Hey guys, gschwendt back again to give you my impressions of NCAA Football 13, this time the retail release version of the game. For new visitors to the site, you can read my previously posted quick background about me as well as my impressions of gameplay from the April community event. Be sure to check out our Q&A and Media article that filled requests by users and for those that download the game early through Season Ticket, be sure to participate in our Impressions thread so that you can share your thoughts on the game.
For this year’s release, EA SPORTS and the NCAA Football development team needed to focus on making sure that every aspect of the game was solid and provided a great core of both gameplay and other features. Unfortunately for fans of the yearly title, in my opinion, EA has fallen short in delivering the game that many felt was needed to win back those disgruntled after last year’s release. While the additions to the game are nice and do provide entertainment, they only manage to highlight the shortcomings in other areas. To me, this is the year of the ‘but’, as in “that change is really nice, but it breaks that other aspect this year” or “we got this new addition, but then we miss-out on that addition”.
Click the Read More to read my impressions of NCAA Football 13.
Some fans start off this year discouraged by what they saw in NCAA Football 12… between broken features (Custom Playbooks), game-breaking bugs (Online Dynasty Transfer Fails), and other issues, those fans understandably needed to see EA deliver a solid, all-around polished title with NCAA Football 13. Unfortunately though, at least based on pre-release, fans will still be left wondering “how did they let that get by them”. Primarily, this is revolving around gameplay issues, most of which were readily evident in the demo released on June 5th/6th. These issues include sometimes downright awful defensive coverage for zones, mindless defenders ignoring the play completely when defending the option, DEs sometimes not remaining unblocked in an option read, very poor CPU logic, and (near & dear to my heart) alignment issues for the 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 defenses.
The largest issue of these is the zone defense. Some of these scenarios include deep defenders not getting deep enough, “stumbling” defenders where they try to change direction and are pulled way out of position, hook zones sometimes dropping 15+ yards with no receiver to take them that deep, Cover 2 Deep coverage having no answer at all for a Four Verticals passing play, Buzz zones not playing the corner route & instead covering the flats, and 2-Deep Safety looks that, when the offense is on the hash, one safety will play essentially one quarter of the field instead of his half leaving a wide open field between them. These issues combined with the fact Quarterbacks have much more in their arsenal for attacking will spell an ugly mess for zone defense.
In terms of the passing, I do want to point out that there are some good, polished additions. The new passing mechanic does give you much more ability to throw the ball around the field. Not only can you place the ball using the new Total Control Passing, but with the new trajectories and the fact that the defense has to read before they react, fans of wide-open passing games will love what they’re able to do in the game this year. In addition, the Total Control Passing also brings with it two often requested features with Route-Based Passing as well as more passes hitting the dirt. For Route-Based Passing, now you can time your throws so that the ball gets there as the receiver turns around; in years past, you might try to throw a curl a little early only for the pass to continue on as though the receiver is running a streak. And for the passes hitting the dirt, because both the human player and the CPU will be trying to place the ball where they want it, there will be times that it gets placed wrong due to inaccurate quarterbacks; this is where players will be able to tell a high-rated QB vs a lower-rated QB. Overall, the passing game (for the offensive side of the ball), is a very bright spot in terms of gameplay aspects. But again, these additions will only highlight the fact that zone defenses are so crippled. Combine the passing game with the ability for the offense to effectively run a Shotgun Option attack, users will be able to have a lot of fun whenever they have the ball in their hands.
Continuing with gameplay, as mentioned, the alignment issues with the 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 defenses have long been a thorn in my side. Primarily these issues are around the safeties not aligning properly, not covering the correct receiver or being assigned a receiver completely across the field. This year however, EA promised an increase focus on alignment and assignment across all defensive formations, even going so far as to helping the defense disguise coverage so that it's not as easy to read zone versus man. And while the base formations were given a fair amount of attention, the 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 still ultimately fall short. They are improved to a degree, but the main staple of my personal defense (4-2-5 Cover 1) produces scattered results that vary depending on not only personnel but also where the ball is on the field (hash vs middle). Examples include players coming across the formation that don't when on the opposite hash or middle, safeties covering a receiver to the outside while a CB covers the inside slot, those combined with the fact that you’ll often see potentially scary results when facing a no-huddle attack and you stand a chance of walking into a minefield or being forced to limit your defensive playcalling. It's difficult to comprehend why the improvements were focused only on some - but not all - formations.
As well in gameplay, as fans of the series have complained, the CPU logic has long suffered in NCAA Football but as the game improves and offers the user new tools for their disposal, the CPU seemingly isn't taught how to use these new tools. While the CPU does use the new Total Control Passing somewhat, they often use it in bad situations or at bad times; a perfect example would be too often the CPU sails a ball out of bounds over a receivers head. The logic isn't limited to just new features. As seen in the past and in videos previously released for NCAA 13, the CPU struggles to run the triple option with any kind of effectiveness. Between not making the right read, not knowing when to cut it up field, and pitching the ball at bad times, it only spells an easy win for a human controlled defense. Added that the CPU doesn't know how to properly call plays for a scheme, whether triple option or otherwise. Many of the bad examples seen in the demo (such as calling a HB Draw when down with only seconds on the clock) are still seen in the final game. While the CPU does manage to provide a fairly competitive game on default All-American sliders, you start to wonder how much better they could be with a revamped logic, but not this year. For users that focus on playing in Online games, these issues will be rarely seen but those that play in Dynasty or even Online Dynasty will have to contend with with these issues whenever facing the CPU.
