The NCAA Football 13 demo hit the PSN a few weeks ago, and I managed to play a few games before my PS3 went belly-up with a yellow-light-of-death last night. I can't do a very detailed breakdown of the demo because I don't have my PS3 at the moment in order to continue playing it. Hopefully, I'll get a working PS3 back in a week or two, but I have no guarantee that it will work. So in lieu of a full breakdown, I'll offer some simple observations and impressions.
First and foremost, it has already been announced that NCAA will not be including the new "Infinity Engine" that is being introduced to Madden with the intent of providing real-time physics simulation for collisions. NCAA is due out only about a month before Madden, so it seems like if EA really cared about providing the best game possible, then they would have just delayed the game a few weeks and added this feature to NCAA as well. But no, even though they have no other college football game to beat to the presses, and even though the college football season doesn't start till late August, EA insists on releasing the game in mid July. They have essentially relegated this year's NCAA game to being a second-class football game - which is a real shame because the NCAA dev team just seemed to show slightly superior effort that the Madden devs over the previous two years or so.
NCAA Football 13 demo offers samples of the new Heisman Challenge and Dynasty modes, as well as offering full four-quarter games (3 minutes per quarter).
Unfortunately, if the demo is any indication (but that is the whole point of a demo), the lack of any real-time physics simulation won't be the only thing holding NCAA Football 13 back from greatness this year. The demo itself is a much better demo than what we've been given in the previous year, but the game being demoed doesn't seem that good. EA finally decided it was time to give us a full, four-quarter (three minutes each) game to be able to play, instead of just two, two-minute quarters. We also get to play four different match-up across two different game modes. The focus of this year's demo is the new Heisman Challenge mode, which lets you play as one of the previous Heisman-trophy-winning players through their college career. The included Heisman Challenge is the recent graduate and NFL-draftee Robert Griffin III. The other three match-ups actually take the form of three games from within the Dynasty Mode, so we actually get a sneak peak at Dynasty. Three-minute quarters is still a really short game, and they still didn't give us access to AI Sliders or Instant Replays, but I'm not going to complain too much about that as long as we can play a full 4-quarters.
EA is trying to channel NFL 2K5 ([RIGHT]) with the new studio update feature, but without any video highlights, it doesn't quite meet the standard.
I didn't get a chance to see if the week of Dynasty Mode presented in the demo actually let us play around with any new Dynasty features, or if it was just to showcase some new in-season presentational features. We get to see the game updates in action, in which the broadcast gives us updates on other games in progress while you are playing your game. It's a neat feature, but it's all just scores and a quick commentary about the game. We don't get to see highlights from other games going on, not even during halftime. It's a nice thought, but just doesn't feel quite finished yet.
As for gameplay itself, EA is hyping up that they supposedly fixed the reaction times of players in the passing game, and there are actually some improvements in this department. I didn't get to experiment with it too much, and we don't have access to AI sliders, but they did make it so that the defense always matches up its best DBs against the offense's wide receivers. Even when in zone, CBs and Safeties will cover WRs and run with them if they go in motion across the field. This has the effect of hiding zone coverages and prevents players from exploiting audibles and player motion in order to matchup a WR against a linebacker. Supposedly the psychic DBs have been removed. Both WRs and DBs now have to be looking at the ball in order to make a play on it. Psychic DBs and exploitable LB matchups are both problems that I complained about in my Madden 12 review, so its nice to see these issues addressed (I wonder if someone at EA read my reviews?).
Receiver awareness promo video. Sounds good in principle, but in practice, actual players may not be prepared for this feature.
Requiring the receivers to be looking at the ball in order to catch them is nice, but this looks like it's going to end up being another half-assed, incomplete, or poorly-thought-out feature. The play art doesn't give any indication as to when in the route the receiver is going to turn to look at the ball, so you'll need actual practice in order to get the timing right on certain routes. This will make it hard to throw to a spot on the field on curls, slants, and quick outs (among other routes), and this looks like it's going to compound the problem that the WRs never run the route exactly as it is drawn on the field. While this might be realistic, it is impractical for a video game. Besides, the players are supposed to know this stuff; it's not my responsibility to learn it all.
The player can finally control the pass trajectory of the ball and lead passes, so this should also help reduce "super linebackers" that jump up and intercept passes intended for targets 15 or 20 yards downfield. Wait a minute... pass leading has been in these game before. Are you telling me that it hasn't been in the game for the past few years? I never stopped using the directional pad to lead receivers. Are you telling me that wasn't having any in-game effect? So hooray for yet another standard, decade-old feature being re-introduced! Screen passes definitely felt a lot better though. Quarterbacks throw on the run a little bit better, and the new pass trajectories and shovel pass animations are much more appropriate for screen passes. I have high hopes that these plays might actually work the way they are intended to this year. Assuming, of course, that linemen can actually slow down the pass rush consistently and still get out into the flats to block, which is something that these games have been very bad at doing in the past years. My verdict is still out on whether or not play action passes have been fixed. It seems to me that the animation has been rushed, and it just doesn't look or feel natural. Maybe I'm just too used to the way it looked before (despite being broken), so if it ends up making these plays work without being consistent invitations to a sack, I guess I can't complain.
The biggest issue that I had with the demo, and the biggest hang-up I have about the upcoming game, is the revised controls. A new feature has been added to the Heisman Challenge mode called "Reaction Time" that allows you to hold down the Left Trigger in order to slow down time and get a better look at the field (this might sound familiar to Backbreaker veterans). This is fine for a secondary game mode, but the entire control scheme has been obfuscated in all game modes in order to accommodate this new control. In regular game modes, the Left Trigger now has no function whatsoever. The pump fake controls have thus been moved, and are now different depending on whether the QB is stationary or scrambling. In addition, the juke controls change on option plays. So if you're in a panic, you now have to remember two sets of controls and know which ones to use in a given situation. You can also hold down along with the receiver's button now to pump fake to a given receiver, which is a nice thing to finally have back, but I really preferred the NFL 2K5 pump fake controls, in which you double-tap a receiver's button in order to pump fake to that receiver. This was an elegant control scheme that didn't waste a button on the controller or force the player to hold a button and press several things at once, plus it gave the player a valuable last-instant abort mechanic if you press a receiver's button and then immediately notice that he's actually covered; you can pull the ball down!
This new control scheme is complete crap! I highly doubt that - even if I eventually get used to it - I will ever grow to like this control scheme. What's worse, I remember hearing that NCAA 13 and Madden 13 are going to have the same control schemes because people in the past (including me) have complained about the inconsistencies between the games. So Madden's control scheme may be fucked up too. I hope there is an option to revert back to last year's control scheme.
Overall, the demo did not impress me or get me excited about NCAA 13. In fact, it had just the opposite effect. i'm not even sure if I want to waste my time and money on a used purchase of this game. Not having a working PS3 might make that decision for me though :(
EA got real-time physics in-place for Madden, but couldn’t delay NCAA by a few weeks in order to give it the same, possibly game-changing, upgrade? It really makes any improvements that were included in the game feel kind of … superficial. It may not be fair, but it’s true.
UPDATE 08/05/2012: A review of NCAA Football 13 has been posted.