Simply put, NCAA Football 13 looks promising. The game's packaging and marketing is especially Heisman-centric this year, and that begins with cover athlete, Robert Griffin III.
RG3 is joined on the cover by football legend, Barry Sanders. The former Oklahoma State and Detroit Lions great won the legend's cover vote to join RG3 on the cover of the game. RG3, Sanders and other legends play a huge role in the Heisman Challenge mode, which is one of the biggest new features in the game this year.
The recently released demo gives us a glimpse of that mode, and other new additions to the game.
When playing a demo, it's important to know the version you're playing is often an early build. Generally there is enough time to correct some of the issues. Whether those corrections will be made is another story.
The game releases on July, 10, EA Season Pass owners will have access to the game on July 6. That should give the virtual gridiron fanatics a head-start on the less enthused and less fortunate.
Until then, here's the lowdown on NCAA Football 13.
The demo released on June 5, during E3. You can download it now on Xbox Live or Playstation Network. Here is what the extensive demo offers:
Available Modes of Play
Heisman Challenge - Play as RG3 as the QB for Baylor, Oregon, USC, Alabama, LSU or Kansas St. This is just a glimpse into what you'll be able to do with the full version.
In the retail version, you'll be able to use any of the Heisman greats included in the game, on any team.
I'll touch on more of the details surrounding this mode in a bit.
Dynasty Experience - Play any of the following matchups from Week 10 of the college football season: USC vs. Oregon, LSU vs. Alabama, or Baylor vs. Kansas St.
You play three-minute quarters with the games taking place at different times in the day. That is to show off the lighting progression based on start times. From a visual standpoint, the difference between a noon start and a 3PM start is both noticeable and impressive.
EA throws you in at the latter part of the season to give you an idea of how the Dynasty mode experience feels.
Unlockables - Playing and sharing the demo unlocks the Nike combat jerseys, and access to Heisman legends like Archie Griffin, in the retail version.
I have logged some considerable time with this early build of the game.
There are several small enhancements to the familiar package, and EA Sports accomplished a rare, but noticeable visual improvement. Generally speaking, Madden and NCAA Football have looked very similar from year to year, with little to no visual enhancements.
It's not to say that they have completely flipped things upside down this time. It's still the NCAA Football you know, but the shine and effect is clear.
The motion blur adds some realism to the graphics and animation, and it really comes through when you watch the replays. The game plays a bit more wide-open than in recent years, but the bottom line for me is that it's fun, engrossing and reasonably realistic.
There are certainly some areas that need to be tweaked, but nothing that appears irreparable by release.
New Gameplay Features and Enhancements
(Images from NCAA Football 13 demo)
Total Control Passing
Everybody wants more control over the passes they throw. TCP is designed to give gamers that. In the demo, I can see some subtle differences in this area. The ability to throw to the left or right of your receivers is evident.
But I offer this caveat; the QBs that are included in the demo are fairly solid players. The passing isn't very difficult, and at this point, it's unclear whether that is due to a low default difficulty setting in the demo, a more wide-open approach to this version, or if this feature needs to be tweaked a bit.
Conceptually this a nice add, but the key to its value will be how realistic it is across the board.
This addition gives the RG3s of the world the control to make the quick, and athletic moves in the pocket to buy time. Before, ducking and brushing defenders to the side would just happen for the more evasive players, but this year, NCAA gives you control over it.
I kinda suck at pocket-presence, so I'm still getting used to employing this feature, but I was able to pull off a few nice moves.
Another weapon at the quarterback's disposal is pump fakes. This isn't a new feature, so to speak, but the controls are newer and make more sense now. Holding the LB button (or L1 if you're on PS3) and pressing the receiver's button will cause the QB to pump-fake in that receiver's direction.
It brings some realism, and some deception to the play.
This may be too much for hardcore gamers. It basically gives you a signal when it's safe to throw a pass to a receiver. That doesn't mean your opponent can't still read the play, but it definitely gives the novice quarterback some help.
Play-action plays have almost never worked in any EA Sports football game, so strides have been taken to improve this aspect of the game. The plays are supposed to materialize quicker, and there is even a bail-out available.
That being said, in the demo I haven't noticed any real difference in the speed or success of these plays.
