Every fall, college students around the US don face paint and empty kegs en mass to celebrate one of the finest campus traditions in the world: game day. From the beaches of California to the plains of the Midwest, few things draw more energy and hype year after year. Similarly, every summer gamers strap up their digital cleats and grab their virtual cip boards in preparations for EA’s yearly entry into the NCAA franchise. This year’s title, NCAA 13, came with promises of fixes for problems that have plagued the franchise, new tweaks to deliver stunning performance on and off the field, and the new prized Heisman Mode. Of course, talk is cheap, so the question is, does NCAA 13 deliver a touchdown pass, or does it fumble in the backfield? Well, neither really. While not a terrible game, the title does fall into the familiar trap of seeming just too much like last year, and will make recommending a purchase dependent on a few things.
Those who have played any of the NCAA titles of recent years will be right at home with NCAA 13’s gameplay, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The series has built a solid foundation over the years that allows for novices to perform functionally without investing hundreds of hours, while also allowing veterans to excel through deep package and substitution options, hot routes, receiver keys, etc. Luckily a few new tweaks and options have been added to raw gameplay that are welcome features.
First of all, and perhaps most notably, it is now much more difficult to do the all-too-common-in-past-titles 30-yard drop back off the snap to deliver a crossed-body bomb to your receiver on the other side of the field. Just like in real life, attempts to throw while running backwards like this will result in extremely poor tosses that often fall into the hands of the defense. This also adds value to quarterbacks that have high ratings in the ‘throw on the run” category. In past titles this was one of the more indifferent categories as most players could do it well enough. Now, having an excellent on-the-move passer opens up a myriad of new options every snap. Other improvements of note include vastly improved sideline AI letting your receivers more ably keep their feet in on tough catches (pending their awareness rating, of course), new animations for catching, tackling, and throwing that all look great, and the ability to cancel a play action fake right after the snap is a much needed and extremely useful new tool.
With these improvements, however, come some shortcomings of varying annoyance levels. First, and this is perhaps the strangest of the problems I’ve come across, almost every single replay suffers from one of a few glitches. Almost every single one has players gliding across the field instead of running for at least the first few seconds. On roughly half of the passes the quarterback’s arm will flail in a strange direction leaving the ball to either gyrate oddly to the receiver, or fly at him with no rotation at all. Lastly, and this has only happened once so far, all of the players were invisible with the ball magically floating down the field (on a side note, this was the ‘play of the game’ highlight at the end of a matchup, which I thought was a rather fitting place to show a ball running itself 50 or 60 yards to the end zone).
Most of the other gameplay-related disappointments aren’t anything new, but rather problems that remain from years past. The one that gets to me the most is poor pursuit angles. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, this refers to the angle which defenders run to catch the ball carrier. Obviously, if the runner is fast or far away on the field you want to angle back so that you can meet them downfield. If they are slower or close you want to take a more direct angle to catch them sooner. While I have noticed slight improvement in how some of the players react, it is still far too common for players to take too short of an angle and end up getting out-run. Getting a tack 20 yards downfield is always more preferable than banking on the ridiculously small chance that these angles work, and is a mistake few Division I caliber players make.
Another issue that’s bugged me for years in the NCAA franchise is dropped passes (especially by defenders). I realize why there are a lot of dropped passes in the game. On offense, in real life, people drop passes. A lot of passes in traffic bounce off of people’s hands or pads, and sometimes short open passes get dropped by virtue of fluke. I also realize that players are generally not experienced Division I football players and make a lot of bad throws, so having defenses catch all the picks they could wouldn’t make for a very fun game at all. All I ask for are more convincing animations. It is not realistic or fun when a defender squares up to catch a lob coming right at him, with hands in perfect position, only to have them remain as still as stone when it makes impact and falls. Adding a bobble, or a poor reach, or an early head turn, or anything would be a simple and satisfactory fix. These happen elsewhere in the game when players are catching on the run, so why not add in two or three new animations for standing still?
Lastly, and I’m going to put a condition on this complaint, is that I don’t really notice much change as a result of either the new passing trajectory zones or the elimination of blind swatting. In theory these are awesome additions. Especially the blind swats. It has always bothered me in football games how a defender could have his back to the quarterback, but frequently pull of a perfect swat when the ball came near. Taking this out should have added another layer of depth to making reads in the pass game. New trajectories should have done the same. I’m not arguing that tweaks have been made, but I don’t think that if I hadn’t been told they were changed I would have noticed a change. The disclaimer is that I’m fully open to the thought that someone who is much more invested than me may notice a big difference. I've played many of the titles in this franchise for quite some time, but there are people out there on a whole different level. These players notice things 90% of players don’t, so maybe it’s just too subtle for my high-average amount of play.
Some improved animations and AI, Team Builder is awesome, Dynasties with friends are great
Too many of the good things are carried over from past titles, Too many of the bad things are carried over from past titles, Heisman Mode lacks the punch I wished it to have.