NCAA Football 13 certainly has curb appeal. When you park in front of a high-definition display, it's almost impossible not to be impressed by the games' visuals.
But the value of a house goes beyond its beauty; it must have a strong foundation, and in video games, that's all about gameplay.
The retail version of the game released today, but I've had my hands on it since July 6, via EA Season Pass. I'd say five hours of gameplay per day for four days straight qualifies me to give a pretty in-depth review.
The game is available for Xbox360 and PS3.
Here is my full review for NCAA 13.
Graphics & Animation—9.25
The player-models, the field, the helmets, the mascots and most everything about NCAA 13 looks beautiful. Any game played, at any time of the day, looks good, but daytime games are especially sparkling.
The outstanding use of lighting and shading makes the action pop.
The player-models look a little better than last year's version, but the real reason behind the enhancement is the use of motion-blur.
When you watch a real game on television, you probably barely notice it, but there is a bit of a blur around players while they are moving.
EA has simulated this look, and it can't be over-stated how much this impacts the overall visual package. The rotation of a thrown football is better, the look of the grass as players are cutting and moving is also great.
The stadiums have been recreated as good, if not better, than they have ever been before in the series. The historical backdrops and scenery really match most every program's stadiums, and its surroundings.
So with all these superlatives, why isn't this aspect of the game a 10? Well, the crowd isn't exactly life-like, and the hair for the players is still on the same level its been for the last four years.
These are such small things, but when a game looks as good as this one does, it raises the bar in other areas.
The crowd is really a print, unless your looking at a cut-screen. Luckily, in football, that isn't as big of a deal as it would be in a sport with a more intimate environment.
Overall, EA nearly aces things from a visual standpoint.
Gameplay & Realism—9
There have been a few marked improvements that have positively impacted the gameplay. First and foremost, there are over 430 new animations in the game. This makes receptions, tackles and runs progress more realistic.
There are also new pass trajectories. This is huge because it gives gamers more control over where they place the ball on pass plays.
You can now cancel the play-fakes if you read the defense, and you know the play will result in a sack or a tackle-for-loss.
The A.I. for defensive players has improved, but now all players must be turned to see the ball to make a play on it. This gets rid of the blind swats that used to occur in previous versions. Another great thing that I see is that defensive players don't drop as many easy picks.
In previous years, it felt like linebackers and some defensive backs were playing with cookie sheets for hands. Now you will pay more often for the errant pass.
In Road to Glory and Heisman Challenge, which I will get into more later, the core gameplay is the same, but there are two significant new additions.
You can now return kicks and punts in RTG and in the new Heisman Challenge, which is very similar to RTG.
In addition to that, EA has implemented a new game effect, exclusive to RTG and Heisman Challenge, called Reaction Time.
Think Max Payne's "Bullet Time" on a football field, but with far less invincibility. It basically allows you to slow down the action to react to defenders. Once you get the hang of it, it can create some awesome plays.
Don't think for a moment that this means you'll be riding Reaction Time to easy scores. It doesn't work that way. You get a specified amount per quarter, which is dictated by the player's awareness rating.
On top of that limitation, you still have to know when to use it.
Is it realistic? No, but in the scheme of RTG and Heisman Challenge, it's a cool way to differentiate this mode of play from the traditional all-control option.
All things considered, the additions to RTG and Heisman Challenge, along with the touch-ups to traditional play, make this a very solid and fun football game to play.
Sound & Presentation—7
This has always been one area where I see the most room for improvement. The announcing was supposed to receive a major overhaul to fix what was an extremely repetitive system in the past.
You can hear some of the differences, but I would say there is still a ways to go in this area. Some of the old references still creep into the virtual mouths of Kirk Herbstreit and Brad Nessler, but not as much as before.
I always criticized EA for not taking better advantage of the ESPN license in their games, and you can see the concerted effort to use the worldwide leader's brand in this one.
There are more overlays, and the presence of Rece Davis to do studio updates. I love the concept, but I must say, without video highlights or Davis appearing on screen, it will get repetitive quickly.
There is still no pregame, halftime or postgame show.
However, I love the inclusion of "The Bottom Line" ticker, and the overall direction with the ESPN brand.
The camera angles are awesome, and you can tweak them a bit for your style and preference. It's especially cool in the RTG and Heisman Challenge modes, as they are position-specific.
This is still the area of the game with the most opportunity for growth, but I can honestly say that I see the signs.
Options, Modes, Online—9
This game is loaded with options, as you would expect from a franchise with this much longevity. The traditional Dynasty mode is back, as is Online Dynasty.
That was a bit of a sore spot for gamers last year, as the servers were a bit shaky.
This year, through three completed online games and the creation of Online Dynasty, I can tell you I see a ton of improvement. However, we are very early in release and the true test will come when the servers are handling a full load of NCAA gamers.
RTG is back with some nice new additions. The aforementioned ability to return kicks was a big thing, and it works out nicely. There are new changes to the practice and pregame aspects for your player.
You can participate in practices that allow you to absorb the gameplan for the upcoming week. This boosts the chances that you'll be effective in the game.
Heisman Challenge functions much like RTG, except you are controlling one of 10 former Heisman winners. The players you can choose from appear here:
Robert Griffin III—2011
Available through the NCAA Football 13 demo download:
Archie Griffin—1974, 1975
Available through NCAA Football 13 pre-order from GameStop:
You can place them on any team, and pit them against today's competition.
This mode also offers cool measurables based on the Heisman winners' real Heisman-winning season. The mode is the best and coolest addition to the game this year.
In Dynasty Mode, the presentation is heightened to make you feel as though you're actually going through an entire season. This is a good thing, but as I mentioned, it could have been much better with a weekly wrap-up show, etc.
The recruiting system also received a few touch-ups. You now have much more control over how you make a pitch to a recruit, and the overall progression of your programs appeal. If you lead a team to higher ground, it'll show in your reputation to recruits.
What are your purchase plans for NCAA 13?
The chest is truly full in this aspect of the game, but a few decorations could make it as pretty as it is stacked.
This is a very solid game. It's encouraging that so many of the little things fans complained about were addressed. As I always say, there is no perfect game, but what's better than a game striving for improvements?
You can't justifiably criticize that effort. This is a solid addition to any football-gaming fan's library.
Follow Brian Mazique and Franchiseplay.net for reactions, analysis and news from the world of sports and sports video games.