On the heels of the OS College Hoops 2K12 mock review, comes a review for the series that tried to compete with the College Hoops series.
Even with NBA Elite 11 being scrapped in 2010 following EA abandoning NCAA Basketball 10 in 2009, fans can all agree that gamers need a college basketball game. With EA owning the rights for now, what if EA was releasing NCAA Basketball 12? Here’s what the OS review might look like…
Revamped Dynasty Mode
NCAA Basketball 12 has arrived and with it comes a new and improved dynasty mode. Similar -- in fact almost identical -- to NCAA Football 12's Dynasty Mode, EA has finally given us a competent NCAA Basketball career mode. NCAA Basketball has taken almost everything that was added in NCAA Football 12's mode and made incremental improvements geared towards the college basketball experience.
(It appears that the issue with re-naming players resulting in reversed player types has been corrected in NCAA Basketball '12.)
EA has included four player types this year: 'Floor General,' 'Scorer,' 'Slasher' and 'Big Man'. It's a long overdue, but a welcome addition to the NCAA Basketball series. I'd love to see this feature blown out next year to include roles like '3-PT Specialist,' 'Defensive Specialist,' '6th man,' 'Shot Blocker' and 'Hustle Player.' The addition of player roles makes the on-court game feel unique depending on the team make-up. Teams with a great point guard with the Floor General trait will be much tougher than teams who lack a quality point guard. This is a good thing, and it's another step towards mimicking real college basketball. The player names are obviously not able to be used, but the traits have been assigned reasonably well for the players you would expect to have them and can be edited.
The revamped dynasty mode includes the ability to completely customize conferences at the start of every season. You will be able to create super conferences of up to 16 teams to mimic the crazy world of real college athletics if you so desire. The same limitations found in NCAA Football are found here, likely because of licensing issues. This is a first for a college hoops title however, and EA should be applauded for adding it to NCAA Basketball 12.
Coaching Carousel has made it's way over to EA's college hoops title this year. It's been tweaked for college basketball, which sees slightly less yearly turnover than college football. Just like NCAA Football 12, you can either create a coach, or assume the role of an existing coach in the game. You are limited to creating a head coach as opposed to starting as a coordinator in NCAA Football. This makes sense within the framework of college basketball, but it would have been nice to be able to start as an assistant coach. You decide what coach prestige you will start with, between one and five stars. The prestige level you choose will determine the initial list of teams offering you a job. This is a pretty cool option for those wanting to work their way up from any small school to a larger, more prestigious school. Of course you can still start out with a powerhouse programs like UNC or Ohio State.
As the new head coach, you can choose from a list of eight different offensive playbooks and four different defensive sets. The offensive playbooks range from the Princeton offense to a traditional flex offense. The defensive sets include man-to-man, zone defense, half-court trap and full-court press.
You can still call any defensive set in-game, but the defensive playbook you choose will give your players a boost when using those sets. The offensive playcalling is handled as it was in NBA Live 10, with the bumper and face buttons (which is a huge plus).
Your coach is evaluated after every four games, and after each season, based on a list of goals set by your school's Athletic Director. These in-season goals range from beating hated rivals to scoring a certain number of points or limiting your opponent to a certain point total. The goals are weighted differently, so just because you didn't get those 90 points against USC-Upstate, it doesn't knock you too hard. Much like real college basketball, the two biggest overarching goals you need to meet are winning yourv conference tourney and making the NCAA Tournament. The bigger schools come with higher expectations, such as making the big dance as a No. 1 seed.
A job security meter has been implemented into a separate menu screen in Dynasty mode. From this menu, you can check in and see how your coach is doing, and look at other coaches throughout the NCAA that may be on the hot seat. The addition of Coaching Carousel to NCAA Basketball 12 breathes new life into what was a bland mode in the last iteration. Coaching Carousel also has full stat tracking for your head coach and tracks school records and achievements every year and over the course of your dynasty.
Recruiting is another area that has seen major improvement over past efforts. NCAA Basketball incorporates the NCAA Football recruiting system, even using the same layout with only color changesto the menus. Instead of 35 players in NCAA Football, you are limited to recruiting 12 players maximum. You can sell or downplay coaching and school pitches, schedule school visits and offer scholarships. It all works quite nicely.
