STAFF REVIEW of NCAA 13 (Xbox 360)

Monday, September 10, 2012.
by Matt Paligaru

NCAA 13 Box art EA's yearly staple sports games start every year in most peoples' eyes with the John Madden series, but NCAA is usually the kickoff every July. NCAA is always a tough sell outside of the American market, though it continues to bring consistent sales to football fans and novice gamers alike. NCAA Football always provides gamers with a combination of an easy to get into game, as well as fairly simplistic achievements. The games are always fairly enjoyable

There are quite a few gameplay mechanics that have been improved worth mentioning. Firstly, many of the new on-field awareness mechanics are improved. Receivers have more realistic reaction times and catch physics. Unfortunately, this means the insane no look catching might be a thing of the past, however, with a shift to making games more realistic feeling, this is a welcome change. The in-game presentation style is amazing, and beats anything any other football game has perhaps ever done. Even the Madden Superbowl features this year pale in comparison to some of the famous intros at the College level. The stadiums look great, and the ESPN presentation graphics almost outdo the game itself. However, keeping that in mind, there is much repetition to the way that it comes off compared to 12, and I felt like there was much in the way of Deja Vu with this game, something I hadn't felt since NCAA '08 and '09.

The Road to Glory is back. Take your player from High School all the way to the Heisman Trophy. Gameplay is a little less blocky and clunky than last year, and the gameplay flows much better. Last year was chock full of gameflow busting replays. This year it's a lot better, and you should see less interruptions. You begin in high school, and work your way to receiving recruitment and scholarship offers from universities, ending up with having to choose where to go. From there, you begin your road to the Heisman trophy. This mode is also carries with it the "Reaction Time" feature, which allows you to slow play down to make better decisions. This feature isn't new to sports games, and well, it isn't even new to EA's games (NHL 2003 had a similar breakaway camera,) but it allows you that extra split second to turn your play from average to highlight reel. I didn't quite get into Road to Glory as much as I did Madden Connected Career, especially after learning the NCAA/Madden functionality has been stripped down quite a bit this year, which is sure to irk gamers. You can no longer carry your draft classes from game to game, and I will be honest, I didn't see anywhere to import anything else to do with Road to Glory either. Granted, it got kind of messy between games when your players sprouted extra pads, and had glitchy knees and the like. As much as I thought he'd be an effective footballer, the College version of Goro that ended up on my team was anything but useful, and frankly, a bit scary.

The Heisman Challenge is the newest mode that's exclusive to NCAA. In it, you take a selection of former Heisman winners in an attempt to relive and win the trophy once again, with the intent of beating the stats they put up to get to their trophy victory. It's no secret that EA likes to reward those loyal to their products from previous years or from the moment of announcement. This is no different. Download and play the NCAA 13 demo before you do play this mode, because you'll unlock 3 more former Heisman winners. If you don't feel like going through the motions, you can still play with former winners like Barry Sanders, Doug Flutie and 2011 champion Robert Griffin III. Sadly, if you wish to recreate the improbable 1994 Heisman win of Rashaan Salaam, you're out of luck. You're basically controlling your player here and nobody else. You have some say over the plays (which are obviously a bit more beneficial as QB,) but this is basically just Road to Glory mode with a twist. You do, however, have the chance to move the player over to the school of your choosing, so you can always try to bring a Heisman winner to your favorite school, even if it's only a virtual basis.

Bear in mind that, as with NCAA games, the graphical and roster aspect of things is always a bit stripped down. You get the feel of massive throngs of rabid University football fans and their comically large crowds that often put the NFL's to shame. However, graphically, the game is inferior to Madden year after year, and because NCAA regulations do not permit the use, or profit off the names of students, rosters never have real names. If you are an authenticity oddball like me, you can probably download real name rosters somewhere, however, it isn't a service that EA can provide under NCAA regulations. Still, all the teams are represented, and you can't ask for much more than getting all a company can work with.

Graphics: 7/10. It's hard to continue taking the NCAA franchise seriously when EA doesn't tend to put into the same amount of graphical effort as the Madden games. Everything screams million dollar graphics until you get into the game itself, where it looks at times like a mid-generation PS2 title. Replay graphics tend to be a bit sketchy at times, and Road to Glory boasts some of the most basic layouts and crowd scenes this side of NFL 2K on the Dreamcast. This has to be the edition that EA looks at and realizes a bit more love and cooperative effort is needed in conjunction with the Madden teams.

Sound: 10/10. I said it last year, and I repeat this year - The aural college football experience NCAA provides you is second to none. The cheerleaders, the crowd noises, the marching bands - There's just so much love for it. Once you add the ambiance of the actual football game to it, Madden doesn't even come close. This is something I feel the NCAA games will always have in spades over any of their other sports games, always being able to take the feeling and energy from 80,000 screaming University students and bottling it into their game. The only negative, as always, are minor elements of the commentary. Madden had some problems with overlapping commentary where it felt like Phil Simms was saying the same 3 or 4 things over and over again. It's not as bad in NCAA, but noticeable nevertheless.

Controls: 8.5/10. The controls are definitely easier to manage this year, now that there has been some time to get used to it all. They're very much full steam ahead this season, and I hope it stays this way going into '14 and beyond. There's no need to keep changing a good thing (a side note hint intended to my friends at THQ and the WWE franchise.)

Gameplay: 5.5/10. I'm going to be honest here. I'm just indifferent to the gameplay element of the NCAA franchise in general, knowing that Madden is always 2 months away, and boasts everything this game does and more, and much better to boot. I don't even care that Madden has NFL teams and full rosters. It's just always been the better game player's game overall, moreso now that you know that Madden made so many changes to its in-game physics (even though that is in its infancy.) Road to Glory and Heisman Mode are great additions, as are the dream possibilities of adding those legends to your favorite universities and carrying on from there, but given how far all of EA's sports games have come over the last few years, NCAA the last few years have felt like you're getting 60% of a game, and 200% of an experience for 100% of the price point. I think nowadays, gamers would prioritize more toward what's included in the game than the overall experience.

Here's the thing about NCAA - It caters to such a specialized market that it's hard to recommend to anybody outside of it. If you are dedicated to your alma mater, and want to guide them through the NCAA season, this it the game for you. However, for those craving fully licensed rosters, professional presence outside of those included in the Heisman mode, and well, advanced gameplay, NCAA isn't for you. The biggest problem with NCAA year-in, year-out is that it basically becomes obselete around 7 weeks after release, when Madden makes its way to shelves. All the GOOD new graphical, gameplay and functionality changes seem to be saved for Madden, and this game always feels like taking a step back. It's like WWE fans nowadays watching Smackdown after watching RAW. Everything good happens on RAW. Nobody watches Smackdown outside of the hardest of hardcore fans. They just catch the highlights on RAW the next week.

It's not a bad game. It's just not the best football game out there. Just as I did last year, this is the part where I tell you Madden is the far better football game, but NCAA is the more *fun* overall experience.

It might be time to incorporate NCAA into one overall football title a year. Give Madden gamers the option of a $60 Madden title, or a $80-90 Full Experience which includes NCAA on the Madden engine and full roster integration again in addition to the usual 2000 Gamerscore of 2 retail titles. If Madden moves 5 million units a year, and you can sell half of those as full experience packages (I assume there's lots of overlap between buyers,) it'll be the equivalent to moving 1,250,000 full priced NCAA units in terms of revenue. I don't know how many units NCAA moves, but I know sites like Amazon dropped pre-orders down 25% before the game was even released, and assume that most of the sales are done in the 8 weeks prior to Madden's release.

Overall: 7.2 / 10
Gameplay: 5.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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