Five yards forward, five yards back
My kicker must live a troubled existence. He’s one helluva football player, but despite his dubious distinction of being the most talented guy on the Marshall Thundering Herd roster, I never let the poor bastard kick a field goal. Like, ever. Partly because I pick apart defenses like Stephen Colbert runs roughshod through Republican rhetoric, but mostly for the simple fact that I hate settling.
If I’m in the red zone, I want to hit the house, and if I’m playing a 20th-generation NCAA football product, I expect it to be the s***. Plain and simple. And since, much like my heartbroken kicker, EA’s ensured that anyone else interested in making a football game is stuck on the bench, that means there’s little room for error in my book.
Last year’s product was a bit shaky in spots but, thankfully, developer EA Tiburon’s made some solid strides this season in the area that counts most: gameplay. For starters, the passing game is vastly improved due to the removal of some of the more egregious defensive cheats like leaping linebackers and omniscient defensive backs, as well as the ability to put after-touch on passes and a larger range of passing speeds.
What’s more, all of these elements are tightly tied to attributes in a meaningful way, meaning that most NCAA vets will have little difficulty taking advantage of mismatches and breakdowns in coverage. And even though I’ll readily admit that the animation engine’s starting to show its age, NCAA Football 13 does a great job of representing the drastic skill differentiation that naturally exists in the world of college football, allowing fans of almost every position to learn their preferred roles and play them out in a believable manner on the field. All things considered, there’s enough improvement here to comfortably label NCAA 13 the best-playing college football game of this generation.
I’m also a big fan of the new Heisman Challenge—essentially a superhero sim meshed with a sports RPG—which grants gamers the ability to play through as 10 notable former Heisman winners and adds a wealth of reps to one of the deepest games on the market. It’s a nice stroll down memory lane and serves as a fun alternative to the less-focused grind of Dynasty mode.
But alongside these attractive additions are a handful of unfortunate shanks. For example, I still love the exercise of going from rags to riches as the Marshall Thundering Herd, but Dynasty mode’s recruiting process still fails to update key items like coaching prestige, championship contention, and TV exposure in a realistic fashion, and the simplified campus visits are a bit of a downer. Is it really asking for too much to expect players to react to my shiny new Coach of the Year trophy, the way I thumped a recruit’s top choice on national TV during his campus visit, or the fact that I’ve been ranked in the top 5 for three years straight? I just don’t think so.
And then there’s the presentation. For all the ballyhooed studio updates and revised commentary, dialogue gets painfully repetitive after a few games, often fails to consider special circumstances, and ultimately fails to tell a good story week-to-week in dynasty. And, guys, I love the mascots, but seeing the same three to five celebration animations every game gets old quick.
More than this, though, I can’t recall an NCAA product this rife with bugs and glitches. For example, the basic replay tech fails to capture all your animation data, causing players to freeze in poses and glide through their route on every play; the newly implemented studio updates cause a significant number of hard crashes midgame; and the in-game UI often displays erroneous data (like incorrect national rankings or saying I lost a position battle in Road to Glory when I didn’t). These aren’t the end of the world, but I don’t really expect this kind of sloppy execution from an EA football title, and I can’t help but fear the whiplash from the day-one patch that these bugs will inevitably inspire.
All told, though, I don’t want you to get the idea that NCAA Football 13 is a subpar experience. As I mentioned earlier, after logging four seasons of gameplay, it’s clear that this is the best-looking, best-playing NCAA title of this generation, offering tons of depth via a wealth of online and offline modes, and despite the lack of polish, I’ll likely put over 100 hours into the game.
In that sense, I can’t help but be reminded of my long-suffering placekicker: There’s no denying there’s a ton of talent, but when you drive the length of the field down two, a three-point chip shot isn’t quite as satisfying as a last-second TD. NCAA 13 is definitely worth a purchase for football fans, but I was hoping for a big leap from last year, and this? It’s more of a carefully staged incremental hop.
SUMMARY: NCAA Football 13 is definitely better than its predecessor, but amidst the upgrades, unfortunate legacy issues and inexcusable bugs prevent this college-pigskin sim from an undisputed championship.
- THE GOOD: Solid football AI; improved passing; Heisman Challenge mode.
- THE BAD: Bugs; continued Dynasty logic woes; menus still suck.
- THE UGLY: My average margin of victory.
NCAA Football 13 is available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.