Publisher: EA Sports / Developer: EA Tiburon / ESRB: Everyone [No Descriptors] / Played On: Xbox 360, PS3 / Price: $59.99
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College football…what’s it all about? Tradition, pageantry, fan enthusiasm that generates a completely different atmosphere and sets it apart from its professional counterpart. While the NFL players and owners threaten to lock fans out of their stadiums this fall, the college game will continue in all of its Saturday afternoon glory. The marching bands will play, the student sections will cheer wildly, and the mascots will lead the home town school into battle. These are the elements of college football that EA Sports has strived to include in its NCAA series for many years now, and NCAA 12 delivers more than any of its predecessors on the current consoles.
Packed to the nose-bleed seats with feature set after feature set, the makers of NCAA 12 built upon last year’s game in several key areas. A new “Coaching Carousel” in Dynasty mode better reflects what being a college coach is all about. The Road to Glory career mode has received a facelift as well, ditching Erin Andrews and going with more immersive in-game presentation and player choices. The gameplay has been tweaked and refined to allow for more responsive player controls. The presentation has been beefed up as well, sporting over 35 new authentic team entrances. Despite some minor setbacks, NCAA 12 takes a step forward in several categories.
NCAA 12 does a good job in differentiating itself from the Madden series by including even more school specific team entrances and Game Day routines than previous years. If you play with the Colorado Buffaloes, Ralphie (the team’s enormous mascot) and his handlers will charge onto the field. Many of the nation’s top programs get the same treatment with their game day rituals. This year also sees further integration of ESPN College Football broadcast elements into the game play. The end of each quarter includes a television-style wrap-up of highlights just as you see every Saturday. When you start up the second half of play, you will be presented with “Game Tracks” a new presentation element that highlights a key player or theme of the first half.
When playing the Road to Glory mode you will also notice that the dev team has spent time finding ways to showcase your future All-American player in more significant ways. You are now presented with in-game stats after each play so you know exactly how well or poorly you are performing. The highlight packages that accompany each big play in your career are fun to watch, and really make the mode very rewarding.
NCAA 12 does not play entirely different than NCAA 11 in terms of on-field action. What has changed is very subtle but gives an overall more responsive feel to your players while you control them. There are many new animations, from tackling to stumbling, and everything in between. The tackling system has been given an overhaul, and in general you should not see players “warping” into unrealistic tackles this year. Wide receivers and running backs realistically catch the ball near the sidelines and turn up field sharply instead of running straight out of bounds, which is a major improvement from years past. Overall you feel more in control of your player this year. It is easier to develop a competitive running game, especially busting up the middle. Defensive lineman are able to get separation from their blocks and actually get a pass rush and pressure in the quarterback’s face.
Dynasty Mode gets a new coat of paint with the addition of the Coaching Carousel. Essentially you get to control the fate of your coach through choosing to either start as an offensive or defensive coordinator or head coach. It is entirely up to you whether you want to work your way up the ladder from coordinator at a small school all the way to your dream job at Notre Dame, or you can just choose to be head coach at your favorite football factory program right out of the gate. At the end of each season you can check for open positions elsewhere. You can also create custom conferences for the first time in this year’s game. Maybe you don’t like the idea of Nebraska joining the Big Ten? Well then you can move them right back out and create your own super conference.
Road to Glory mode also gets some love this year. Gone are the weekly updates from host Erin Andrews, and taking her place is a new system of goal-oriented challenges that will consume your time on the practice field. You not only have to earn the starting spot at your position, you must also defend by winning position battles during practice. You need to gain your coach’s trust this year if you wish to become a star player. You can unlock new responsibilities for your player such as the ability to call audibles or even call the plays from the huddle as you gain trust from the coaching staff. Player Progression is more clearly controlled this year by purchasing boost packs from the experience points earned both in practice and in games. Perhaps the best addition to Road to Glory mode is the full senior season of high school leading up to your college decision, and the ability to play Iron Man football and play a position on both offense and defense while in High School. Players will be recruited from schools based on performance at each individual position. Maybe you are a lousy running back, but are quite good at stopping the run from the cornerback position. You will be able to choose from scholarship offers based on your play at both positions.
Some gameplay elements could still use a little work. Computer controlled quarterbacks will often stand in open space searching for receivers when they should clearly be scrambling up field to gain yardage. One of the highly touted feature sets this year was the ability to make custom playbooks. However this feature has seen some problems in implementation since the launch of the game, which hopefully will be able to be fixed server side. Basically if you choose to use your created playbook in a game, you run the risk of having none of those hand-picked plays show up on the play call screen. All I have to say is good luck playing a game when you don’t have the ability to call plays. Super Sim is a nice feature in theory to speed up your game; however it skews time of possession stats in favor of the user as AI-simmed drives take an unrealistically low amount of time off the game clock.
In many ways NCAA 12 takes a big step forward in the graphics department. A new lighting system gives the players a whole new level of detail. The addition of 3D grass (at least in replays and close ups) gives a further feel of realism. Where the game takes a hit graphically is in the form of very flat, pixelated crowds, especially in the Road to Glory mode. Also, some team emblems on field can look jagged. Overall the game looks stunning, as real a representation of the college game that we have seen to date.
Online play in NCAA 12 has its ups and downs. While a great idea in theory and potentially very fun with a group of friends, Online Dynasty mode has some problems right out of the gate this season. Advancing a week in your online dynasty now requires that you wait in a queue with other online users, sometimes in the neighborhood of 15 minutes to half an hour. This is a bit long for the league commissioner to have to wait, and may be relieved by doing the same process from the internet on a computer when available. A plus side is the ability to use created teams via Team Builder in online matches this season. Now you can go show off your favorite crazy team design to the world.
NCAA 12 has some flaws; however it is the best version of college football on the current consoles to date. We have reached a point where EA has further differentiated its college offering from its NFL counterpart by utilizing unique presentation elements such as custom team entrances and traditions unique to the college game. The robust feature sets and game modes help the replay value of this title as the season wears on. Look for NCAA 12 to give hardcore fans a good long run into BCS bowl contention this season.