- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: EA Tiburon
- ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
- Genre: Sports
- Pros: Deep Variety, Realistic Gameplay, Refined Action, Fun New Heisman Challenge
- Cons: Some Dated Graphics, Glitchy Audio
As controversies off the field continue to dominate far too many of the headlines surrounding college football, it's refreshing to get back to the high drama of the actual game. Rising from high school second-stringer to college superstar in "Road to Glory," building an inferior program to a championship-winning one through "Dynasty," or living in a glorious alternate universe where past Heisman Trophy winners played for your Alma Mater -- "NCAA Football 13" absolutely gets the big things right. No one can complain about the different styles of play available from the basic exhibition game to the depth of the "Dynasty" mode. It's one of those sports games that truly does offer a mode for every kind of player.
Most gamers have played an edition of "NCAA Football" before so the key question is what's new this year? Let's break it down.
The most notable gameplay change on the field comes in the form of "Reaction Time." Like something out of "Max Payne 3," the player can slow down time in "Road to Glory" or "Heisman Challenge" for up to five seconds, allowing for more time to survey the field and move the chains. Complete plays and the "Reaction Time" meter refills. It's something I found myself using at first quite regularly, mostly to get the hang of it, but then mostly discarding. Football is all about timing and I found that slowing it down actually made my progression more difficult. Figure out how to get off the right pass quickly instead of slowing down time to do so and your skill level will improve more organically.
The other major new addition this year is "Heisman Challenge." Pick from one of ten former Heisman winners -- Herschel Walker, Doug Flutie, Andre Ware, Barry Sanders, Marcus Allen, Eddie George, Desmond Howard, Charlie Ward, Carson Palmer, or Robert Griffin III -- and simply slot them into your favorite franchise in "Dynasty" mode. Wonder what it would be like to have cover star Robert Griffin III on the Michigan Wolverines this year? Or how about Doug Flutie on the Northwestern Wildcats? "NBA 2K12" was a major hit in large part because of how it incorporated legendary players into a new game (and check out this brief on how they're going back to current stars with "NBA 2K13"). This feels like an attempt on EA's part to do something similar with college football. Once again, call me a purist, but this is another bell or whistle that may be entertaining at first but is nowhere near as satisfying as building a real team without the all-star assists.
Most of the other changes this year are in the visual department. There are 20 new quarterback dropbacks (taking the ball from Center feels much more organic than it has in the past), new pass animations, and over 400 new catch animations. There are nuanced differences to the gameplay as well like the fact that the defense can no longer blind swat a ball (they have to be able to see it) and the ability to cancel a play action after the snap.
How does it all feel on the field? Pretty spectacular. "NCAA Football 13" feels more difficult than it has in the past but also more realistic. You won't see as many catches that look like the receiver has magnets for gloves and scrambling is significantly more difficult. I had been a player who moved around at QB for years of this franchise and I found myself resorting to the protection of the pocket more often this year in a realistic upgrade to the gameplay. The actual on-the-field action of "NCAA Football 13" feels more challenging than in the past but also more rewarding.
Graphics & Sound
Here's where "NCAA Football 13" could use some work. It feels like so much effort has been put into the team-specific animations (mascots, stadiums, etc.) that sometimes the little things have been ignored. Fan animations will look a bit outdated, players will run through each other, and the post-play animations, particularly the celebrations, are starting to look goofy. The game has received fine-tuning in many departments over the last few years but it's hard to avoid the fact that it's starting to look a bit behind the times visually. It could use a graphical overhaul for "NCAA Football 14."
As for audio, it's a major part of any sports game and the announcing team is good here but still falls prey to some bizarre glitches. I like Kirk Herbstreit but when he talks about how I'm spending too much time in the pocket after a jumped snap led to a 1-second dropback before being sacked, I kind of wanted him to stop talking. The program is clearly designed to produce a certain quip for a sack whether or not I wandered around for ten seconds or had no time to blink. That kind of audio glitch may make for a minor complaint but it's about time that EA figured out a way to fix it.