Courtesy: Electronic Arts via USA TODAY
By Brett Molina, USA TODAY
Sports fans know this scenario all too well: a team or player comes off a breakthrough season, poised to make the next big step in their evolution as a superstar squad or athlete. However, due to a variety of circumstances, that team or player can't seem to make the leap.
This is where video game players stand with Electronic Arts' NCAA Football franchise. The last two seasons were the first signs of promise, as players finally received a well-crafted college football experience.
NCAA Football 13 is the game where players' expectations will likely take a hit. There appear to be few changes compared with last season, while several technical issues persist.
Let's begin with the major addition to the series: the Heisman Challenge. Players choose between several former Heisman Trophy winners, including Baylor QB (and 2011 recipient) Robert Griffin III, Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders, Boston College QB Doug Flutie and Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard.
The goal is to recreate the superstar's Heisman season, matching or even topping the statistical benchmarks set that year. Players can also choose to stick with their current team or switch programs. Desmond Howard as an Ohio State Buckeye? It's an option here.
The game tracks key milestones and provides a Heisman Score based on a player's progress. For example, in the case of RGIII, a player must top his season totals in passing yards, rushing yards and passing TDs, as well as eclipse his single-game passing yards record that season. A Heisman Watch follows where superstars stand compared with their fellow candidates.
Football games play out similarly to NCAA Football's Road to Glory mode, devoted to creating and molding an individual superstar. Players only have control of their Heisman candidate throughout the season.
NCAA Football 13 introduces a fresh feature called Reaction Time, which adds a Max Payne like slow-motion effect during the game. For example, as a quarterback drops back to pass, players can press the left trigger to slow time and assess the play. Players can use this on every play if they choose, but seasoned veterans should be fine without it.
Outside of those features, developers don't change much compared with previous seasons. Players still have Dynasty and Road to Glory modes, allowing them to guide either a program or an individual player to championship status.
Overall, the game handles just like last year's title, but there are several technical woes hurting NCAA Football 13. Visually, it lacks the polish and fine detail of other EA Sports titles, such as Madden NFL or NHL.
Developers have promised improvements to the reactions of defensive players in the passing game, but the results have been inconsistent. It's still relatively easy to beat defenders on deep routes, particularly down the middle of the field. Then there was the moment when an opposing defender had a pass play perfectly covered only to randomly break away and run toward the middle of the field, leaving my receiver open.
Blocking is problematic as well, especially when plays break down. If the play requires a receiver or running back to block, they're usually fine. But if, for example, the quarterback moves out of the pocket and runs up field? Forget it. During one play involving RGIII, he runs up the left side of the field only to find the receiver right next to him waving for a pass. Thanks for that block, by the way.
Referees and their use of replay aren't great either. An incomplete pass where the receiver's feet were both clearly out of bounds was overturned and declared a catch, while a successful fourth down run was considered a turnover on downs. The game also has some noticeable bugs, from players' feet sinking into the ground to others completely disappearing from the screen on replays.
Perhaps the funniest moment during my time with NCAA Football 13 was a Play of the Game highlight following a victory. All the players were invisible, resulting in a replay featuring only the football.
NCAA Football 13 feels like it's wasting potential. This game should arguably be better than Madden NFL for a few reasons. The atmosphere and pageantry are unparalleled, the playbooks are more diverse and the offseason tasks such as recruiting feel more interesting and rewarding.
Even though the last couple of years showed signs the franchise was turning a corner, NCAA Football 13 is proof that there is still plenty more work to be done.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Rating: E for Everyone
Release Date: July 10
Score: 2.5 stars (out of 4)
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