Unfortunately some legacy issues from NCAA Football do rear their ugly head here. Teams with two quality point guards still add another four or five star point guard instead of targeting that three star center. Overall though, the balance is pretty good and teams who recruit more guards are intelligent enough to sometimes use a three guard lineup if they are thin up front and vice-versa. You'll still occasionally see some head scratching line-ups out there, but it's not nearly as often as in past iterations.
Dynasty Mode – Logic and Dynasty Presentation
NCAA Basketball 12 does a competent job with Top 25 rankings, RPI and Tournament seeding. RPI logic seems well calculated; the Top 25 teams make sense as you progress through the season; and tournament selections are mostly solid. All of this is wrapped in a slick, ESPN style presentation on game day that mimics the graphics and audio that we see on the ESPN family of networks.
Tournament upsets seem a little bit on the high side, but with Butler making the national title game two years in a row and George Mason's improbable run a few years ago, it's not as jarring as it sounds. In several simulations I ran, I never saw a No. 16 seed upset a No. 1 seed, and only saw a No. 2 seed beaten by a No. 15 seed once. The upsets that are much more common are No. 13 over No. 4, No. 12 over No. 5 and No. 9 over No. 8. All in all I'm pretty pleased with how the logic works in NCAA Basketball 12.
NCAA Basketball 12's dynasty menus have been set up almost exactly like NCAA Football 12's menus. (I know I keep saying this, but it's the best way to explain it.) There is one cool addition and it's a new ESPN page. This page looks exactly like the College Basketball page on ESPN.com, and it shows game scores and box scores exactly like the web page. I was very impressed to see this considering the rest of the menu system is seemingly ported straight from NCAA Football. Even with the ESPN page, menu design and all of the dynasty features feel too familiar. More importantly -- they work.
Dynasty mode uses the familiar super-sim for those who want to simulate a game at various speeds and see a very basic graphic representation of what's happening. Also worth mentioning, NCAA Basketball 12 includes authentic dynasty schedules.
NCAA Basketball 12 takes a huge step this year by adding Online Dynasty Mode. You can have up to 12 players in an online dynasty. All of the functionality from NCAA Football's online dynasty mode is here including web based recruiting and a dedicated web site. A robust online dynasty mode is long overdue in a college basketball game and I have to give EA kudos for including it in it's first college basketball game in two years. EA's servers are usually reliable and the transfer failed issues from NCAA Football are said to be resolved.
Online Dynasty allows you to choose from any conference in Division 1 college basketball. It also allows for custom conferences so that you and your friends can put together your own conference.
Online Dynasty allows players to use custom rosters, just like College Hoops 2K12. Unfortunately, EA's solution to roster sharing isn't nearly as elegant. In a puzzling decision, EA decided not to use the roster share feature from NCAA Football and instead utilize the antiquated EA Locker feature found in NBA Live 10. Also scuttled is the “Dynamic Updates” idea that NCAA Basketball 10 attempted.
Legend of the Hardwood
Also new to the NCAA Basketball series is a dedicated single player career mode called Legend of the Hardwood. This is essentially Rode to Glory wrapped in a college basketball skin. It isn't quite as deep as Road to Glory, but it's a solid effort. That said, the mode is well-done and really adds to the overall package.
You start your career as a senior in high school playing the final ten games of your team's schedule and then the playoffs. You can rename and change the difficulty of the opponents on your schedule and you can also name your team and choose team colors. Without a Teambuilder for NCAA Basketball 12 you can't import teams into this mode. Hopefully Teambuilder makes it into the next college basketball game.
Taking a page from NCAA Football 12's RTG mode, you must earn the trust of your coach in order to call plays or call for the ball, and you upgrade your player's attributes by spending experience points earned during practice and games. After your high school career is over, depending on how well your college career went, you will get scholarship offers from different programs. One gripe I have with this mode is that your recruiting caliber is based entirely too much on scoring. If you want to be a pass first point
guard or a rebounding, shot blocking center, you won't be nearly as highly rated out of high school.
NCAA Basketball 12 uses the NBA Live 10 engine for it's gameplay and I think it was the right decision. The on-court experience does not feel as polished as NBA 2K, but it really isn't fair to compare the two. This is the best playing NCAA Basketball title that EA has released on next-generation consoles.
The tempo of NBA Live 10's engine feels right at home in a college basketball game. You can still branch out of animations into new moves, allowing gamers to pull off creative dribbling moves to get defenders off balance. While college basketball is more of a team game than the NBA, the amount of dribbling control is more than welcome here.
