NCAA Football 13 is in the awkward position of trying to simulate one of America’s most popular sports with all of the team assets but none of the players. The rules of these player assets means that NCAA Football 13 must bank much more highly on other assets, like fantastic presentation, inclusion of former Heisman winners, and well-designed modes in order to be successful. Given it constraints, NCAA Football 13 becomes a mediocre effort, offering fantastic presentation but the same gameplay from last year and a bunch of modes that vary in their level of success.
The gameplay fundamentals of the NCAA franchise haven’t changed in a long time. This game is no different. This year there is a “touch passing mechanic” which lets you guide your passes in to a receiver in a particular direction. I had trouble noticing the difference, and had little issue dissecting my opponent’s secondary without using it. The other major addition was to Road to Glory, which providing the ability to slow down time until your player’s meter expired. This “bullet time” mechanic made it easy to see the field well on slant patterns or find the hole and put on some moves with your running back. Most of the actual upgrades though were to the presentation. The games look fantastic, and a lot of work was put into the pregame, as it seems unique for every stadium. The announcing is about what you’d expect (though the PA announcer in each stadium seems to make a lot of mistakes). The menu selection was probably the most aggressive I’ve ever seen. I know they’re attempting to emulate ESPN’s Gameday style, but the massive “PRESS START” screen was, for lack of a more appropriate word, frightening. On a whole, though, the presentation was top notch (in the typical “we can’t mention any player names for fear of lawsuits” type way).
The highlight of NCAA Football 13, as per usual, is the excellent dynasty mode. Coach mode enables you to be fired or re-hired, dependent on the success level demanded by your current position. If you want a real challenge, you can attempt to work your way up the ranks from the coordinator level at a small school. Along the way you’ll be responsible for recruiting your players, winning games, convincing your best players to return for just one more year, and guiding your school’s football program along the path to success. It’s the best, most complete mode in the game, and will provide many hours of entertainment. That said, despite EA’s assertions to the contrary, it’s very similar to last year’s mode. It seems that this franchise’s path to success is evolutionary, not revolutionary. There have been a few tweaks to recruiting and the coach mode from last year, but on a whole, the dynasty mode is the same as last year. And, without a license that includes player likenesses, there’s no roster update at all.
Despite a host of exciting new gameplay additions, Road to Glory mode falls short of similar career modes you see in games like NBA2K12 and MLB 12 the Show. A compelling addition was Coach Trust. Basically, you begin your career with little coach trust, which forces you to act exactly how the coach wishes. Playing well will earn you more trust, with will enable you to change play calls, eliminate the wavy lines that appear when your player is nervous, and generally play how you want. Coach Trust is interesting, but I was able to easily /max out the meter by the 13th week of my freshman season (leaving no progress to be made in the next three seasons.
While they’ve made some additions to your high school’s season (expanding it to 9 weeks followed by a four week playoff), the high school games feel lifeless and underdone, giving the impression of filler. I do adore the XP system, however. Playing and practicing well earns the player XP, which can be used to buy bonuses that will either last for one game or for the player’s career. This gave incentive for playing well (though it was really easy to max out your career stats… I hit 99 overall by week 10). Generally, this was an enjoyable mode, but it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of its competitors. The game doesn’t do enough to make the events surrounding your player seem real. There are no postgame press conferences, and practices feel exactly like the main game moved to an empty stadium. A lot of work remains to match up with Road to the Show and NBA 2K12’s career modes.
Road to the Heisman, in which you get to take a historic Heisman winner, assign him to a team, and work to win the famous trophy, is the most disappointing mode in the game. It’s simply Road to Glory mode played with a max rated player. The game shows you a video every 4 weeks or so of your selected Heisman winner speaking for 30 seconds, and loading screens will include factoids about your player. That’s the sum total of the color you get. No in-game mentions. Your season is not customized to that player in any way. While this seems like an obvious attempt to mimic NBA 2K12’s inclusion of famous players, it falls short in every way. I would love to play as Barry Sanders and others and have the college football experience he had. The way Heisman winners are included in this effort make them appear generic, and really an unworthy tribute.
I’m decidedly undecided on NCAA Football 13. On the one hand, I enjoyed playing the game very much. The career mode (Road to Glory) has a lot of meat, the Dynasty mode is very enjoyable and with the coaching options, it provides a unique experience you can’t find elsewhere, and the game is now playable with Heisman winners from the last 20 years. On the other hand, the game still possesses that same generic quality from its license that has crippled it for years, doesn’t seem to have taken much of a leap forward from its predecessors, and the career and Heisman modes, while entertaining, still fall short of the depth provided by similar modes in other sports games. There’s a part of me that’s angry at EA for attempting to convince me every year that their “new modes” are in fact “new,” when they are effectively the same mode rehashed from last year in different packaging. Still, any NCAA Football fan who wants to guide their favorite college to the title game will be happy with this year’s effort. It’s a win, but not one big enough to push NCAA higher in the BCS.
- Fantastic Presentation
- Dynasty mode is as good as ever
- Road to Glory mode improved over last year
- Heisman players are as generic as everyone else
- New gameplay options don’t really change anything
- Really similar to last year
NCAA Football 13 was reviewed on Xbox 360 on a copy of the game purchased by the reviewer. It is also available on PS3.