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NCAA Football 13

NCAA Football 13 - box art

In a Nutshell

  • Graphics: 88
    Some subtle improvements don't help this game visually stand out against its predecessor. Motion blur was actually a little disorienting.
  • Gameplay: 60
    Controls have been obfuscated to accommodate an unnecessary feature that isn't even available in the primary game modes. New defensive AI makes passing game much more dynamic a realistic (on Varsity difficulty), but other gameplay issues (particularly cheating AI and scripted gameplay) remain nunaddressed.
  • Production: 35
    Presentation upgrades don't pull '13 out from under the shadow of ESPN NFL 2K5. Decision not to delay the game to install physics engine proves that EA cares more about milking money from consumers with as little work as possible, than about releasing the best product possible.
  • Sound: 40
    Commentary during seasons seems improved with lulls being broken up by updates of concurrent games, but it gets stale and repetitive, and lacks energy and soul with the continued absence of Lee Corso.
  • Value: 13
    Overall no improvement over last year's game, and several steps backwards in certain areas. Once Madden '13 hits, I doubt anyone will want to pick this one up again.
  • Overall Score: 47

Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Platforms: PS3, XBox360
ESRB rating: E
Genre: Wanna-be sports simulation
Players: Single-Player, local multiplayer, or online multiplayer
Official site: http://www.easports.com/
ncaa-football

It seems pretty apparent that EA doesn’t give a damn about releasing the best product possible. They just want to milk it for all the money it’s worth. If they really cared about making NCAA Football ‘13 the best game it could be, then they would have delayed it a few weeks in order to install the same, potentially revolutionary, physics engine that is being implemented in this year’s Madden. The game releases six weeks prior to the start of the college football season anyway, so it wouldn’t have hurt to delay it a month. It still would have made it onto store shelves before the kickoff of the season. Heck, most teams haven’t even finalized their depth charts yet, and some are still revealing new uniforms and stadiums!

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Table of Contents

Reverting back to a broken foundation

In addition to willingly limiting the game’s potential, EA also insists on gutting the features of its games every few years. Within just a few sessions with NCAA Football ‘13, I noticed several working features from previous years have apparently been removed or are broken.

I don’t mind that PRO-TAK was removed for last year’s game; that feature was broken anyway. But other features have been removed that did work and were positive additions to earlier versions of the game.

The run blocking play art no longer shows which blocker is going to block which defender. So now I have to guess which defenders are going to get double teamed. I also have to guess which defender is going to be left unblocked for me to read on Option plays. Option play-art wasn’t working properly in last year’s game either, so it seems that instead of fixing it, EA decided to just throw out the whole feature. Since I tend to base my offense around the Read Option and power running, this is pretty much a deal-breaker by itself.

NCAA Football 13 - Read Option blocking NCAA Football 11 - Read Option blocking
[LEFT] NCAA Football 13 no longer shows each players individual blocking assignments (including any unblocked defenders who the QB is supposed to read). That feature was added in NCAA Football '11 [RIGHT], and was one of my favorite features of that game.

It also seems like the locomotion running system has been removed. I don’t notice the same oomph from players with higher acceleration, and I found that the ability to perform consecutive moves using the right analog stick doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Subtle flicks of the left stick also don’t seem to cause the runner to make stutter steps or small jukes as it did two years ago. Instead, the running seems even twitchier than ever. Runners (particularly scrambling AI quarterbacks) also have an annoying tendency to get stuck on the backs of lead blockers.

Even some of the sliding and motion shifting that was so well-minimized seems to have returned, particularly in catching animations.

The "Ask Coach" quick-playcall feature is also pretty much necessary, since the play-selection screen just keeps getting laggier and laggier, the right stick is sadly unresponsive (for package substitutions), and you only have 7-10 seconds to pick a play on defense.

It’s as if instead of building on a solid framework established over several years, EA decides to tear down the framework they’ve built and start over every few years from the same broken foundation that they’ve been using for ten years. they just keep piling on new junk, never fix or upgrade the material that exists, and then drop stuff when it becomes "too old", even if it's a good feature or mechanic. It’s hard for me to get excited about new features in these games anymore, because I’ve noticed that in two or three years, even the best features end up getting cut!

