NCAA Football 13 Heisman Challenge Mode Impressions

Posted July 9th, 2012 at 9:30 am

NCAA Football 13 is being largely marketed on the new Heisman Challenge mode which features the ability to play with 10-16 former award winners. The purpose is to try and match and exceed their statistical achievements with the ability to place them on any school to do so. While Heisman Challenge works conceptually – at least to an extent – it falls apart in its attempt to provide any sort of special feel to the individuals and the playing experience. 

Heisman Challenge is designed for the types of gamers that only care about ease of play and racking up ridiculous stats. That is ultimately what it comes down to – taking dynamic players who out-rate everyone else in the game and pushing them to the limit of usage in order to top statistical goals.

The structure is similar to that of Road to Glory only here it is a single season with the central goal to win the Heisman and along the way surpass the stats of that respective player’s actual Heisman year. The user controls only the legend on the field but does have some influence over play calling. Barry Sanders, Andre Ware, Herschel Walker, Robert Griffin III, Marcus Allen, Charlie Ward, Eddie George, Desmond Howard, Carson Palmer, and Doug Flutie are available to everyone. Having downloaded the demo unlocks Jim Plunkett, Archie Griffin, and Tim Brown.

The play calling system has been tweaked to lean heavily towards the player under control – approximately 90% of the plays go that direction. Combined with the ability to audible as a QB or change the play (up to 20 times a game) from other positions it’s easy to go the whole game only throwing passes or rush the ball 50+ times. Coaches also don’t pull players in blowouts, they can’t be injured, and they don’t appear to fatigue at all. While this helps the user stay involved it again favors those who just want to continue putting up big numbers. It’s not going to feel all that realistic but clearly that isn’t the intention of the mode.

SuperSim remains broken which means the simmed portions of the game don’t run off the proper amount of clock. Given that there is no adjustable quarter length (locked to five minutes) this actually leads to an approximately proper number of plays being run in those short quarters. Each game takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Having the statistical goals to beat means recognizing the amazing achievements of the players. However the ease of reaching them on the default difficulty makes them seem somewhat less of an accomplishment. The difficulty can be upped to All-American or Heisman to make for more of a challenge. When people are putting up 128 TDs in a season with Barry Sanders though (leaderboards show yards and TDs which makes up the “Heisman Score”) it’s clear who the mode really caters to. At some point – quickly actually – it becomes a chore rather than the accomplishments being earned during the course of having fun.

The biggest problem with Heisman Challenge is that there is really no special nature to it when actually on the field. The legends essentially feel like highly rated created players – Barry Sanders is really fast but the limitations with the game mean he lacks the shiftiness that defined him. There is also no new commentary related to the players or the Heisman chase and no unique highlight packages. The only thing that stands out compared to a standard game is the player-specific screen wipe going into and out of replays. That’s simply not enough.

Given that the players don’t truly feel like themselves the way they are better defined is with “Reaction Time”. The feature has received the most vitriol from the community but really within context of Heisman mode – but much less so Road to Glory – it is fairly effective and appropriate. It conveys a sense of vision and patience that separates them from everyone else.

Ultimately though these legends are just shells of what they are remembered for. That they are inserted on any team, in the current year, causes them to lose any connection to their past glories. There are a handful of videos featuring the past Heisman winners talking about their experiences and showing highlights but that means very little when you’re not playing under those same circumstances – facing those opponents or running with those other players.

Certainly an argument can be made that the resources spent on Heisman Challenge could have been put to better use elsewhere. Regardless it should be judged for what it is rather than what could have or even should have been. Heisman Challenge is a fairly inoffensive mode that lacks a compelling hook unless there is emotional attachment to one or more of the players. Even then once inside the mode it becomes a simple game of racking up obscene stats with players that aren’t true replications of their past selves and that ultimately overshadows the worthwhile attempt from EA at paying them their due respects.