Last year, as he was waiting to film a promotional spot for Nissan, Eddie George, Ohio State's 1995 Heisman Trophy winner, chatted with Troy Smith, the Buckeyes' 2006 Heisman winner. You know the NCAA Football video game? George said to Smith. I create myself in that, and then I put myself on SMU.
Nissan and EA Sports have a relationship; the automaker pays for advertising placement in NCAA Football's broadcast presentation. Someone picked up the phone and called a number in Florida and told them what Eddie said. And that, more or less, is why the Heisman Challenge mode was created for NCAA Football 13.
"We thought, 'Why is Eddie George putting himself on SMU?'," Ben Haumiller, the game's producer, said. "But then we said, 'You know what, let's do something with this.'"
If Eddie George is reliving his Heisman career at another university, then, hell, maybe gamers would be interested in trying the same thing. Fleshed out and supported, of course, with a purposeful goal and some interesting, real players to choose from. Thus we have the one-season Heisman Challenge, a more compact career mode that also delivers the first really-real players to a college sports video game—something of a touchy subject in the past.
Cover co-stars Robert Griffin III and Barry Sanders, plus Andre Ware, Herschel Walker, Marcus Allen, Charlie Ward, Eddie George, Desmond Howard, Carson Palmer, and Doug Flutie are on the disc for NCAA 13's Heisman mode. Downloading the game's free demo will give you Jim Plunkett, Archie Griffin and Tim Brown. A preorder through GameStop adds in Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram, and Matt Leinart.
You may take over any of these players and send them to Houston (Griffin's original choice), or use Allen at Stanford and Plunkett at USC, or put them your favorite school as you try to match or better the milestones they set during their Heisman years. The ultimate goal, of course, is to win the Heisman, making this not necessarily an arcade mode but one that is definitely the most achievement-based feature the series has yet offered.
At key points during the season—your first game, a showdown with a rival, a potential national championship matchup—the mode will serve interstitial videos of the players describing what they were doing and felt at that point in their college careers.
George, for example, will talk about the decision process that led him to Ohio State—the decision he relives when he plays the video game. Others get very deep. Herschel Walker's thoughts about how he felt winning the Heisman Trophy are, in a way, rather dark. Archie Griffin, I'm told, broke down in his interview segment when asked to recall his moment at the Downtown Athletic Club. The sequence wasn't used in the game, but he does get very sentimental.
Signing up Griffin, actually, presented an interesting choice: He won the Heisman twice. The developers selected 1974, a statistically better year for him. They wanted to pose a serious challenge of meeting or exceeding your player's figures. André Ware, whose tenure at Houston defined Gunslinger U., will require an Inception-like video game recreation of a video-game performance in real life.
Heisman Challenge will sport "Reaction Time," a new gameplay feature that will also be found in "Road to Glory," the traditional singleplayer career in which Eddie George was going to SMU. Reaction Time which is basically a bullet-time slowdown of the action allowing you to see the entire field and assist you in making the correct split-second decision or step. "We wanted to tailor the experience so that you could feel dominant," Haumiller said.
You may be too dominant, however. Reaction Time is novel in that it actually gives meaning to the "Awareness" attribute of your player. The amount of time you have to spend in slowed-down Reaction Time corresponds to the awareness rating. In Road to Glory, you won't have much as a freshman, but you can replenish it by making good plays. In Heisman Challenge, you basically start with a full meter.
In my playthroughs, I was using Reaction Time on nearly every carry with Eddie George (playing for N.C. State, of course). I pointed out the potential for abuse, especially if it's abused in practice, where top-flight performance can lead to an upward spiral of attribute boosts and more reaction time, and the development team said they'd look back into how it was awarded.
But the message the Heisman Challenge sent to me was that this mode is where the outlandish Big-Man-on-Campus fantasy can be found. You'll begin with a fully-rated stud ready to go out and lay waste to the gridiron. And, if you win the Heisman Trophy with that player, he will be unlocked for use in Road to Glory, the full four-year career mode.
It's a variant of the traditional career, sure. But it's not too bad coming from a bull session during a car advertisement.