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Passing is the focus of this year’s game

So what new features-that-are-going-to-be-cut-in-three-years does this game include? The biggest changes for this year are in the passing game.

Psychic DBs seem to be gone … for now

One of my biggest criticisms of previous versions of NCAA Football has been the persistence of psychic DBs. EA took efforts to address that issue this year. And I praise them for it. Kudos. Mostly. Sort of. A little bit.

Defenders and receiver awareness has been retuned so that players have to be looking at the ball in order to make a play on it. But only in the passing game. CPU defenders on All-American or higher difficulty are still able to psychically know whether the play is a run and to which side the play is going.

The changes do have a big impact on the way players approach the passing game though. Being aware of the position of defenders now influences the decisions that you can make as a passer. It is now possible to catch defenders out of position and exploit that to complete a pass. For the first time in as long as I can remember, the phrase "throwing a receiver open" is actually relevant in an EA football game.

NCAA Football 13 - throwing a receiver open It is now easy to "throw a receiver open."

A great example of this presented itself in one of the first games that I played. I had a receiver running a 12 yard curl route on a 3rd and long. The defender was in man coverage and was matching the receiver step for step. In previous versions of the game, this would mean the receiver was not open, and a completion would require a miracle. Any attempt to throw in this situation in previous years would invariably result in the defender swatting the ball down with his back turned, or jumping in front of the pass and intercepting it (likely returning it for a touchdown).

This time, however, I threw the ball just before the receiver turned back for the curl. When he turned, the defender ran himself out of the play for a few steps and had to stop and turn back. This left the receiver with just enough room to catch the ball before being tackled for a first down.

NCAA Football 13 - throwing between defenders This has a good chance of working on "Varsity", but will likely result in an interception on "All-American".

In addition to being able to take advantage of the positioning of defenders, it is now also possible to thread the ball in between multiple defenders without the pass being automatically intercepted.

Another subtle, but significant change is that defenses will now adjust their coverages to compensate for audibles and pre-play motion. Defenses will match up their best DBs with the offense’s wide receivers automatically. This means that you can’t just audible or shift a receiver in order to force him into being covered by a linebacker.

These awareness changes are a fantastic addition to the game ... if you keep it on the Varsity difficulty level. As is always the case with EA's football games, as soon as you increase the difficulty from Varsity to All-American, all the old problems come right back. Defenders once again become psychic interception machines.

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My receiver never saw it coming

To be fair to offenses, EA also made it necessary for receivers to see the ball in order to catch it. At the start of a play, receiver icons will be grayed out because they are not looking back for the ball. You can still throw to them at this time if you want, but it’s most likely going to be an incompletion without the receiver even making an effort to catch the ball. When the receiver starts looking back for the ball, his icon will turn solid. It doesn’t mean that he’s open; it just means that he can actually make a play on the ball now.

NCAA Football 13 - illegal touching "Illegal Touching" penalties are back in the game (for both offenses and defenses) for the first time in a long time.

At first glance, this seems like a common sense feature, but it has some issues that EA didn’t seem to anticipate.

First and foremost, the play art doesn’t give any indication as to when in the route the receiver will turn to look for the ball. This can make timing routes hard to execute if you haven’t practiced the play. The fact that the receiver routes are never drawn accurately on the field only makes the problem worse (a receiver may run 12 yards downfield on a curl even though the pre-play diagram only shows him running 9 yards). Hesitating to wait for the icon to turn solid on a quick slant or curl route can give the defense just enough time to react to it and shut down the play.

There also isn’t any way to signal to the receivers that you read a blitz. So if you have to get rid of the ball immediately, you’re unlikely to have any receivers looking for the ball. You can audible to a play with quicker routes, or to a running play, or hot route the receiver, but the defense will also notice the audible and change. It would be really nice to be able to tell a receiver to look for the ball right away without having to change his route.

EA also hyped up the addition of variable pass trajectories and the ability to lead receivers. This would be more exciting if not for the fact that it's yet another 10 or 15-year-old feature that was removed from the game at some point, and was put back in to sell more copies. I've been trying to lead receivers all along, not even realizing that it wasn't doing anything.

