NCAA Football 12 Review (Xbox 360)
Day One: Gameplay and Presentation Impressions
Day Two: Dynasty Mode and Road to Glory Impressions
Day Three: Online Impressions
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The NCAA Football series has long been thought of as a stepchild in today’s sports gaming landscape. Last year, NCAA 11 put the NCAA Football franchise back on the map with its revamped presentation, new locomotion engine, focus on team-specific playbooks and signature styles. NCAA 12 raises the bar yet again for the franchise, delivering the finest gameplay to be seen in an EA football title this console generation, while also providing an unforgettable college pigskin experience. It’s been a long time coming, but the team at Tiburon has finally released a game that can go toe to toe with its last-gen forefathers.
On the field, NCAA Football 12 does so much right that it is easy to overlook some of the nagging issues associated with the current gameplay engine. There is still some wonky line interaction, some defenders becoming stuck in their zone as a wide receiver blazes past them for an easy score, and there are even times where defenders will mirror offensive players (see: psychic defensive back), giving the impression that the CPU knew the play before the snap.
The above inadequacies are relatively easy to forgive as soon as you begin to realize just how much good the NCAA team was able to squeeze in on the gridiron this year. Be prepared for a more than competent CPU run game, mobile quarterbacks that will eat lazy defensive coordinators for lunch, the disappearance of robo QB, CPU defenders digging in and eliminating past money routes, and the revamped tackling and lack of suction makes for some impressive collisions.
The best part about NCAA 12 is that it has forced me to completely relearn how to play the series. Having played the series for so many years, it's sort of dawned on me recently that I had learned more about how to cheat the CPU AI yearly than actually play smart football. NCAA 12 rewards those who set up their plays, follow their blockers and make the right pre-snap reads. This is the most fun I have had with this series in years, and I did not realize until now how much I had been missing smart football gameplay.
Featuring authentic ESPN overlays and game lead-ins, a bevy of new cut scenes, tons of team-specific entrances, some stat overlays, gorgeous looking player models (at least in replays and screenshots) and lighting, NCAA 12 is no slouch in the presentation department. Sadly, the game's stale commentary does little to immerse gamers into the atmosphere fans see every Saturday, and it would still be great to see the developers take the ESPN integration to an even higher level.
The game's presentation elements are certainly not the best you will see in a sports game, but the addition of television-style replays, a wealth of jerseys and new player-equipment options are exactly the type of things the developers should be focusing on each year.
Online Dynasty is back this year with the addition of the extremely impressive Coaching Carousel. As if you didn’t already have enough reasons to play this mode with your buddies, the Carousel adds a level of depth that has been sorely missing from the series’ Dynasty mode since its leap to the current consoles. Prepare to use the game's Story Builder feature to rub everyone's nose in the fact that you scored the top head coaching job in the country.
The one glaring issue with Online Dynasty as of today is that the EA servers must be getting throttled by Online Dynasty users. So the solution seems to be to make people "take a number" when it comes to uploading the dynasty to the EA server. I have even seen some reports of folks waiting over an hour to upload their dynasty to the server. I'm willing to give EA the benefit of the doubt for now -- and it's not like you wait no matter when you upload the dynasty -- but peak hours have led to waiting lists so far, and no one likes waiting in a video game. We will check back in on this issue once the shock and awe of release week has dissipated.
Online gameplay is relatively lag free, and it is easy to jump into a match. As usual, the kick meter is just slightly delayed, but otherwise things felt fine. My biggest complaint with the online play is that for all the options EA seems to give users offline, it is a bit confusing why there is no ability to play with a custom game speed or slider set at this stage in the series. Also, take note that in head-to-head matchups defensive ends will shed quite a few tackles, which makes the option and sweep game difficult.
