EA Sports football games have traditionally used the gameplay philosophy of giving the user as much control as possible over his player, often at the expense of realism.
This tradition continues with "Total Control Passing," a new feature in NCAA Football 13 that allows the quarterback to reroute wide receivers on the fly.
Don't like the skinny post you called for your receiver in the huddle? You can just change it into a corner route by pointing the left joystick up and out as you make your throw:
If proper physics were being respected, this off-target throw would result in an incomplete pass, based on the "miscommunication" between the receiver and the quarterback -- the receiver's route was a post leading him in, but the quarterback threw the ball a good 10 to 15 yards behind the receiver, which in real life, would have given the wideout no way to adjust in time and make the catch.
This is not a "back-shoulder fade," as the advertising claims, but a throw in the complete opposite direction of the route -- against all of the wide receiver's forward momentum.
But because momentum isn't accounted for in EA's current locomotion system, wide receivers can instantly change their route in any direction without breaking stride or losing speed.
Any route in NCAA Football 13 can be manipulated, whether the user wants to change an out into a corner, a slant into a streak or just about any imaginable route combination.
As if the defense wasn't already handicapped enough in EA Sports football games, now there is nothing stopping offenses from superhumanly changing routes mid-pass thanks to this year's new "Total Control Passing" mechanic.
Combine this new feature with a number of bizarre AI quirks in the secondary, and NCAA Football 13 is looking like a relapse to the high-scoring, "Wide Open Gameplay" of NCAA Football 09.
Whether you're trying to run the flexbone, I-option or spread option, there are numerous issues hurting the authenticity of NCAA Football 13's option plays.
Perhaps the biggest problem for offline gamers is that CPU quarterbacks seem completely clueless when running traditional option plays. The AI ignores wide open running lanes and often pitches the ball at the wrong time, leading to absurd fumbles and comedic "option interceptions:"
Human teams trying to run the option won't fare much better, as "dud" throws that fall well short of the pitch man are a common occurrence:
When these fumbles happen, the play is sometimes incorrectly whistled dead by the referee as soon as the offense recovers the off-target pitch. This bug isn't just limited to option plays, either. Running backs can fumble direct handoffs for seemingly no reason, and as soon as the ball is dropped, the play is blown dead.
NCAA Football 13's defensive AI seems befuddled by option plays. Sometimes, defenders just lock up and won't move at all:
Other times, defenders ignore the ball carrier directly in front of them and start running out of bounds:
Even when the defensive pursuit isn't glitching out, it still feels unrealistically fast and single-minded.
In real life, defending the option is about 11 players staying within their individual assignments, whether it's a specific gap a particular offensive player. Defenses that overrun option plays and leave their assignments to swarm the ball should be getting gashed by fake handoffs and misdirection.
Deception and the threat of multiple ball carriers should theoretically create indecision and hesitation in the defense's pursuit of option plays. Yet, in NCAA Football 13, the AI defense swarms to the ball as soon as it's snapped, like they automatically know where the play's going. There is no hesitation, no hint of assignment-based defense, just a large swarm of players instantly attacking the ball carrier at the snap.
I could go on and talk about the incorrect blocking techniques for option plays (no interior cut blocks?), but NCAA Football's archaic line play is another topic for another day.
Simply put, option plays are a mess in NCAA Football 13, and with most schools these days including some form of the I-option or spread option in their offense, these plays will kill drives and frustrate you whenever they are called.
In real football, the outcome of each play is determined by the players' ability, the matchups on the field, and the strengths of the offensive play versus the defensive play's weaknesses.
In an effort to make their football video games easier to play, EA Sports has built numerous features that allow the user to overcome a lack of roster talent or poor playcalling with simple guessing games and switch toggles.
As a result, in NCAA Football 13, there are times where all football strategy is tossed off the field, only to be overridden by gimmicky gameplay features.
Jump The Snap
"Jump The Snap" may be the single most frustrating gameplay feature in NCAA Football history. There is no way to turn the feature off, and the CPU is relentless in continually trying to jump the snap during offline play.
Against the CPU, the user is forced to sit at the line and call a hard count before every play just to keep the AI from getting that extra jump, which if successful, will disrupt most offensive plays in an instant.
Occasionally, the CPU will be drawn offside with the fake snap, but then you have to sit through a drawn-out, unskippable cutscene where the referee comes on screen, announces the penalty, gives the user the option of accepting/declining the penalty, then appears on screen again to announce the new down and distance.
