Will it be Marcus Allen sprinting past would-be tacklers? How about Andre Ware throwing tight spirals across the field to every receiver possible? Or Desmond Howard changing games singlehandedly with spirited punt returns and amazing catches?
These are a few of the options available in NCAA Football 13’s Heisman Challenge, our most anticipated new game mode from EA’s vaunted franchise this generation. The basics are simple – choose from one of a dozen or so former Heisman Trophy winners, put them on any team, and lead that squad to glory while pursuing the NCAA’s most prestigious trophy – but the beauty only reveals itself after exploring and experimenting with all it has to offer.
At first, we felt frankly uninspired. After placing Marcus Allen at Rutgers, we quickly shattered every plausible record, then set some ridiculous ones, running roughshod over the Big East for close to 4000 yards and 50 touchdowns. It was too easy, really, and to make matters worse, we were never taken out of the game, no matter how out-of-control the score became. In addition, we let Marcus call his own number whenever a play was designed for someone else, which certainly helped him have numerous 400+ yard efforts.
However, by the time we were just a game into our second Heisman Challenge with Andre Ware at Oregon, our attitude changed. Back in 1987, Ware set unbelievable records during his time at Houston, but honestly, much of his magic had fizzled in our memory. Upon checking out the numbers we’d have to beat –4,700 yards passing and 46 TDs in one season – then playing a couple of games, we realized how amazing of a year he’d actually had. It was also clear how much tougher it would be to match Andre’s stupendous numbers in the Challenge.
Therein lies the beauty of NCAA Football 13. The development team at EA Tiburon has picked a great mix of players that gives each one its own tone and feel. To be honest, anybody can win the Heisman as one of the great running backs – Archie Griffin or Herschel Walker will destroy everyone in their path – but the different QB’s each present interesting scenarios. Charlie Ward’s strengths are much different than, say, Doug Flutie’s, and you’ll have to play differently as each to win the Heisman. Desmond Howard may be the most interesting of the bunch, because you’ve got the least influence getting him the ball – you only control your player during the game, although you can modify a number of plays that get called – and the fewest opportunities for big gainers. Add in the wild card of placing them on any team and you’ve got a recipe for a great time.
Another aspect of the Challenge (as well as Road to Glory, the four-year single player mode that the Challenge was built upon) is the new “Reaction Time” feature. Reminiscent of Max Payne’s “Bullet Time”, it slows the action down to a crawl to ostensibly let your player react to would-be tacklers and read plays with superhuman awareness. You get a few seconds per play to use it if you want, but we found ourselves mostly ignoring it. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been playing football a certain way for so long, it didn’t strike us as particularly useful.
Of course, to many, the Heisman Challenge is the appetizer to NCAA Football 13’s Dynasty main course. More than anything else, Tiburon went out of its way to communicate the major upgrades on the field that impact Dynasty and head-to-head the most. The results are strong. Between the ability to finally execute some play-action passes, thread the needle with precision without having super-powered linebackers or otherworldly defensive backs constantly pick us off, and smarter quarterback dropbacks, NCAA Football 13 is easier and more accessible for your typical player than ever. While a few of the guys we played with online this weekend expressed displeasure with some perceived defensive inadequacies – particularly around zone coverage being easy to beat – none of these reduced our fun factor.