This also seems like as good a place as any to point out that some people are having issues with custom playbooks (in all modes). I have not run into this problem as of yet, but there is certainly evidence out there that the issue does exist. Essentially, sometimes the custom playbooks end up being no longer filled with your plays. From there, you sometimes go to the line of scrimmage and the players just stand around not knowing what to do. At that point, you have to call a timeout or take a penalty. It's obviously a big deal for those experiencing it, but it does not appear that it's easy to make the "bug" happen all the time. One has to hope the developers or the community can figure out what causes the issue and then fix it.
One final note is that the improved zone coverage, lack of suction and point of contact player animations have eliminated many of the old cheese plays that could be found in user versus user games. I still don’t know if I’m going to be spending the majority of my days playing ranked online games versus randoms, but I definitely will be testing the waters -- something I couldn’t say about past versions in the series.
The simulation stats in NCAA 12 seem to be some of the best around. I had trouble finding any simulated statistics that stood out as being blatantly inaccurate. Some folks have pointed out that you get dominated in time of possession when you're a coordinator, but that would be more an issue of SuperSim than the actual simulation engine. Plus, even if there is perhaps an issue with the time of possession, I did not have trouble moving up in the world as a coordinator. Fans of the series will be especially happy to know that mobile quarterbacks now put up realistic numbers, a perfect example being Michigan’s QB #16 rushing for over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. If the sim stats have one glaring weakness, it would be punt returns. I frequently noticed that only five to seven players returned a punt for a touchdown during a simulated year.
More exciting than the simulation stats is the amount of parity you will see on a yearly basis. Teams that you expect to be good will continue to be good -- unless the team is caught in an autographs for tattoos scandal -- with some smaller schools like UConn rising in power to play with the big boys on a yearly basis. Each team plays true to the play style of its coach, and watching teams adapt to a new offense -- as well as the player statistics that result from this change -- is a thing of beauty.
I have seen some community members arguing that there are too many good players at various points in a dynasty because of an overly friendly progression engine, but I don't really feel that way, and I never felt like my dynasty was hurt by any perceived progression problems. That being said, maybe it's time for a global ratings editor because this argument seems to arise every year. If there's a universal editor, everyone can keep the ratings for each position where they want them to be.
Either way, I feel like text-sim fans would find that NCAA 12’s dynasty statistics would be comparable to those found in a text sim, and the game couples those stats with a new coaching camera just for good measure.
As briefly mentioned in my online section, the Coaching Carousel is a phenomenal addition to the series. There is a certain sense of giddiness that can be experienced at the end of every season as you anxiously anticipate a new job offer. This addition alone will push many to play on in dynasties long after they would have shelved the game in the past.
Customization is also the key in Dynasty mode, which is always an awesome thing in sports games. Whether you are customizing conferences, your playbook, or player ratings, EA has given users complete control of how they want their dynasties to play out. All of these features have been a long time coming, and they are all executed extremely well.
Road to Glory’s ability to import Teambuilder schools allows for a euphoric return to the glory days of high school. The new RPG elements also add enough variety to hold interest levels. However, the on-field gameplay is more or less the same as it was in the past -- as someone who has played this mode to death over the years, the new additions only go so far. Thankfully, the imported high school teams are enough to keep me coming back again and again to the beginning portion of the mode.
A polished, tight playing, extremely deep and highly customizable NCAA Football experience has finally been released to the masses. Yes, the game absolutely has some rough edges, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Fans of the series rejoice, this is the NCAA Football game we’ve wanted for years, and most importantly, the NCAA Football game we deserve.
Learning Curve - The CPU will punish you should you decide to sleepwalk through your playcalling like in previous years. Get ready to read CPU schemes, prepare to use the game planning feature, and prepare to adjust on the fly if you hope to succeed.
Control Scheme - It is pretty much the same bread and butter scheme we have been using for years.
Visuals - This is a beautiful game in replays and screenshots. Player models, stadiums, equipment and jerseys all look great when combined with the new HDR lighting.
Audio - The weakest area of the game. Crowds sound asleep, and the announcers are horrible.
Value - The sheer amount of content EA was able to pack into this game is unbelievable. This is one of the most robust titles that money can buy.
Score: 8.5 (Great)