The focus of "NCAA Football 13" seems to have veered toward single-player quests for stardom, away from the magic of team rivalries and traditions like Ohio State-Michigan.
The focus of "NCAA Football 13" seems to have veered toward single-player quests for stardom, away from the magic of team rivalries and traditions like Ohio State-Michigan. (EA Sports)

College football may be the sport of legendary institutions, but "NCAA Football 13" is all about individual stars. As we glimpse in the game's downloadable demo, the "Heisman Challenge" mode repackages the existing "Road to Glory" mode into a flagship addition to the game.

By co-opting recent Heisman winners like Robert Griffin, III and legends like Desmond Howard "NCAA" is geared toward a single-player experience that follows the journey on the path to stardom.

While there's certainly more to the game that what is available in the demo, the ability to play three games with six different teams allows a sneak peek at what awaits gridiron gamers next month.

The biggest new tool you're given to achieve legendary status is the reaction time feature, borrowed from a concept of action shooters and rooted in the age-old sports cliche "when you're in the zone, everything just slows down."

At the pull of a trigger, you can tap into a rechargeable meter to bring the world around you to a halt, allowing you to assess the on-field chaos and react accordingly. It's a nice touch to a mode that's largely repetitive once you have played through a few games.

However, true college football fans might find "Heisman Challenge" mode's encouragement to play as college legends enrolled at historically incorrect schools disturbing. Sanders just doesn't look right in Oklahoma Sooner crimson.

When you get to the Xs and Os of the game (you know, the stuff that actually happens on the field), the experienced player will notice some meaningful changes. The most refreshing of these tweaks is that running the option is once again an option in this series.

For years the timing of option plays has been off, most likely for fear that users would exploit a too-easily executed option attack with an athletic quarterback. The "read option" play, which has become a pervasive staple of college football, was simply useless in last year's game. Now, the transition from passer to ball carrier is smooth, while still giving the defense time to react and make a competitive play.

One type of play call that hasn't benefited from any visible overhaul is the screen pass. Maybe it's because screen passes just aren't that effective in real life, but it seems like half of the playbook is taken up by screen plays that inevitably result in sacks, negative completions or pick-sixes.

The passing game has been improved a great deal, and every control feels a bit more responsive than it has in previous editions. Leading receivers to the right spot and throwing like a real college gunslinger is more accessible than ever before, and the defensive secondary also seems to react more appropriately.

The physical side to the game, notably rushing and tackling, feels a bit thinner than a football game should. The players don't move or collide like that have much weight to them, which like most college football these days, means that throwing the ball around the field is a lot more fun than pounding it on the ground.

Another feature that is noticeably different in "NCAA Football 13" is the lighting as games progress from one part of the day to the other. In the past, it seemed games often ended at dusk, no matter what time they started.

Once the matchup between LSU and Alabama reached the 4th quarter, it was unmistakably football under the lights in Baton Rouge. The change in atmosphere for a night game is palpable even when the sky isn't visible. The only complaint is that the players are a little dimly illuminated and don't stand out as much as they would on television.

Making an annually-released sports game is a bit like balancing the federal budget each year. Everywhere you give, you have to take away. Someone's bound to be upset.

The focus on this year's title is definitely on the first-person "Road to Glory" and "Heisman Challenge" modes, so if those aren't to your particular taste, it may be another year of slight improvements and persistent annoyances for "NCAA Football."

"NCAA Football 13" by EA Sports is available on all consoles July 10th.