'NCAA Football 13' passes with flying colors

'NCAA Football 13' passes with flying colors
"NCAA Football 13" looks and feels remarkably close to what you would really see if you flipped on ESPN on a Saturday afternoon. (EA Sports)

"NCAA Football 13"
EA Sports
Xbox 360/PS3
Score: 3 out of 4

In its 20th year of making college football games, EA Sports enters "NCAA Football 13" as the strongest version of the game in the 360/PS3 era. It's not perfect and it's not revolutionary, but almost every change made from "NCAA Football 12" was meaningful and positive.

On the turf, the most noticeable upgrade comes in the form of a re-tuned passing game. The spread and shotgun formations' dominance over college football is now a palpable experience in "NCAA Football 13."

Quarterbacks drop back more realistically, and the player has an enhanced ability to control the touch and direction of the ball like never before. The fact that the average "NCAA" player is going to spend so much time passing makes this addition a crucial part of the experience.

Possibly the most dramatic improvement in "NCAA 13" is in the area of dynasty mode recruiting. With thousands of web sites and message boards dedicated to the annual process, college football recruiting is basically its own subsport.

For the past few seasons "NCAA" has tinkered with rather than overhaul the mode, leading to a repetitive and formulaic process. Now, dynamic pitches, the ability to scout high school players and the addition of true sleepers and busts to the recruiting pool makes recruiting as exciting as the on-field action.

As always, EA has taken great care to please as many of college football's unique and rabid fan bases as possible. Gameday traditions, mascots, chants, stadiums and uniforms are crisply rendered with a passionate level of detail. Ramping up their partnership with ESPN, EA Sports has made playing the game feel visually analogous to watching a real game on your television.

In a period of breaking news and flux surrounding college football's impending playoff system, EA wisely diverted attention to the race for the Heisman Trophy instead of the national championship. By featuring legends like Barry Sanders, Doug Flutie and Charlie Ward in the new "Heisman Challenge" mode, EA has added a level of replay value and longevity to the game with a unique mode featuring (for the first time) real, licensed players.

There are, however, pieces of the game that keep it from being a Heisman-worthy experience. In order to make player movement in the foreground seem more realistic, EA added a motion blur effect, with mixed results.

By now, we're used to watching college football in crystal clear high definition with quick camera cuts that keep pace with the action. While occasionally things move too fast for the lens, it's a rare occurrence in real life. In the game, however, anything that moves above a snail's pace seems to trigger the effect. It's hard to ignore, and takes away from the crisply rendered player models.

A couple other new additions seem not quite ready for prime time, namely the inclusion of ESPN's Rece Davis, who will break into your game periodically to update you about what's going on around the rest of college football. The interruptions happen at a rate that seems a lot higher than a real broadcast, and Davis (who is an excellent broadcaster in real life) delivers awkward, stunted dialogue reminiscent of the previous console generation.

College football is a vast and nuanced thing to recreate, so there will always be little things for fans to niggle over. For example, the ability to export draft classes to "Madden 13" is no longer in the game and a new FBS school, South Alabama, was inadvertently omitted from the game entirely.

"NCAA Football 13" literally has no competition, as it's the only licensed college football game still being made. Despite the lack of opposition, it continues to evolve in a way that stays true to the unique spirit of the sport, making it simply the best and most complete football experience on the modern console.

Nitpicks aside, "NCAA Football 13" is in the top tier of football games in its generation.