NCAA Football 13 will not use the Infinity Engine that is being used in Madden 13. The engine received some rave reviews at E3, but NCAA 13 will still offer hundreds of new animations to freshen up the action.
Honestly speaking, nothing is better than the concept of unique hits on every play. That is what made the thought of Backbreaker intriguing, even if the execution wasn't quite there.
The Infinity Engine brings the same type of promise in Madden 13, but for now we'll have to make do without it in NCAA 13.
It's a staple in college football, I personally hate it, but it's definitely a necessary evil in my opinion. Adding new controls to it makes for a more realistic, and intuitive experience.
I gave it a spin with a few teams, and once you get the hang of it, it's easy to see how the right team and gamer could be deadly with it.
Jukes and Other Agility Moves
It only makes sense to have the quality of the juke determined by the agility rating of the juker. It seems that this was always the case, but this change could be the reason the demo plays much more wide open.
Read & React Defense
I've talked a lot about the offensive improvements, but very little about the defense. One big focus this year was to remove what is commonly referred to as "psychic defense." There has been an issue in the past with the way defensive players react to a play in zone coverage.
Players would do peculiar things, even when their backs were turned to the ball, and fail to react when the play was right in front of them.
This is designed to fix those issues. In the demo, I can see the difference, the A.I. is directing players to react quicker, and more aggressively to the ball.
However, I will say that defensive players still drop too many easy interceptions. This has also been a longstanding issue, but the good news is that there is time to fix that before release.
Used exclusively in the Road to Glory or Heisman Challenge modes, this is basically like playing Max Payne on a football field.
In Max Payne you can use something called Bullet-Time, it slows down the action and gives the player an advantage because everything is literally moving in slow-motion.
It can cause some cool effects, and likewise in NCAA Football 13.
As the player, you can activate Reaction Time by holding the Left Trigger (or L2 on PS3). If this were available in traditional play, I'd scoff at the notion, but in RTG and Heisman Challenge, it's not a bad idea.
The modes are about making spectacular individual plays, and Reaction Time falls in line with that concept. One important thing to know about Reaction Time is that it isn't unlimited.
You will have a specified amount based on the player's awareness rating, so you almost have to use it strategically.
If the game is close, you may want to preserve it to allow your Heisman Legend, or RTG player, the time to make that spectacular play needed to win the game.
Both Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit return to the virtual booth for NCAA Football 13. The commentating had become very dry and repetitive in past years, but a new commentating engine is supposed to debut this year.
Through the demo I can't hear a ton of difference, but this could be due to the fact that the demo is an old build.
Hopefully, this will be something we notice in the retail version.
Here are some gameplay videos from the demo build along with gamer-commentary. These videos show some of the new gameplay features as well:
This is a USC vs. Oregon clash:
Below is a video of RG3 in action in Heisman Challenge mode, there are a few instances of Reaction Time in this video:
The videos are from FranchisePlay Sports' Youtube page.
The New Heisman Challenge Mode and Changes To Other Existing Modes
This is a spin on Road to Glory mode that allows you to play only as one player on the team. The spin is that now you can take any one of 16 former Heisman winners through the entire upcoming season, on any team.
Yes, that means you could put Barry Sanders with LSU, and then see if the Tigers can best Bama in the SEC. That, and a plethora of other possibilities, are now available.
Here is a run-down of the former Heisman winners available, per EASports.com
- Marcus Allen, 1981 Heisman Trophy recipient, University of Southern California
- Doug Flutie, 1984 Heisman Trophy recipient, Boston College
- Eddie George, 1995 Heisman Trophy recipient, Ohio State University
- Robert Griffin III, 2011 Heisman Trophy recipient, Baylor University
- Desmond Howard, 1991 Heisman Trophy recipient, University of Michigan
- Carson Palmer, 2002 Heisman Trophy recipient, University of Southern California
- Barry Sanders, 1988 Heisman Trophy recipient, Oklahoma State University
- Charlie Ward, 1993 Heisman Trophy recipient, Florida State University
- Andre Ware, 1989 Heisman Trophy recipient, University of Houston
- Herschel Walker, 1982 Heisman Trophy recipient, University of Georgia
The following DLC Heisman Legends are also available:
- * Tim Brown, 1987 Heisman Trophy recipient, Notre Dame
- * Archie Griffin, 1974 and 1975 Heisman Trophy recipient, Ohio State University
- * Jim Plunkett, 1970 Heisman Trophy recipient, Stanford University
- ** Mark Ingram, 2009 Heisman Trophy recipient, University of Alabama
- ** Matt Leinart, 2004 Heisman Trophy recipient, University of Southern California
- ** Tim Tebow, 2007 Heisman Trophy recipient, University of Florida
* Available through the NCAA Football 13 demo download.
