For many years, EA Sports’ NCAA Football series has been seen as the little brother to the company’s premier NFL franchise — Madden. To some, the virtual gridiron EA releases every summer has felt like an appetizer for the full course meal that is Madden.
In the last two or three years, however, the company has done a better job of making the NCAA Football series feel original and unique to the college environment.
The latest iteration, NCAA Football 13, does many things well, and improves upon the truly one-of-a-kind experience you’ll only find on Saturday at a college football stadium.
I’ll start under the hood, as this year’s game is the best looking and most polished to date — as one should expect. The graphics are improved from a year ago and the sounds, which were recorded from crowds at more than 20 live games in 2011, are impressive and engaging.
There’s more than 400 new catch animations in this year’s game which helps keep gameplay fresh and exciting. I’ve seen a number of one-handed grabs and amazing diving catches that have never been seen in the game before which make for a more natural feeling. The running and tackling animations are also more refined and smoother compared to previous versions.
The new quarterback dropback animations are a welcomed addition, but honestly its something that goes unnoticed when you’re playing.
One addition to the gameplay that I’ve found is really useful is the new pass trajectories. EA added 20 different pass trajectories into the game, so depending on how hard you press a throwing button and what direction you push the left joystick, you get a different kind of pass. You can hold the button down and tilt the stick toward the receiver for an inside bullet pass, or lightly tap the button and push up on the stick to loft the ball up to the receiver.
The biggest draw for this year’s game — according to EA Sports, at least — is the Heisman Challenge mode, where you can put a former Heisman Trophy winner on any school in the game. The company put all of their marbles behind this feature, which honestly, isn’t that impressive. This is strictly my opinion, but I just don’t get a lot of joy out of playing with Tim Tebow on MSU, or putting another player on another school. Maybe I’m too much of a traditionalist but I don’t want to see Eddie George in anything other than scarlet and grey, I don’t want to see Tim Brown without a golden helmet and, honestly, I don’t want to play with Doug Flutie at all.
While the Heisman mode is an interesting concept, it kind of falls flat on its face. Essentially you just play through a season with a former Heisman winner on another team and dominate the competition. It’s more of a short-term novelty than something that has the staying power to keep players logging hours for months to come.
As a long time fan of the series, I’d have preferred they would bring back a feature where players executed historic plays like the “Miracle in Michigan” and the legendary Cal-Stanford kickoff return. Why not incorporate the signature moments from these Heisman winners’ seasons and replicate their historic plays, like Desmond Howard’s punt return against Ohio State? I think the game would be much better suited with a feature like that.
Regardless, hardcore fans of the game will buy it to get the latest rosters, upgraded presentation and improved gameplay. For the casual fan, though, they might not notice many of the changes and the game is a little shallow while offering a minimal upgrade on the whole from last year. To top it off for MSU fans, the game doesn’t even come with the Nike Pro Combat uniforms worn against Michigan last season unless you pre-ordered it from Amazon.com.
Basically, if you’re a fan of the series and have $60 to spend, go for it. If you’ve had negative opinions of the franchise in the past, or are a traditional Madden fan, you might come away disappointed.