Over-dribbling will often result in a turnover either via a trap or your player simply losing the handle. Dribbling in the paint with a big man is ill-advised and will usually end up in a fast break for your opponent. In NCAA Basketball 12 there are three different types of animation sets -- Guards, Forwards, and Big Men. Each set has a different speed, size, agility and lateral movement animations that differentiates the big men from the forwards and the forwards from the guards. There also seems to be several different shot animations which is nice.
The controls feel intuitive and natural with the dribbling moves on the left stick and the shooting using the B or circle button. A euro-hop move is mapped to the Y or triangle button, and the X or square button attempts steals and blocks on defense. It's essentially the same control setting as Live 10, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Driving the lane results in a lot of collisions in the paint just as it was in
Live 10. This results in plenty of free throws and also makes you really manage your bench and protect players from foul trouble. Floor spacing could still use some work and the rebounds sometimes look like they are sucked into a player's hands, but those are the only major complaints I have with the game on the court. The AI is adequate at running an offense and switching up it's defense if you are beating them up.
By tapping the left bumper or L2 you are able to initiate your team's playcalling using face buttons to highlight a player and then cycling through to select a play for him. In a really cool touch, NCAA Basketball 10 's motion offense system was brought over as well and can be initiated with the right bumper or R2 button for a more organic experience. Players make hard, clean cuts and it's really cool to see these plays when they work. The pick and roll still works beautifully like it did in Live 10. The game includes the same set of sliders that were in Live 10. That's a little disappointing, I was hoping they would add a few more ways to tweak the experience.
Full player editing (including class, height, weight, color, hair, animations and equipment) helps to ease the disappointment. This is a first in the NCAA Basketball series from EA.
Presentation and Graphics
Both the CBS and ESPN graphical overlays are back and still look great, They are updated to reflect each network's current broadcast package. This is easily the strongest aspect of presentation for NCAA Basketball 12. Many remember how well done these were in NCAA Basketball 10 with stat banners and information flashing in and out seamlessly.
The slick cutaways during stoppages in play are also back and well integrated. The game still "cuts to commercial" using either CBS' or ESPN's theme music while highlights are shown. Additions include
“gametrack” with Erin Andrews talking over clips of significant play.
The game still features the best use of licensed presentation in any sports game, and that makes Madden and NCAA's spotty presentation even more puzzling. Gus Johnson sounds much more natural here than in Madden. Johnson and EA have added a lot of commentary since NCAA Basketball 10 and it doesn't sound stitched together like the commentary in Madden either. Bill Raftery also returns to the booth for the CBS broadcasts. He isn't remarkable but doesn't detract from the audio presentation. The repetition found in NCAA Basketball 10 has been greatly reduced.
The new ESPN duo of Dan Schultz and Dick Vitale add enough original commentary that they don't repeat themselves as often as in the past, but sadly Dickie V is still irritating in video game form. I hope EA considers replacing the iconic Vitale for the next iteration with someone that speaks in something more than sound-bytes.
One area of disappointment is the basic selection show in Dynasty mode. I guess it's better than not having one, but what is here isn't particularly well done. The show is still hosted by Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery of CBS. EA has updated the look and the audio lines, but it still comes off “undercooked.”
EA has included a lot of the authentic arenas and the lighting looks great this year. Even the crowd is very reactive and loud this year. This should bode well for future EA Sports titles.
The player models are fairly well proportioned, with guards looking a little skinny and big men looking a bit overweight. It's definitely passable though and doesn't detract from the immersion. Player faces are still generic, but you can finally edit to your hearts content. Team jerseys are updated for the 2011-12 season, with EA promising updates to any jerseys that need updating this year through free DLC. This is an historic first for EA Sports and it will be interesting to see how much EA supports this feature. If EA is committed to
it, fans of NCAA Football will be drooling next year.
NCAA Basketball 12 is a sight for sore eyes for fans of college hoops, who finally have two really good choices again. The new Legend of the Hardwood mode should satisfy those looking for a career mode, while the totally revamped dynasty mode should satisfy the hardcore. Sure, it's a straight rip from NCAA Football 12, but we know it works and I think it was a better decision than starting from scratch and potentially introducing new bugs.
The new online dynasty mode also gives NCAA Basketball 12 a real sense of lasting appeal. It’s been a long time since gamers had a college basketball game, much less two games to choose from. Sports gaming fans, your cries have been heard! It's time to hit the floor and play some college hoops.