeeded and where it came up short in this ‘Hits and Misses’ review.
NCAA Football 13 looked to address many of the legacy issues that had plagued the series. For the most part EA was successful in doing so even if the benefits are somewhat subtle.
Throw trajectories allow for better ball placement – with no more worries about super jumping line backers picking off passes they shouldn’t be able to reach – and receivers catch the ball in much more natural fashion which doesn’t just look better but creates more run after the catch potential. The CPU QB AI is much more aggressive in running with the ball whether designed or when the play breaks down. Defensive backs have lost that sense of being “psychic” that plagued the series for so long.
Play-action doesn’t have to be avoided anymore! It’s a great relief to be able to re-insert that in the gameplan. Screen plays are also more effective and the QB dropbacks usually make that possible. It’s actually beneficial to let the AI control the dropbacks particularly for timing routes but also to free yourself up to better concentrate on reading the defense and seeing the routes as they develop down the field.
Sliders appear effective and Heisman difficulty may this year be providing the best results. Typically All-American is the level the game is tuned for and Heisman becomes the one where the CPU just feels artificially hard. It may be worth trying out for those who generally don’t ramp up to Heisman but are looking for a better or more organic challenge.
EA has continued to build on Dynasty mode rather than revamp it. The dynamic pitches, scouting, and enhanced phone calls have proven to be worthwhile additions. They’re not going to get anyone uninterested in Dynasty to want to commit to the mode but those who already spend hours within it will appreciate them.
The in-game presentation elements – Studio Updates and ESPN Bottom Line Ticker – are effective in engrossing the user more within their own dynasty universe. The website offers a number of options for accessing the dynasty and even interacting with it though a couple options are held back as DLC.
All that being said Dynasty is still quite overwhelming and can quickly become tedious for both newcomers and veterans. That’s a growing concern EA will have to address soon.
Performance has been quite good – particularly for a release week – and Online Dynasty remains the crown jewel of user-connected sports gaming modes when it doesn’t get halted with transfer errors. Despite some sparse reports of problems OD appears to be much more reliable this year. Something new will need to be added in the near future though as regular online play has become stagnant due to the lack of options. Nothing new online related has been added since NCAA 09 when OD was introduced.
Though too much could would be perceived as a negative – and its arguable that is the case this year for many – consumers look for at least some sense of familiarity from year to year. It could be that stability is a better way to frame it but there’s something to be said about not having to re-learn how to play or get caught off-guard by an omission. It’s clear what the total package of NCAA 13 is offering. Buy into the game or pass on it knowing everything you need to know about the product. There shouldn’t be any surprises good or bad with NCAA 13. For some that means a level of comfort they value and for others it’s a lack of discovery and freshness that is detrimental to the experience.
NCAA Football 13 continues the series’ run of displaying exceptional graphics particularly in replays and screenshots. It’s unfortunate then that the addition of “motion blur” which was advertised as an improvement actually hampers the way the game looks to an extent. A real head-scratcher not only why EA added it but why they’d tout it as something people should be excited about.
Despite all the nice gameplay improvements delivered for NCAA Football 13 there are just as many remaining problems or new ones that have arisen. The CPU still can’t run out of the shotgun and struggles to run the option, their clock management is sketchy, and offensive line blocking is generally competent but too often exposed for how it remains severely troubled. Safeties have shown some terrible awareness – it’d be fine if it was just occasionally blowing a coverage but these instances are due to programming flaws.
User control of players just isn’t very good this year. Even button responsiveness when it comes to user catches, user swats, or user pick attempts often go completely unregistered. Rare is the time a deep ball is overthrown and not underthrown. Defenders seem to get superhuman speed bursts through the line of scrimmage. Playbooks don’t default to special teams on 4th down, touchbacks are placed at the 26 instead of the 25, and despite widespread recognition that SuperSim has been broken EA didn’t bother to fix it this year.
•LACK OF ADVANCEMENT AND ABSENT AMBITION
The NCAA series has changed course from being daring to crafting features more in tune with what the marketing department would request. Heisman mode has surely been a marketing dream for the company and the advertisements and concept behind it have generated high levels of awareness. That’s effective for them but it’s not what fans of the series had been looking for and leaving them unfulfilled is more costly in the long run.
NCAA 13 went without the “Infinity” engine physics and Kinect functionality that Madden will be debuting next month. Features like Teambuilder have gone untouched for years, SuperSim hasn’t been fixed, there is still only a single playable camera angle, and load times along with the MLB: The Show series remain the worst in all of sports gaming. In general gameplay did not differentiate itself enough from recent years while areas like presentation and emotion remain sorely lacking.
It’s understandable with how many programs there are that inaccuracies and inconsistencies would be found from team to team. The number of missing new uniforms and those still incorrect though was especially startling with NCAA 13. The company also lost the rights to several school fight songs. EA even flubbed by forgetting to add South Alabama along with the three other new FBS schools.
•PRESENTATION AND ATMOSPHERE
Last year the lead devs on the NCAA series attended the “Under the Lights” game between Notre Dame and Michigan. That game had explosive atmosphere and emotion and some memorable presentaiton making it all the more disheartening that the company still hasn’t been able to translate a comparable experience to the video game.
Presentation is a bizarre mishmash of broadcast style with cameras for replays coming from on-the-field perspectives that don’t exist. Post-play scenes are less awkward but still often disconnected from the result of the play. Crowd noise is not the factor it should be. Commentary has gotten stale and with the loss of Erin Andrews for next year maybe that’ll be the catalyst to do more in that area.
•HEISMAN CHALLENGE AND ROAD TO GLORY
The biggest addition to NCAA Football 13 is the Heisman Challenge. It’s not a bad idea conceptually – it doesn’t have much of a hook for anyone not emotionally invested in any of the players or those who might get a kick out of legends on rival schools – but there isn’t much of a payoff or feeling of accomplishment to come by racking up obscene stats with what feels like ultra-high rated shells of generic individuals in place of their former selves.
Play calling in both Heisman and Road to Glory have been slanted to favor the position in control. It seems that about 80% or more plays are initially called with that player in mind and the ability to change plays is present as well. Some might feel it is a bit much but clearly these modes are meant to please people who just want to put up big stats or earn XP at any cost. “Reaction Time” is there to slow down the action and it works for Heisman – gives the legends a sense of being special that is otherwise completely lacking – but feels totally out of place in Road to Glory. One minor change on the positive side within these modes is the camera follows the action once the ball leaves the QB rather than sitting back leaving the user to wonder what happened down field.
Road to Glory also has a series problem with “Coach Trust” that needs to be addressed in a patch. Players are too often penalized for things out of their control and on higher difficulty have an almost futile task ahead to keep a starting job due to the negative point distribution.
The NCAA series has really lost its way in recent years as EA ceased attempts to make it an ambitious and innovative product. It’s a game still rich in features and depth but failing to deliver true college atmosphere and emotion with gameplay that just feels all too familiar despite notable improvements. There is value to be had with NCAA Football 13 – particularly for those who took advantage of it at the $45 price point – but consumers should demand more than just adequacy going forward.