No longer the little brother in the EA football family…
It’s come to be that time of the year again. Time to break out the tailgating tents, portable grills, greasy bratwurst, cheap PBR beer and your custom team logo corn hole boards because it’s almost that time of the year again…college football season!!! The sights. The sounds. The cool college football vibe. EA SPORTS is ready to kick off the college football season with a new and vastly improved NCAA Football 13. This years version of the popular console game is not looking to play it safe by adding only a couple of minor changes to last seasons game, but they’re blowing the pigskin off the football by jamming in a ton of new gameplay features, updated and improved graphics and the most authentic stadium sounds ever recorded.
Listen, let’s get down to business here and just be honest with each other. The Madden series has long been the standard for sports games in the video game industry for many years. Dating all the way back to 1988 when the series was first released on the Apple II, the series has been around the business almost 25 years and in recent years, as with anything being around that long, it has started showing its video game age. By focusing less on the gameplay features and modes and more on the graphics and star power of the NFL players it promotes, many have felt Madden has gotten lazy in recent years with their minimal updates and less than stellar features. Yes, the graphical updates are nice and everything, but us gamers are looking for a good football challenge. We don’t mind plopping down $60 for a game, but when it’s the same game as the year before only with graphic updates, a few minor changes and the occasional theme song update, that kind of stuff only seems to infuriate the masses that have always been loyal to the series.
While Madden has been around for years and has consistently remained on top, the mega football franchise has definitely had its challengers to its throne. Many have come close to knocking the giant off the top of the mountain, but in the end the giant has dealt with them accordingly and knocked many football franchises entirely off the video game map. While EA and Madden have been knocking contenders out left and right, the NCAA Football series that EA also develops has been gaining steam in the background and has been forming its own dedicated fan base and following. Many in this fan base will claim that NCAA Football has been better than big brother Madden for many years. Yet, while the NCAA Football series had more to offer in some of its features and gameplay, it could never quite match the visual flare or star power that an NFL license can carry. That all changes on July 10, 2012 with the release of NCAA Football 13 on Xbox 360 and PS3!
If you’re reading this review, then I really don’t need to tell you what the game is all about. You’re hip, you’re cool, you’re a college football fan and you really like to play football games. What you’re really here to find out is if this new version is worth a day one purchase and your $60. I will honestly tell you up front that, yes, it is very much worth every penny and you should rush (pun intended) out and pick it up immediately! What I do want to touch on here in this review are the new improvements that have been made since last year’s title. If you’re still on the fence about the game after reading through this first section of the review, just give the below a read and decide for yourself.
One of the larger upgrades to be focused on in this year’s game that has been greatly improved over the last couple of seasons is the overall passing game. From the way your quarterback drops back after the snap (faster, varied drop back steps, better control) to the way they will throw the ball around the field, it feels as if your QB can actually move and you’ll experience more opportunities of getting out of trouble instead of having to make snap judgments such as throwing a bad pass or taking a 20 yard sack. In years past we’ve been stuck with 3 specific ball trajectories with our QB’s: lob, medium and bullet passes. This year, gameplay has been tuned to include 20 different varied trajectories and multiple ball speeds, as well as actual ball placement control via the left analog stick. This means that as you’re tossing the ball around the field, you’ll be able to place the ball where only the receiver can catch it and won’t have to worry about super jumping linebackers that can swat a pass 20 feet off the ground. Screens, leading the receiver and more are also now better executed with these new passing features. EA has also tweaked what your QB does before ever snapping and throwing the ball. Apart from faster drop backs, play-action plays are set into motion faster and also now include a very useful abort function using the right trigger that allows the QB to cancel out of the play-action on a broken play and sends the running back into pass protection and blitz pick ups immediately. Users also will note quicker and varied pump fakes, better pocket protection, multiple avoidance moves and automatic shovel pass animations. Marry these new features with the new receiver catching system that boasts more than 430 new catch animations and users will be catching the ball more often than getting a case of “stone hands” and dropping many catchable passes thrown their way that has been a problem in previous years.
Player awareness has also been one of the biggest complaints in past NCAA’s, but now offensive and defensive players live by a simple rule: if they don’t see the ball, they can’t react to it. For a receiver this means that their passing icons are dimmed until the moment that they turn their heads in anticipation of the ball. Only when the receiver anticipates the ball will their icon light up and they will become aware of the ball. This doesn’t mean that you can’t pass the ball their way before their icon is lit, it just means that they’re not expecting the ball and they will most likely not make a play on or catch the ball when thrown to. Since this has been applied to the offensive player, this also means that defensive players will not have the whole “eyes in the back of the head” feel that they’ve had in past NCAA’s when they would stop on a dime, swat a pass away or intercept an ill-advised pass without ever looking at the quarterback. You’ll also discover that defensive players are also a little smarter now as they tend to play different coverage techniques by trailing and playing off the receiver and will also line up in coverage better to prevent mismatches like having a slower moving linebacker lining up over the star receiver in the slot position before the snap and having the receiver easily blow by the defender for a big gain.