** Available through NCAA Football 13 pre-order from GameStop
This could be fun, and winning the Heisman with any of these players unlocks them for use in Road to Glory.
What About Road to Glory?
For those who are unfamiliar with RTG, it's a mode that allows you to create a high school football star, play through his senior season in high school. Your goal is to shine as a prep, win the state championship, and get recruited to the school of your choice.
Once you're on campus, you're trying to lead your team to a championship, and hopefully capture some Heisman hardware along the way.
You are then able to keep that player after he graduates and bring him into Madden's Be A Superstar mode, which has a similar concept.
Now that you're up to speed with RTG, here's what's new, per Chris Jacobs of EA Sports.
First and foremost, the aforementioned Reaction Time is the biggest addition, but its not the only new feature to RTG.
Let's start in high school; there are now eight new stadiums to chose from when you're creating your school. That makes 11 in all, and it gives some nice variety to this aspect of the RTG experience.
Once you're in college, you'll have access to scouting reports which allow you to prepare for that week's game.
EA has also added new skill-levels for this mode. It was a needed addition as many found that they needed to tweak the difficulty to optimize their experience.
Speaking of experience, the most impressive new addition is the ability to come in as a RB/WR/DB-type, with the ability to return kicks.
This is something that was previously unavailable, but has been added for NCAA 13. That should be awesome.
Overall, it appears that a fairly solid mode was made even deeper, and more fun.
I can't criticize that.
(images here are from NCAA Football 13 Facebook Page)
I still buy sports games for the Dynasty and or Franchise modes. The other stuff is just icing on the cake in my eyes. This year's Dynasty mode is aiming to pull you in to the overall season experience, and not just what's happening with your team.
Dr. David Johnson, AKA the MadScientist 06 of Madden Matrix and EA Sports, lets us in on some of the details in the beloved Dynasty mode.
Per Dr. Dave, one new addition that is attempting to accomplish that goal is the ESPN Studio Updates with Rece Davis. You literally hear Davis' voice chime in between plays to give you updates on other games in the nation.
While this is awesome in concept, the execution is a little clumsy, at least in the demo. Davis' speech isn't natural, and the updates come too often.
The latter could easily be remedied for release, or controlled with a slider, but the choppiness is likely there to stay this year.
An ideal approach would have been to have actual highlights that are generated, and then shown. That would have been awesome, but for now we'll have to settle for the seed of what could grow into an awesome inclusion in later years.
The prospect recruiting system has also received some upgrades. The system remains the same in many ways, but one difference is that the prospects overall rating is revealed to you as the recruiting process goes along.
Previously, you never saw this until the offseason. As this information becomes available now, you are able to switch focus to the players that best fit the needs of your program.
Dr. Dave also speaks on a new addition called: Dynamic Pitch. This allows you to make a pitch to a prospect that is based on the improving or declining status in any of the following team categories:
Pro Potential, Coach Prestige, Conference Prestige, Program Tradition, and Championship Contender.
Basically, the ratings for your school can change from season-to-season. For example, if you were controlling a smaller school that you built up over time, they wouldn't be stuck in that small school stigma forever.
In previous versions, that was the case. Thankfully, in NCAA Football 13, your status with recruits will grow in conjunction with the success of your program. You can use that new-found status to sway recruits.
It's cool and totally realistic.
Don't Forget About Online Play
You can't make a complete sports video game today without addressing gamers' appetite for Online play. Though there are no major changes to the overall structure, it seems the team focused on improving the stability of Online Dynasties.
There were an alarming number of gamers that couldn't enjoy the awesome concept of an Online dynasty, because the servers wouldn't allow them to. Per Jordan Peterson of EA Sports, those issues have been resolved.
Gamers should be able to partake in the expansive mode as it was designed last year.
That does it for now, I feel like I just memorized Mike Martz's playbook. So that means, I learned a bunch of new stuff, but I still got hit way too much.
Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available, and a full review.
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