The field is painted, the uniforms are clean, and the ball is on the tee. Football is back! Millions of fans are ready to make some noise and cheer their teams to victory every weekend, and millions more are taking control of their clubs in a different arena. For gamers, that means hitting the Xbox and PlayStation to go at it in Madden NFL 13 and NCAA Football 13. But which game reigns supreme as this year's definitive pigskin experience? Let's break them down in a few important categories:
Visuals - EDGE : MADDEN
The NCAA series got a boost last year with dynamic lighting that added impressive shadows and changes to the sun's position throughout the game, but the basic engine is no match for Madden 13. Madden's new Infinity engine looks amazing during gameplay, albeit a bit iffy during post-play cut-scenes and in some oddly-chosen replays of three-yard rushes. Players will also comically topple over at the slightest push. The graphics often stand out, however, during super slo-mo replays of interceptions and leaping catches. The grass stains and even chalk stains on players are gorgeous. In a slight nod, this round goes to Madden.
Sound - EDGE : MADDEN
Kirk Herbstreit and Brad Nessler do a fine job calling games on Saturdays for ABC and ESPN. Sadly, their NCAA performance is dated and generic at times. This is no fault of their own, rather a problem that arises when NCAA players' names aren't built into the game. Instead of talking about the fantastic career of USC quarterback Matt Barkley, for instance, they spout generic lines about how "this kid" is a Heisman contender, or "he's" had a great season. Additionally, many NCAA team fight songs are absent from the game, which strikes a blow to authenticity. In Madden, the new announcing duo of Phil Simms and Jim Nantz flow seamlessly together, and offer detailed commentary that really feels like a Sunday broadcast. They go in-depth with the NFL's stars. Aside from minor quips such as Nantz describing every Buccaneers kickoff return as the start of the game, the pair easily outshines their NCAA counterparts.
Accessibility - EDGE : NCAA
If you just want to pick up the controller and play a couple games, NCAA is your pick. The menus are easy to understand, the Dynasty and Campus Legend modes are largely unchanged, which to veterans is disappointing. But to newcomers, they are easy enough to figure out. Additionally, it's easier to get your feet wet with a couple exhibitions than it is in Madden. Pit LSU against Washington State, or Oregon vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (sorry, Ragin' Cajun fans) and you will get the hang of things in no time. Madden has a revolutionary career mode now dubbed "Connected Careers" that I'll discuss momentarily, but for now, all you need to know is that it is deep and can be confusing. The wealth of menus is often overwhelming, and the lack of true parity, while realistic, can be an obstacle for those who just want to figure things out. That being said...
Long term appeal - EDGE : MADDEN
Connected Careers Mode blows NCAA's Dynasty and Campus Legend out of the water. As mentioned, those NCAA offerings are stale and at this point, uninspired. Playing alone, or online in a league of up to 32, Madden fans can take control of a player or coach and build up their career with the goal of making the Hall of Fame. Once you get the hang of dishing out experience points, negotiating contracts, and scouting players, CCM could very well suck you in for months. In a brilliant move EA allows mixed leagues, meaning I could play the career of a quarterback, and my friends could be the coaches of the other teams. Couple that with a website that allows aspiring general managers to trade and progress their league while at work or when the console is occupied, and Connected Careers is the boost that hardcore Madden fans will love. Ultimate Team returns to Madden with minor improvements, so card collecting aficionados can build a team via virtual trading cards, then go at it online.
Customization - EDGE : NCAA
With the lack of a competing game in both the college and NFL markets, EA has an iron fist that rules the football gaming landscape. With 2K and other competitors out of the picture, it's their choice what you get to play if you want an up-to-date football experience. Madden offers very little in the way of customizable gameplay. The bizarre decision to eliminate Create-a-team this year, as well as dropping a fantasy draft at the start of CCM, will put off a small niche of fans. Madden does get a small check mark for allowing gamers to import a 3D rendering of their face from a website on to their player or coach in CCM. In NCAA, customization runs deep. From the online Teambuilder website, that allows you to create literally any team you can think of from the roster down to the pants stripes and logos, to the custom conferences in Dynasty that could send Georgia Tech to the PAC-12 and Utah to the SEC, the tools are there to make
NCAA whatever experience you like.
In a slight edge, the trophy goes to Madden this year. Hardcore fans will find all new challenges in Connected Careers, and the online play should keep gamers occupied for many months to come. NCAA is by no means a bad game, but it's beginning to show its age in several areas. Perhaps next year, NCAA will get a similar boost like the one CCM brings to Madden this year. In the meantime, though, Madden NFL 13 takes home the title of best football game available.