While rehauling the passing game, EA finally got around to implementing "Illegal Touching" penalties for offense and defense. About time! Maybe next year, they'll put "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" back into the game.

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Issues that were unaddressed

NCAA Football 13 - no double team pass blocking Pass blockers still can't double-team defenders, leading to a lot of standing around.

I was really hoping that with all these changes to the passing game, that EA would finally address the lack of aggression by wide receivers when the ball is in the air. Receivers still don’t fight for the ball in the air, which puts the defense at a significant advantage on deep jump-ball scenarios.

There also still isn’t any double team pass blocking. I still see situations in almost every game in which a defense rushes three people and gets pressure or a sack because two or more offensive linemen are just standing around doing nothing. A defender breaking a double team or running around the tackle is one thing, but it is ridiculous when a nose guard bull rushes over the center and has a clear path towards the QB with both guards just standing there watching.

Upgrades to AI also only apply to the passing game. Defenders are still psychically aware of whenever you perform a run play on All-American or Heisman difficulty. Depending on how hard the game wants to be at the given time, this will mean that you're running game will be completely and arbitrarily shut down by the simple fact that every defender on the field will instantly pursue your running back the instant the ball is snapped. This includes safeties and cornerbacks. This instant reaction also leaves your wide receivers with no time to get in the way of the defensive backs to get blocks on the outside. This leads to consistent tackles in the backfield by "blitzing" DBs every time you hand off to a running back. So unless you're badass enough to break three tackles behind the line of scrimmage on every run, you'll be lucky to get one yard. The only ways to get around this are to either change the difficulty back to Varsity, wait till the next quarter or half so the game will "swing momentum" in your favor (allowing your running back some room to run), or just quit and restart the game repeatedly until you get a playable level of competition.

Other than a few changes to blocking assignments, special teams has also received almost no improvement. There's still no proper physics for the football on punts (causing every punt that hits the ground to roll out of the endzone instead of bouncing around crazily like you expect a football to do); you can't audible into Max Protect punt; it's still virtually impossible to get a block on a punt or field goal; onside kicks are instantly sucked into the hand of any nearby receiver, making them effectively impossible; and return blocking is still crap.

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Controls have been obfuscated to accommodate a feature that isn’t even used in most game modes!

I pointed out in my demo breakdown that I do not like the changes to the game’s controls. The pump fake and throw away controls now change depending on whether you’re scrambling with the ball or standing in the pocket. Juke controls also change when running Option plays. I had enough trouble remember the pump fake and throw away controls between Madden and NCAA (because the controls were different in each game), but now I have to remember two sets of controls in the same game! In panic situations, you now have to overcome years’ worth of muscle memory as well as your memory of the controls in different situations.

NCAA Football 13 - obfuscated controls Controls have been completely rearranged to accommodate a new feature that is only available in some game modes.

The thing that really bugs me about this is that the change to the controls were made to accommodate a new "reaction time" feature in Heisman Challenge and Road to Glory modes. This feature allows you to hold the left trigger to slow down time for a short period. This feature is only used in these two game modes. So in every other game mode, like Dynasty, Exhibition, and Online play, the left trigger now has absolutely no function!

I miss the way that NFL 2k5 handled pump fakes. In that game, you double tap the receiver’s icon in order to pump fake to him. This was a very elegant system. It didn’t require tying up another button unnecessarily, freeing up all the other controls for other functions. It also allowed you to pull the ball down if you realize at the last instant that the receiver is covered (which is something that quarterbacks actually do from time to time). In NCAA Football ‘13, you can do a generic pump fake with the left shoulder button, or you can hold it and press a receiver’s button to pump fake to that specific receiver. So now, in addition to the left trigger doing a whole lot of nothing, the left shoulder button can’t be used for other functions either.

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New career modes and augments to Dynasty

The career modes have been updated a little bit too. In addition to changes to the existing Dynasty and Road to Glory features, a whole new mode called "Heisman Challenge" has been added. Heisman Challenge is pretty much the same thing as Road to Glory, except you get to plug in a historic Heisman Trophy winner. Nothing special.

