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PlayStation 3 Review: NCAA Football 13

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Back at the end of June, the NCAA announced what I have been waiting years to hear – there is going to be a playoff system for NCAA football (okay, it’s not necessarily how I would have designed the playoff, but it’s a step in the right direction).  Just about two weeks later, EA released their newest NCAA football game,   NCAA Football 13.  Now, with the new rules not going into effect until the 2014 season, there was never going to be a moment when EA changed up the way their game works this time out, but the changes still make NCAA 13 feel outdated despite being brand new (and I shudder to think what will happen next year if they don’t change the rules in the title).

So, right off and game mechanics aside, due to my obsession with the notion that NCAA football needs  a playoff system, I would hesitate before buying the game.  But, that’s kind of unfair and completely based on my sense of the right way to do things in the real world and not anything else. 

Let us then venture into the actual game mechanics themselves.  EA puts out on a yearly basis the greatest football game in existence, a game so monolithic that no one else bothers to make a different NFL game (save for the occasional Blitz) anymore – it’s just not worth it.  Complain all you want about the tweaks in how Madden plays from year to year and this type of passing system versus that type of passing system, Madden is brilliant and tends to get reviewed on a curve (is it worth the upgrade, are the new features that good, have they fixed that damn animation that has bothered you so over the past six years, etc.).  In Madden, the amount of control you as a player have over the members of your team before and after the snap is great.  That same level of control doesn’t feel present in NCAA 13.  In comparison to Madden, NCAA 13 gameplay feels almost dumbed-down.  Unquestionably the true college game is more freewheeling and is, for lack of a better term, more arcade-like than the pro game, but that feels like an effect of other factors and not purposeful.  It is, in short, not something I want to see in the videogame version, especially if it is done by making me feel as though I have less control of what my guys are doing on the field.

There are moments where NCAA 13 feels like a cross between Blitz and Madden, and never to the game’s benefit.  You can actually “ice” the kicker by calling a timeout at the right moment.  This will put blue ice over the kick meter and cause the other player’s controller to vibrate.  You can also slow time for everyone around you (this is available in the Heisman Challenge and Road to Glory modes).  As a big believer in EA’s “if it’s in the game [real], it’s in the game ” saying, this Reaction Time thing (as it’s called) bothers me. 

My logic professor back in college would happily explain this away saying that “if it’s in the game [real], it’s in the game ” does not logically make true “if it’s not in the game [real] it’s not in the game “.  Dr. Professor would say this is referred to as the inverse and it does not have to be true (whereas the contrapositive is:  “if it’s not in the game it’s not in the game [real]”).  But, whether it’s a logically true statement, it’s kind of implied and Reaction Time and icing the kicker feel like nonsense.

Where I think NCAA Football 13 truly succeeds though is off the field.  Not with the menu system (clunky and with lots of load time) and the virtual manual (insert my fruitless request to ask for a real manual to be included here), but with the management of the franchise.  Somehow, some way (and if you ask me, despite all odds), EA makes scouting high schoolers fun.  In the main career mode, Dynasty (where you’re running a college program), you get time allotted every week to choose who you’re looking at, to actually look at them, and even to chat them up and try to convince them to go to your school.  It is excellent, and this year you’re ability to pitch your school’s strengths to high schoolers depends on exactly how you’re doing at that point in the season (it was tied in more with BCS rankings before).  Like most of the game, it’s a series of tweaks from previous years, but it’s still enjoyable.

Those truly invested in the NCAA Football franchise will note several other differences this year:  this aforementioned Heisman Challenge thing which puts real Heisman winners into the mix, more pass trajectories, new dropbacks, new catches, and the ability to better control exactly where you’re tossing the ball (smaller or greater leads, one side of the receiver’s body or the other). 

Taking this last bit and running with it, the game is very heavily focused on the pass which is probably pretty accurate for most college programs.  However,  once the ball is out of the QB’s hands (or in them if he is scrambling), it still comes back to not feeling as though you have as much say over their run as you do in Madden (the same is true on defense).  And those new dropbacks?  They are automatic, you try to dropback yourself and you’re going to mess things up.  To me, that’s not a benefit, it’s just another way you are less in control of your game.

Back on the plus side, the football game presentation is really quite good.  EA is using ESPN branding for the presentation and the resultant look and feel really does give a TV aesthetic to the proceedings.  That, combined with the inclusion of oh-so-many stadiums, traditions, and mascots make the game have that college football sensibility.

So, the ultimate question – should you buy it?  This year that doesn’t feel so easy to answer.  There is definitely some good new stuff.  There is definitely some foolish new stuff.  Do you want to play as Barry Sanders?  You might want to get the game.  Do you have the version from a few years back?  You might want to get the game.  Are you simply itching for the start of the playoff system?  You might want to skip this year.

What is wrong with NCAA Football 13 doesn’t feel hugely glaring, but what’s right with it (outside of the presentation) doesn’t feel all that bright either (at least in comparison to previous iterations).  It may be a question of whether your style of gameplay is helped or hindered by some of the changes here.  It is, in short, a perfectly acceptable game with a good (on-field) look.

 Lastly, let me just say (and I do so with great conviction and sincerity), Fight On!

NCAA Football 13 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.