More than likely, the hard count will backfire several times per game, and one of your offensive linemen will false start. This is the kind of situation where you're damned if you do try the fake snap (false starts) and damned if you don't try it (your snaps get jumped). Either way, you're going to waste a lot of time in NCAA Football 13 barking at the line of scrimmage, and even more time watching unskippable penalty reports.
Defenses can also participate in a guessing game called run/pass commit, where correctly choosing one of four offensive scenarios (pass, run right, run left, run middle) results in the play getting blown up like a scene out of Tecmo Super Bowl. Essentially, Run/Pass Commit functions just like Jump The Snap, only without the risk of ever taking a penalty.
With a 1:4 chance of guessing the right offensive setup and snuffing out the play, the odds in this gameplay mechanic are stacked largely in the defense's favor. At least in Tecmo Super Bowl the defense had only 1:8 odds of picking the right preplay setup.
As some downs will force the offense into obvious passing situations, the "pass commit" option becomes foolproof at times since there's no directional guessing involved like there is in run plays.
It's a mystery why this feature even exists. If the user wants to defend against a running play, why not just send blitzers into the gaps where the run is expected?
Or if the user believes a pass is coming, what's wrong with simply choosing a traditional coverage scheme or an overload blitz to the quarterback's weak side?
Why is it necessary to artificially enhance the defense's ability with a silly guessing mini game that can stifle any offensive play?
If there's one thing the computer defense can do well in NCAA Football 13, it's going for big hits and ball strips. In fact, they'll do it on every tackle if you just tell them to with the "Team Adjustments" feature.
You would think that constant big hit and ball strip attempts might lead to more facemasking calls or helmet-to-helmet contact penalties, but you'd be wrong with that thought.
The only real penalty to leaving automatic big hits and ball strips on all game is a few more broken tackles. But with how quickly the pursuit AI closes in and surrounds ball carriers, the gamble is minimal, especially when the benefit is extra offensive possessions from fumbles.
Other "Team Adjustments" like telling your receivers to catch conservatively or having your secondary play the ball looking for interceptions are equally imbalanced, presenting little risk and huge rewards.
A scrub wide receiving corps. can instantly develop soft hands, just by turning on the conservative catch adjustment. Likewise, a secondary with poor ball skills will start jumping routes and snagging insane leaping catches just by switching on the aggressive play ball setting.
There is a reason why most online leagues ban the use of Team Adjustments: they turn NCAA Football 13 into a mess of interceptions and fumbles.
Along with Heisman Mode, the new "Reaction Time" slow motion feature has been marketed as one of the big additions to NCAA Football 13.
With five adjustable game speeds already included in previous NCAA Football games, this is yet another feature whose inclusion makes no sense. If people want to slow the game down, the option is already there. Additionally, if you're trying to play as a defender in Heisman Mode or Road To Glory Mode, there's now no way to strafe without entering Reaction Time, as both functions are assigned to the left trigger.
"Bullet Time" effects have become one of the most clichéd mechanics in video games. Midway tried including time-slowing features in 2006's Blitz: The League, and it was one of the worst parts of the game. Slow motion makes even less sense in NCAA Football 13, as it's supposed to be a simulation sports game.
Features like Reaction Time show that EA Sports remains more interested in creating marketable gameplay gimmicks instead of fixing the core gameplay issues that have plagued NCAA Football for years.
No Double Team Pass Blocking
Double team blocking was finally added to running plays in NCAA Football 10. Three years later, in NCAA Football's seventh season on the current generation of consoles, double team blocking is still limited to running plays only.
The entire concept of defensive schemes like the 3-4, 3-3-5, 1-5-5, etc., is predicated on the nose tackle demanding a double team every play.
But because NCAA Football 13 still doesn't allow these double team blocks to take place on passing downs, it creates unrealistic results for defenses that employ a three-man-or-less front line.
Suction Blocking Still Exists
The marketing of NCAA Football 12 led gamers to believe that suction blocking was completely removed from EA's game engine.
However, not only did suction blocking still exist in last year's game, but now it's back again for NCAA Football 13.
In this video, Clemson sends an overload zone blitz to the left side of the offensive line, creating more pass rushers (three) than the offense has blockers (two). The free rusher comes in hit the quarterback, yet he gets sucked into a block at the last second, taking him completely out of the play. What should have been a seven yard loss turns into a seven yard gain for the offense.
