Robert Griffin III may be the cover athlete for NCAA Football 13 but the former Baylor quarterback is not an optimal superstar headlining the game's demo, which released last week. He's skilled enough, but the new "Reaction Time" — the signal feature of NCAA 13's Heisman and Road to Glory modes — is really showcased when you're running the ball, not throwing it.
To recap, "Reaction Time" is a bullet-time modifier, activated with the left trigger, and it will be introduced only in the single-player career modes for NCAA 13 — that means the traditional Road to Glory created-player career, and the new Heisman mode, in which you may take a real-life college great and play him for a single season at any school.
In a spread offence, a player like Griffin should be deadly, but the brake on his speed and versatility — magnified by Reaction Time — is the lack of a tuck-and-run command when the quarterback is behind the line of scrimmage. Quarterbacks become full-strength ball carriers when they're past the line of scrimmage, or — theoretically — if all of the receivers are covered, theoretically, your quarterback will start to scramble, but I didn't get into enough instances to confirm if this actually was happening. It also removes the threat of calling a deep pass from a shotgun formation and just deciding to bust it open from the snap, which could have game-breaking balance issues when bullet time comes into play.
So while NCAA 13 gives us an unusual look at two different game modes in a free demo, allowing you to play on or as one of six teams (the file is just shy of 2 GB on the Xbox 360) it doesn't really showcase the most visceral gameplay feature of the new Heisman mode. New sack-dodging commands, mapped to the right stick, make a moot point of slowing down time when your quarterback is set up in the pocket. I suppose you can see the field and the defence more clearly in Reaction Time (the camera does zoom in over your player's shoulder, though) but I still threw five interceptions with Griffin — on Oregon — against USC. The verdict, even after several games in the demo, is pretty clear — Reaction Time is primarily a running back's tool.
That's the situation in which I used Reaction Time when I first saw it back in April at EA Sports, using Eddie George (playing for N.C. State, of course). There, commands for jukes and tight cuts and throwing stiffarms become more deliberate and functional. Reaction Time caps out at 15 seconds and is tied to a player's awareness — in Heisman mode, you can expect to have a 15 second reservoir from the start. It will be depleted as you use it, and refilled based on the success of the play.
I got the feeling I could have used Reaction Time on every play with Griffin, though its net effect would be to slow down plays more than it would give me spectacular execution within them.
The real selling point of the demo comes when you play one of three matchups in a simulated Dynasty week. Here you can play an early east coast start, a late afternoon game, or a prime-time nightcap, and catch the studio update audio that ESPN's Rece Davis will provide, up to 10 times in a game. This delivered as advertised. Changes of possession brought in results from around the nation in games that had finished before my LSU-Alabama tilt. There was no halftime studio update, but I was told that was removed from the demo because of file-size restrictions. You'll get one in NCAA 13.
As the game wore on and late scores rolled in, Davis' audio became briefer, especially if the matchup didn't involve recognisable conference rivals. I should say that all of the scores you encounter in the demo will be the same: State beats Virginia 48-28 every time; likewise, Texas beats Texas Tech 34-32 and Stanford beats Colorado 28-21. It won't be that way in the full game — they had to strip out the simulation logic for, again, file size restrictions. Davis' situational audio was reasonably strong, but there was some disconnect — such as in the Stanford-Colorado result. Davis one time told me the Cardinal left the Buffaloes "no breathing room whatsoever," a curious description for a game decided by a touchdown at the end.
The gameplay played mostly true to what I was shown down in Florida. Though I didn't see a lot of the CPU-controlled dropbacks, I was running a spread offence most of the time, which doesn't have a lot of 5- or 7-step drops. Still, screen passes didn't seem to have the kind of quarterback drift that really sucks in the pass rush before dumping it off. So be prepared to get rid of it fast.
Based on the demo, NCAA 13 plays a lot like its predecessor, while teasing you with the chance to play as a named college great, with a funky new gridiron superpower. The presentational support, if you look for it, is the true distinction. In simulating several games, I paused to the menu and watched the score crawl around the regions, the same way I do when a live game is on. I noted Florida going up 14-7 on Missouri in those two school's first-ever conference matchup. This will provide much needed atmosphere and context to the story of the season you create in your new Dynasty mode.
But if you want to go balling out of control in Heisman Mode, with Reaction Time, my suggestion is to skip Andre Ware, Doug Flutie or Charlie Ward, and go straight for Barry Sanders, Eddie George or Archie Griffin.