NCAA ’13 Review: Save your money and buy last year’s model


Did you like NCAA Football '12, college football gamer? I sure did. I felt like 2012 was the year that NCAA football leapfrogged the monolithic Madden franchise ‒ no small task.

And it's only $24.99 right now, used, so if you don't have it, go get it. It's 95 percent of the game that NCAA Football '13 is, but it's only 42 percent of the price. Maximizing value dictates that you kick it old school this year.

It's not that NCAA '13 isn't very good. It is, in fact, really good, but so was NCAA '12. They tried some new things, and there are a few real differences here and there, but all in all, playing NCAA '13 will feel remarkably, perhaps unforgivably, similar to NCAA '12. There's nothing here that's a game changer.

The game makers are hanging their hat on the new Heisman Challenge mode, which lets you put certain Heisman-winning legends in the game, on any team you want. Sadly, this is much cooler in commercials than it actually is in your Xbox. Haven't we had the ability to create any player we want, and put him on any team we want, since, oh, about 2001?

That mode's not for me. It's not fair for me to judge the game on that, since I'm not the target audience. To me, Dynasty Mode is where the bread is buttered. Dynasty Mode, the gameplay and the presentation are what need to be tight.

All three score in the range of "meh." Nothing is bad, but most everything is familiar.

The presentation, in particular, is a disappointment. There are some things I just couldn't believe hadn't changed. You know that scene they show before every game, where a wide receiver and a corner sort of tangle up in a drill before the corner releases him? Still there. Still exactly the same. It feels like I've been watching that since Danny Wuerffel was on the cover.

The commentary is the same it's been for years, with some new phrases added and some subtracted. It's Nessler. It's Herbie. It's uninspiring. It's time to embrace multiple commentary teams in sports games. Get four or five commentary teams in there, and if I'm ranked No. 22 and I'm playing UMass, give me Pam Ward. If it's a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in primetime, give me Brent Musburger. In fact, I'm demanding Brent Musburger.

The new in-game updates with Rece Davis were a good idea, but they were implemented so limply that they make very little impact on how you enjoy the game. It's cool to follow along when Buffalo is about to pull an Appalachian State on Ohio State, but the update itself is so non-substantive that I'm not sure a "Priority Score Alert" on the bottom line doesn't accomplish about the same thing.

In regard to the gameplay, it's still top shelf. The '12 version was very good, and this one is a bit better. They've added a dimension or two to passing that is worthwhile and helpful. You've got way more control of the velocity of your throw, and on what side of your receiver it goes (perhaps exaggerated on the latter point). It's a good addition, and it lets you do more, but it also demands more of you, because defenders are way better at ball-hawking than your receivers. The corner is going to make a strong move on the football. Your receiver is going to run where he's going to run, and if the ball gets there, that's awesome, but if not, well, hey, look at The Mountaineer over there. He's still cabbage-patching.

Outside of that, nothing's going to sprinkle fairy dust up your skirt. Your linemen are still going to neglect to block blitzers, even when that blitzer runs directly at his breast plate. You'll find vertical routes wide, wide open if you've got fast receivers.

But I'm quibbling. On the whole, the gameplay is aces. It's improved, but is it as much improved one year later as it should be? I'd vote no, but it's tough to criticize, too. Sometimes good is good, and it's hard to find the balance of how much to change and how much to keep.

Such it is with Dynasty Mode, too. It looks a little different and gives a handful of different options, but it's probably going to feel about the same. The pillars of recruiting are intact ‒ you fill your recruiting board, you make phone calls, pick topics of conversation, and arrange visits. That's still the core.

But it's not without some new stuff. You can scout players, revealing their freshman ratings bit-by-bit as you go. Also, your school's grades in various areas ‒ television exposure, championship contender, conference prestige, etc. ‒ can actually change from week to week. And it's also easier to change the mind of a guy who never showed any interest in your program..

These things are good and they're fine and they were changes worth making, but again, at the end of a recruiting session, you'll feel like things went pretty much the same as they did last year. They just took a little bit longer.

That's what's tough to evaluate here. I want progress, and I also want stability. I want the awesome things, which were plentiful, to remain in the game, but I also need to see something different from year to year. It's a tough little tightrope to walk. This year, EA opted to not walk it, but instead, point to Tim Tebow and say, "Look! We can put him in our game this year. Ooooooooh."