Also notice how the away team's 63 overall right tackle is able to pancake Clemson's 84 overall defensive tackle. Individual linemen ratings just don't seem to matter at all in this play.
Ineffective Four-Man Pass Rush
One reason why gamers result to elaborate blitz setups (often referred to as "nano blitzes") to generate pressure is because the standard four-man pass rush in EA football games is simply ineffective.
"Pancake" animations trigger far too frequently, often occurring in situations that completely contradict the individual player ratings.
While computer players have plenty of pass rushing moves in their repertoire, the AI seems content to stand upright and hand-fight with blockers instead of trying to swim, spin or rip its way to the quarterback.
When defenders are engaged in hand-fighting animations, they cannot move at all, which causes a multitude of issues in the line play:
- Defensive ends get stuck hand-fighting at the line of scrimmage when they should be shooting upfield to take away the quarterback's outside escape lanes.
- Defensive tackles cannot push blockers backwards and collapse the pocket into the quarterback's face.
- The entire defensive line is unable to follow the ballcarrier while engaged or flow with the direction of the run.
- Reaching arm tackles are not available to engaged defensive players.
If a computer pass rusher does manage to beat his blocker, it's usually with one of the overdone "jailbreak" animations, and even with a clear path to the quarterback, the AI still won't use the sprint button when pursuing the QB, making it easy for the quarterback to run away unless the user takes control of the free rusher himself.
Basically, if you're not controlling players on the defensive line manually, there's no chance of getting a good four-man pass rush out of the AI, regardless of the player ratings or difficulty settings.
Height And Weight Don't Matter
Numerous videos have been created showing what happens when you shrink linemen in EA football games down to 5'5" and 150 pounds:
NCAA Football 12 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmrYD...feature=relmfu
NCAA Football 13 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTIlhOaHe_A&feature=plcp
Obviously, if it doesn't matter when a lineman is the size of a fifth grader, there's not going to be any difference between a 250 pound player and a 300 pound player, either.
Attempting to play with undersized linemen should have some impact on the game. Instead, size and weight remain irrelevant in NCAA Football's line play.
Nothing is more fundamental to a sports game than how its players move around on the playing field.
Of the many issues in EA Sports football games, a good amount can be traced back to the lack of proper foot planting, unrealistic acceleration rate and disregard of forward momentum.
Cause: Defenders can move in any direction instantly without losing speed during directional changes.
Effect: Playaction, misdirection and fake handoff plays become less effective, as defenders easily redirect themselves to the ball without being penalized for making initial "false steps" in the wrong direction.
Effect: All defenders can instantly break away from their assignment the moment the ball leaves the quarterback's hand to go make a play on the ball.
Effect: A human player running through the line of scrimmage for a blitz does not have to commit himself to a particular gap. Instead, he can easily loop around to another gap if his initial angle is closed off.
Cause: While moving, all defenders can turn their hips freely without losing speed.
Effect: A defender with his back to the ball can easily spin his body around to make unrealistic leaping interceptions.
Effect: Defensive backs run at the same speed whether their hips are turned sideways looking in on the play or they are running blind with their back to the ball.
Cause: The rate of acceleration going from a stationary position to running full speed is instantaneous.
Effect: A stationary defender sitting in the middle of a zone can easily turn and run with any receiver who passes through his zone.
Effect: A quarterback standing flat-footed in the pocket can instantly sprint away and escape pass rushers who are charging at him full speed.
Effect: Receivers get into their routes too quickly, throwing them out of sync with the quarterback's dropbacks.
Cause: Offensive players can move in any direction instantly without losing speed during directional changes.
Effect: Left joystick movement becomes more effective at faking out defenders than actual special moves like jukes and spins.
Effect: Wide receivers can instantly break away from their route and adjust to any off-target throws the moment the ball leaves the quarterback's hand.
Effect: Any receiver making a running catch towards the sideline can cancel out his forward momentum, turn upfield and run for extra yards.
At this point in the console generation, it is starting to feel like EA Sports football games are just purposely designed to give the user an unlimited amount of control over player movement.
Letting players move freely in any direction at any time may feel good for some causal users, but this design choice carries serious negative consequences for multiple areas of NCAA Football 13's gameplay.