EA has also gone and improved the heart of the Dynasty mode this year – recruiting – by giving more timely and pertinent updates to the AI that controls the recruiting pitch system. In last year’s version, your schools recruiting pitch grades were based on the previous season BCS ranking. Now many of your grades can change from week to week depending on how you are doing within the game. For example, your pitch grade for Championship Contender or Coach Prestige rises and falls depending on your week-to-week performance. The Pro Potential grade is determined by an internal annual mock draft system that projects where your players will go in the NFL, the past four years draft results, your promises to players and more! Combined, all of these components set the stage for huge amounts of time being spent in recruiting and scouting scholarship players. One thing that would have really made the Dynasty mode A+ perfect though would be a revamp of the coaching carousel we saw added last year. As it is now, you can sign-up as either a offensive/defensive coordinator or the head coach of any team. What would make this system the ultimate sports Dynasty mode is if you started as a head coach of a high school team, similar to how Road to Glory starts out with you in High School. Then, depending on your skill coaching high school ball, you would get various offers from colleges. Being able to pick any school and any coaching position right from the beginning seems to be cheating and replicating real life coaching progression would really be the icing on the Dynasty cake.
Another new feature to this years NCAA Football 13 is the new Heisman Challenge mode. In this mode you will have the chance of putting on some pads, lacing up the cleats and throwing on a helmet as you become some of college football’s all-time collegiate greats. As the legend, you will attempt to replicate the legendary seasons of the likes of RGIII, Barry Sanders, Marcus Ware, Eddie George, Desmond Howard and many more. You will find in this mode the way that it works is the player is presented with a list of specific goals and objectives you are to complete over the course of a single college football season. These goals directly reflect the exact statistics that each athlete posted during his Heisman-winning year and will get you even closer to taking home the coveted Heisman trophy as you complete each goal. Also, another cool feature to this mode is that not only can you play football where the legend originally played, but you can also take and place that legend on your favorite team and live out the ultimate college football fantasy with them at the helm. This marks the first time real athletes have ever appeared in the NCAA Football series and EA looks to make a statement by using some of the greatest players to ever play the game.
Aside from all of these new features, EA has also done some work to spruce up the visuals and sounds in the game. In years past the sounds and commentary tracks during gameplay have been repetitive, the graphics off the field were a little bland and blocky and you never actually felt like you were a part of the college football experience. In years past I never really minded the graphics, sound and commentary because the games were a blast to play, but after you notice them the first time it’s like having a gigantic zit on the end of your nose – it’s damn annoying and you just can’t miss it! This year EA has stepped up the visual elements by enhancing them with something they are calling true progressive lighting. The TPG creates a natural progression of sun and clouds across the sky after every play creating dynamic shadows and lighting around the field, on the players and in the stands as the game progresses. You’ll also notice that a new motion blur effect has been added to help the player, coach and fan models feel more natural and lifelike and that alone really adds to the overall gaming experience.
Now, if all of the above information doesn’t have your head spinning, you’ll be happy to know that over 80 new stadiums, team run-out traditions, mascots, cheerleaders (USC Song Girls & Texas Cheerleaders) and more have also all been shoved in the game to tempt you towards a purchase. Along with all of the above, the inclusion of the ESPN Bottom Line ticker is continually updated with special emphasis placed on Priority Score Alerts, Upset Alerts and other games, just as fans on the couch at home would expect to see during an actual ESPN football broadcast. This game is immensely detailed and it goes to show you the commitment that the team has for this game and series by the amount of good quality work, detail and features they put in this year.
Look, I’m not going to tell you what to do here with your hard earned cash, but if you haven’t made your mind up on whether this game is worth the purchase or not by the end of this review, then scroll back up to the top and just read again about all of the new features it offers this year alone. There is enough content and upgraded material in NCAA Football 13 that I’m sure I missed covering it all in this review and I’m looking forward to spending countless hours in the coming weeks discovering anything and everything that they have included in this years game. Even though I’m still going through and discovering all that the game has to offer, this game is superbly better than any football game I’ve played in the recent past and has my early vote for Sports Game of the Year!
I’d suggest that if the Madden series hasn’t had to look over its shoulder for the last couple of years, it probably should start because NCAA Football 13 is here and little brother is ready and looking to knock big brother down a few notches.
A copy of NCAA Football 13 for Xbox 360 was provided to us for this review by EA Sports.