Yes, it is that time of year again. The release of NCAA Football always signifies one thing in my brain; fall is coming, football season is almost here. With its annual debut the NCAA Football series is always a quality outing that continues to improve year-in and year-out. This year’s version is no exception, adding in some new features while tweaking gameplay and correcting some mistakes. That is not to say that the game is without issues. While there are changes implemented, they almost feel like bullet list fodder while some of the more pressing issues go unchanged. What we end up with is a familiar, yet still highly enjoyable game of college football.
The first thing I always do upon booting up the game is jump into a dynasty. Not much has changed here, but there are a few new things. The biggest change is the addition of scouting. You now have ample opportunities to find gems in the sea of players, and of course just as many busts. The risk/reward system is definitely appealing. It is definitely an addition for those more into the nuts and bolts of the system. You can skip it entirely, which is what I assume the majority of players will do, as with most of the other things carried over from last year. It’s a nice new addition for those who want that depth though.
Road to Glory also makes a return this year where you can start out as a high school player and work your way towards the college level. The only new feature added to this mode is also available in the new Heisman Challenge (which I will cover in a minute) known as Reaction Time. Think of it as bullet time for sports and you get the idea. You can earn amounts of time that you can activate to give yourself an advantage on the field by slowing down time. This lets you maneuver around defenders or escape tackles that otherwise might defeat your reflexes. It isn’t excessively exploited and actually adds some depth. Those concerned about realism might scoff at the idea, but I imagine it is equivalent to being in the zone on the field, where everything seemingly slows down. Regardless, it is definitely a cool feature.
Heisman Challenge is the only truly new addition and it actually works pretty well. Here you can choose from a laundry list of former Heisman winners such as Carson Palmer, Tim Tebow and Barry Sanders. You can them place them on any team you wish and attempt to recreate their stellar season. Reaction Time is present here making things more dynamic and there are live interviews with the actual players throughout the mode. It is a nice diversion from just number crunching and game time, and really rounds out the package. I found myself lost in this mode for hours on end.
The dressings are always nice, but making tweaks to the gameplay is always what we pick apart with these games each year. NCAA Football 13 has been touted as having some major improvements to much of the core. The biggest changes are to the passing game. Quarterbacks now have over 20 new dropback animations and slipping past a certain mark will definitely result in inaccurate throws. QBs now have multiple escape animations and slipping away from defenders is much easier. You can also pull out of play action if the defense blitzes; something for which I have been clamoring for years.
Passing has also been refined; you can use the left analog stick to add touch to your throws. Lead receivers and change trajectories to throw over the defense if you are inclined to do so. One of the biggest changes is on the receiver button icons. Now they start off grayed out and when the receiver is ready for the ball they will light up. This makes the passing game much easier to manage, allowing you to focus more on coverage and blitzes as opposed to watching when the receiver is completely open. Not all is grand though. Receivers still are at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting for a bad pass, and defenders still jump routes far too often, but these are all steps in the right direction.
Online is once again a great place to get lost. Online Dynasty returns allowing you to create custom conferences with your friends and of course manage it all online outside the game. Lag wasn’t much of an issue in the few games we played, but again this mode really feels like a carbon copy from last year outside of the scouting changes. Still, it is easy to get lost once you dive in.
As for presentation there are definitely some odd quirks here and there. For starters a lot of the uniforms are not right. Some are the old style while others are downright wrong. Numbers on helmets appearing backwards and showcasing wrong numbers are just a few of the most prominent issues. Commentary once again gets stale far too early. Repeated observations and others that are just downright irrelevant bring down the experience. Not all is lost though. The ticker looks fantastic and always brings up relevant scores to the games you should be paying attention to. Also the updates in between downs and weeks in the dynasty are really well done.
Visually the game looks good with some weird hitches here and there. I already mentioned the jersey problems, but there are still some clipping issues and I had a few hard locks during my dynasty mode. I have also seen transparent crowd members and weird texture problems, all things this engine has been guilty of for years.
NCAA Football 13 gets so many things right that it is impossible to fault it too much. The problem is that most of the things it fixes and addresses are not things a lot of people will notice. This leaves you feeling like you are paying essentially $60 for last year’s game. That is definitely not the case as this version offers many changes to those that use the things that have received attention. If you enjoy college football it is a no-brainer, you need to get this game. The subtle touches are fantastic and once you get used to the new mechanics, it will be impossible to go back.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.