Turning next to presentation, this was an area that needed improvement in order to draw the fans into each and every game. The primary new presentation aspect this year is the Dynasty Mode Studio Updates. These updates will feature Rece Davis breaking into your game to tell you about what’s happening that week in the rest of your dynasty. Initially I expected these to annoy me and take me away immersion factor, however they do appear less annoying than I originally thought they would be. They occur at generally acceptable times (clock stoppage, failed 3rd down conversion, etc.) But the problem is that lines from Rece sound disjointed and disconnected from each other. One specific example, I was shown an update for UL Monroe vs Auburn and during the update, Rece started three straight lines with “The Tigers”. While an example like that is probably somewhat rare, it can occur and really sticks out. The developers did essentially say that this year is just a building block for the future in terms of presentation, and you can see (hear) that a base is there, however for this year, the additions are not enough to warrant too much praise.
With Dynasty, some fans may see this year as a small update to the mode, however those updates do make a big impact. New additions to dynasty mode include Dynamic Pitches and knowing how you can improve those pitches, Scouting recruits, Breaking into the Top 10, Triple Threat Athletes, you drive the recruiting call, Changes to Player Transfers, and Player Draft Results. Possibly none of the changes on their own would be seen as a huge impact, but together they do indeed give Dynasty Mode that refreshed feeling that it’s needed for the past several years. I would be hard pressed to say which aspect is the most important addition but possibly the most undersold aspect to have a big impact will be the Breaking into the Top 10 of a player. No longer will recruits automatically start with 10 teams that they’re interested in. Now, a player might start with anywhere from 2-10 teams and it’s up to those teams to give him interest. If other schools give him interest, he'll start to add new teams to his list. Now, for that 3-star player from Rhode Island that only has dreams of playing for USC, if USC doesn’t show him any interest, he’ll eventually wise-up and start listening to someone that does want him. Again, all of these additions combined give Dynasty a much needed lift to making it fun and competitive. But, fans will quickly find frustration in the fact that Coaching Carousel, which started with so much potential on NCAA Football 12, went untouched for NCAA Football 13.
Along the lines of Dynasty, the new Dynasty Wire website features additions for NCAA Football 13. Perhaps the biggest of these additions will be that you can now perform all offseason tasks right from the website. Offseason tasks such as the Coaching Carousel, convincing players not to transfer, changing positions, seeing training results, cutting players, and in the preseason redshirting players. These will be a nice addition for the Online Dynasties where players were unable to get to a console for the offseason… now they can participate from their laptop, tablet, or phone. Other features new this year include Awards information such as Preseason All-Americans/All-Conference, Players of the Week, and individual Awards including a dedicated Heisman Watch page. Of course the new scouting & recruiting are also part of the website updates. In regards to recruiting, for NCAA 12, fans complained about the site that was updated midway through the release year, the two biggest bugs perhaps were being shown the wrong recruiting board and a promises call crash bug that would end up losing call time for a particular recruit. While the recruiting board bug never showed itself during pre-release on the new site, the promises call crash bug does still occur. That bug being that the website allows you to make a promise that you’ve previously offered. When you do this, the call will crash and you’ll lose any unused time for that recruit. I’ve made the web developers aware of that and we should expect to see it fixed soon. Thankfully, the website can be updated at anytime without the need for approval from third-parties (such as Sony or Microsoft). Overall though, the website seems more solid and on the whole should offer a better experience.
To wrap things up, NCAA Football 13 had a world of potential to make this one of the best releases on this generation of consoles, but they’ve dropped the ball up to this point. They needed to show fans that NCAA Football 12 was just a year that they set their sights too high, but instead, some will still come away feeling burnt by this year's title. Added that NCAA’s bigger brother, Madden, will be getting two very buzz-worthy features in Connected Careers and the Infinity Engine, but NCAA’s most buzz-worthy feature this year is the Heisman Challenge. Overall, NCAA Football 13 at first glance will offer a fun experience and a lot of users will be able to either overlook or may not even notice the detractions, but days after launch, we can probably expect a segment of the loyal fan base to be disgruntled with the drawbacks included in the game this year. Fans of the series of course already know to expect a patch to fix some of these issues but when that patch comes and what it fixes is right now unknown. That combined with previous years where a patch can correct one issue only to uncover a new one, leads to a suggested caution for those that play the NCAA Football series year-round.
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gschwendt is an EA SPORTS Game Changer that participates in community events for the NCAA Football series. He's been a long-time, year-round player of the series dating back to NCAA Football 03. You can follow him on twitter @gschwendt or watch his videos on youtube.