Recruiting loses some mystery; remains the highlight of the game

When all is said and done, the only real fun that I have in this game is the Dynasty recruiting. This mode has been pretty fun for quite a number of years and has been the thing that makes NCAA most stand out from Madden. Recruiting has been changed quite a bit this year. The changes make recruiting a bit easier and takes out some of the mystery, but it retains the fun from previous versions.

NCAA Football 13 - Team Needs filter NCAA Football 11 - Prospect scouting
Scouting has been overhauled considerably to take a lot of the guessing out of the mechanic.
A new "Team Needs" filter has been added to the Recruiting Board [LEFT], pitches are no longer random, and you can now spend time to scout players [RIGHT] to reveal their specific stats and get an almost absolute idea of what their overall rating will be.

Recruiting pitches are no longer selected at random. You can now chose which pitch you want to go with. This does make the phone calls a bit repetitive, especially with the smaller schools that may only have one or two pitches going for them, but at least you don’t get screwed over by never having those one or two pitches show up. In addition, there’s some new promises, and a "play-style" pitch has been added that allows you to more successfully recruit players based on the performance of your current players in the prospect’s position. This is another thing that I’ve been asking about for years!

The interface has also been tweaked a bit. The "My School" widget under the recruiting tab shows much more detailed information. It’s not quite as easy to get an overview at a glance from it, but more detail is always good.

The biggest change, though, is that you can now scout the prospects prior to actually recruiting them. This allows you to find gems in the rough and get a better sense of which players are really worth your time. Apparently, it only takes one or two hours of game-film to know absolutely how good a prospect is going to be, and as far as I could tell, the recruits’ ratings don’t change over the course of the season. This also takes a lot of the mystery out of the game, but not necessarily in a bad way. It’s too bad that the scouting makes it too easy to get the prospects’ final ratings, and I would have preferred that the system be a little less absolute, but it’s generally a good addition.

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Trying to capture that NFL 2K5 awesomeness, and not quite making it

Dynasty games will also now include studio cut-aways to give you updates on other games going on simultaneously in the league.

NFL 2K5 - halftime show ESPN NFL 2K5 still blows EA's games out of the water in presentation and immersion.

It’s just scores and a little bit of commentary though, no video highlights. The feature seems like it was either half-assed or half-finished (but what would you expect from EA?).

It does add a bit to the game’s presentation though, and really helps to fill in the frequent lulls that appear in the game’s horrible commentary. That is, if you can sit through listening to stale, repetitive dialogue every few minutes of every game. This is a feature that definitely needs to be more fleshed-out in future versions, but given EA’s track record, they probably won’t touch it next year, then drop it the year after.

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Maybe next year we’ll get the college football game we’ve been waiting for? Probably not.

NCAA Football 13 - limited interaction NCAA Football 13 - stuck behind blocker
Interactions between players in NCAA Football '13 are still incredibly limited.
[LEFT] Only one or two of these defenders will be able to actually interact with the jumping receiver, so this sort of collision will never look truly realistic (or as brutal as you'd expect).
[RIGHT] Runners seem to get stuck behind blockers even easier than ever, especially scrambling quarterbacks.

NFL 2K5 - halftime show The condition of this controller is exclusively the result of playing EA Sports football games (Madden '12 and NCAA Football '13). My frustration isn't with the game being "too hard", but rather with the cheap, cheating tactics that have to make up for the game being too easy.

I just can’t recommend NCAA Football ‘13. If the new physics engine present in Madden ends up being all it’s cracked up to be, then I don’t think anybody is going to bother playing NCAA Football ‘13 past August. The changes present in this year’s game just didn’t blow me away. Every step forward for gameplay seems to have been mitigated by one or two steps backwards somewhere else. Major issues have still yet to be addressed: AI difficulty still comes in essentially two flavors (incompetent or psychic); there's still no semblance of pre-game strategy; momentum swings still feel scripted, forced, and artificial; it's still horribly balanced for full-length games (in terms of plays run, stats, and frequency of injuries); and working features from previous years have apparently been scrapped.

NCAA Football ‘13 still just doesn’t feel like football. The sad thing is: I really want to play football! I keep trying to come back to NCAA '13, and I've tried playing it about 20 times, but I've only completed probably three total games. It's just so unbearably bad.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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