EA Sports has come a long way with NCAA Football franchise. And in recent years the development team has made major strides in creating an authentic college football experience that puts gamers right on the field at the top schools around the nation. It’s amazing seeing the evolution of not only NCAA Football but any sports title. Not much changes in sports but EA as of late has found interesting ways to improve their titles each year, giving gamers not only better-looking games, but gameplay that keeps gamers coming back for more. While NCAA Football 12 might not be a major step forward like we saw two years ago in NCAA Football 10, it’s still an amazing experience and has some great new visual additions, gameplay, and mode changes that many fans of the series will enjoy.
Let’s jump right onto the field and talk about the changes and new challenges you’ll be facing during your games. The magic sliding or “suction” that has been a part of all football games for years is gone. You’ll no longer see your receivers glide through the air to pass and no longer will defensive players make ridiculous-looking dive tackles. Now if you over-throw your receiver they will reach for it, but if it’s out of reach the ball will go sailing by. Same goes for under-throws, if you throw behind the receiver they might twist back for it but, again, mistimed throws will result in incompletes. So if you were, like myself, knowing you could throw the ball up and knew the catch would be made because of suction, you’ll be in for a rude awakening. You’ll need to be aware now of your timing and the routes your players are running. This not only adds to the challenge of the game and leads to some major nail biting, but when catches are made, they look amazing in the replays.
The tackling system has also been revamped and is another reason that the action on the field looks great. Tackling animations don’t begin until contact is made. And depending on the force of the contact and where it is made on the receiver, the animation will vary drastically. And when you have multiple defenders locked on you, the tackles are even more spectacular. Jumping up for the ball while getting your legs cut out from under you will cause you to go tumbling through the air. Or if a defender makes a high lunge, you both might go flipping over on the field. No longer do you get the same tackle over and over again. It’s really amazing seeing how speed, force and position cause tackles to change. The bottom line is the animations have never looked this smooth and really flow naturally.
Defensive coverage has also been tweaked. The defensive AI is much smarter this season. Secondary defenders will hand off receivers as they cross from zone to zone to defenders making smart swats for passes. I won’t lie; this new defensive AI is a bit difficult at first. And you’ll need to again improve your timing skills, as in years past, you wouldn’t have to worry about defenders underneath making moves for the ball. And while it might be a bit more challenging when on offensive, it’s a lot less frustrating now when on defense as players aren’t making silly coverage choices.
Those were the major on-field gameplay changes. The other changes on the field come in the graphics and sound departments. NCAA Football 12 sees the introduction of a new HDR lighting system which is just mind-blowing. If you thought the shadowing from last year was great, wait until you see how lighting changes throughout a game. The system really shines at night when there is a bit of a haze in the air. The next obvious graphical change is the 3D grass. While you don’t really notice it in the normal camera view, it really shows when watching the replays, especially when it’s snowing. For the most part he 3D grass is great, but its obvious that the entire field isn’t rendered the entire time, as there is a heavy blur applied 5-10 yards around the players. Also this year, we see field degradation. Depending on the field surface and weather you’ll see grass being worn down or even just torn up during the game. Coupled with the new 3D crowds and the various broadcast updates and all the new entrances and celebrations NCAA Football looks great, though I have a feeling that they are starting to hit the limits of what consoles can do. As I’ve mentioned, the 3D grass is only rendered out near the camera focus, and the players still look plasticy, and at times feel separated from the field they are playing on.
The sounds of the game have also been slightly tweaked and updated. I always thought NCAA Football sounded great and that the energy of the crowd really came to life during the heat of the game. But this year the team went out and recorded a full stadium, not just some people and then work some audio magic to make it sound like a 100,000 person stadium. On paper that seems minimal but if you crank up your surround sound system you’ll notice the difference.
The game modes we have enjoyed for years in NCAA Football all return and many have received some changes. For starters, the popular Dynasty mode now allows gamers to be offensive or defensive coordinators and then make their way to the head coach position. However the new coaching carousel starts off a bit unrealistic, as I was able to pick any coaching position including head coach without even having to make a name for myself as a coordinator. I think if they took a page out of Road to Glory and started you off as a head coach of a high school team and then you received coordinator offers, the mode would start off resembling real life much better. Once you sign your job, though, you are faced with different contract goals; if you complete them you might get an extension at the end of the year or even better job offers. The mode itself plays out similarly to last year’s, as you will need to recruit high schoolers and manage the team. However the recruiting doesn’t respect your coordinator position. Even as an offensive coordinator you need to handle the entire team’s recruiting.
The only time being a coordinator seems to make the game different is when you are on the field as you will only play as offense or defense, depending on your job. I think all aspects of team management should have been split depending on what type of coordinator you are. If you run the offense, then you should only have to handle offensive recruiting and offensive management. Those who are head coach would then have to juggle the entire team’s management. The coaching carousel is a nice addition and I think it’s a great first step and I can only imagine how the mode will evolve next season.
Road to Glory has received some tweaks. The biggest is how your High School senior year plays out. Unlike last year where you found yourself in the High School finals, this year you play out your entire senior year schedule. This not only adds to the mode’s play time but allows you to build your player over a season. Last year it was frustrating if your team lost in the first round of the finals as you then found yourself only getting offers from small schools. Once in college, the mode is relatively the same as years past. You run reps in practice, earn points,and try to score a spot on the starting roster. One nice addition which makes the mode more enjoyable is the ability to play as an Iron-man in high school and play on both sides of the ball, which I suggest you do as it makes the mode more interesting and gives you more options when picking which college to go to.
There are also some neat alternative ways to play NCAA Football 12. For instance you can play in coach mode and just call the plays. Or when you start up a career you can alter the conferences. Shrink or expand each conference, shake up which schools are n each conference, move the championship games to other locations, and even change game days. You can pretty much create your own NCAA.
NCAA Football 12 is a nice step forward for the series, not quite the giant leap we saw two years ago. But there are enough changes to warrant fans of the series to upgrade. The new gameplay mechanics on the field alone are worth the price. I’ve never been one to waste time on replays, but the new collision system and removal of the dreaded “suction” makes re-watching your big plays worthwhile. I like the new coaching carousel idea but I think it needs some refinement. I think it should start like Road to Glory as a high school coach, and the recruiting should be limited to the side of the ball you are coordinating. The changes made to Road to Glory are nice and make the High School part of the mode a lot more fun, the college part still gets a bit repetitive, but so is trying to make a team. Bottom line: the gang at EA Sports continue to push the franchise, and this year you get an a amazing college football experience.
A copy of NCAA Football 12 for Xbox 360 was provided to us for the review from EA Sports.