NCAA Football ’13 | Review
The last two years have been ones of great promise for the NCAA Football franchise. EA’s second child has been showing signs of vast improvement, possibly even threatening to take the title of “Best Football Simulator” from its professional counterpart. It was this year where NCAA threatened to take the leap, the next step to becoming truly elite. But like my beloved Michigan Wolverines, it may not be ready to join the ranks of the elite just yet, despite the hype. While Madden attempted to overhaul the franchise and institute some new core mechanics (which had mixed results), NCAA Football 13 held fast to what made it a great game in the last two years. Sure, there are certain changes that make the detail-oriented fan cry out in joy (the ability to opt out of play-action if you feel a blitz, and over 400 new catch animations take the headlines), but as far as the big picture, not much stands out.
This concept puts any sports game developer in a tough position: innovate to the point it feels contrived, and be criticized for the innovations falling short of their promises, or produce a solid game but fail to innovate, and have your game called stale. While Madden’s innovations and design decisions were the undoing of a fairly solid game, its college counterpart was undone by not doing enough.
NCAA Football 13’s most glaringly obvious new feature is the Heisman Mode, and this is where NCAA’s innovation and pageantry still shines brightest. You can take one of ten Heisman winners and recreate their season. Not only that, you can take them anywhere you want. Ripping Desmond Howard from Michigan was a painful experience, but I could see the smile light up on the face of the future Ohio State graduate with whom I was playing. While this mode is fun, what it isn’t is realistic. The mode breaks away from the bog of “realism” in which all sports games seem to be mired, and introduces a bullet time mechanic. You definitely feel like a man among boys while playing as these world-class college athletes.
Unfortunately, the game does not adapt to your playstyle in Dynasty, Road to Glory, or even Heisman modes. Per yearly tradition, I picked up my favorite schools (Michigan, Northwestern, Temple, and even South Carolina) and played through a dynasty. While South Carolina had a god-tier receiver who racked up, well, video-game type statistics, they would talk about the uncertain passing attack and how their defense was going to win them the game. That definitely didn’t happen. In Heisman, if you are putting up unbelievably impressive numbers with a running back (Barry Sanders, et. al), but your RB is on a passing team? The announcers will talk about how strong your air game is. That’s just how they are programmed. Minor complaint? Yes. Does it desynchronize you from your gaming experience? Definitely.
The best part of any sports game is the Dynasty/Franchise mode – at least for someone like me, who keeps spreadsheets for his yearly tournaments that have every champion and possible statistic written down since the age of 6. (Fun fact: Oregon is really good in college football video games.) The Dynasty, in which I took Michigan to the top, felt a little different from last year. Rece Davis giving you studio updates from your universe – nothing is cooler than getting an update from the game you just played; and as Michigan runs up the score against Iowa, remembering the Big XII game you and your best friend just played where TCU and Kansas State went into 3 Overtimes. Dynasty has been an unparalleled success, because it was built on the solid foundation of years past. While you’re only making design decisions for one team, you can play as them all, adding another level of excellence to the mode.
This is a great game. It is still my preferred football simulator, as Madden revamps itself so frequently it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to become. The pageantry of college football, the biggest reason to procure a game such as this, is alive and kicking. War Eagle is on the field. You hear the Seminole fans doing their trademark chop to the point of just wanting to score on them – and that’s the point.
NCAA Football ’13 still captures college football tradition in an absolutely beautiful manner, and that is why, despite the lack of addition to the core mechanics, this game is spectacular. It retained what made it great from a year ago. Now, if in 2014, the franchise can add to it, this has the potential to be the best football game made in a very long time.
(Version Reviewed: Xbox 360)