The Football Game With Multiple Personalities
NCAA Football 12 is a hard game to review. At its deepest level, when you are talking about nothing other than gameplay, you are basically playing the same NCAA Football game we have been playing for five years. However, when you look at the many modes the game has, as well as the updates to those modes, the game looks far more complex than it actually is. It’s basically an expansion pack that doesn’t expand on anything—an expanded feature set that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but gives it a shiny new coat of paint. If you are a college football fan, this is probably more than enough to warrant you buying the game. If you aren’t, you might want to give NCAA Football 12 a bit of a deeper look before sinking your cash into it.
The first thing you’ll notice about NCAA Football 12 is that it’s basically NCAA Football 11. The game engine hasn’t changed, and aside from a couple graphical updates, you aren’t getting much more from the experience. You struggle against the same graphical glitches, awkward running controls, and strange quirks of ball physics that have plagued the NCAA football franchise from the beginning.
That’s not to say the game lacks polish, however. EA has spent a ludicrous amount of time on the little details, and that makes the game genuine. They have a more realistic lighting engine that better recreates the stadium feel. The grass is now 3D, and does cool stuff like peek through light coverings of snow. Every team has totally authentic intros, traditions, and rituals that the players go through before every game. Even the stains on players’ jerseys have been reworked to look more realistic.
They’ve also added a whole bunch of in-game animations that make the game feel more real. I can’t even count how many new tackle animations there are, and teammates join in on the tackles in a very organic way. They’ve also added new coach interactions on the sidelines, new victory dances, and much more. It’s like NCAA Football is finally getting the same treatment that Madden has been getting for several years now, and it’s about time.
NCAA Football at time feels more like a sim game than a sports game. It gives you ultimate control over every aspect of college football, right down to building your own custom conferences. You can choose everything from when and where the conference plays, to what teams are in the conference, to what bowls the teams play for, and much more. You can either keep your game current with actual developments in college football, or make the craziest made-up conferences you like. It’s like fantasy football taken to another level.
EA has gone to great lengths to make NCAA Football 12 very customizable. Not only did they dig deep into NCAA history by adding very obscure teams’ multiple uniforms, they also let us customize how these teams play. EA finally listened to fans and gave us customizable playbooks. You can have fifteen offensive and fifteen defensive playbooks tailored specifically to the strengths of whatever team you are playing. It makes every team feel like your team rather than just a pre-programmed team hard-coded into the game.
The custom playbook system is a great idea, but it’s kind of hard for newbies to get into. The system is built for people who already know the game, but not even veterans will find changing playbooks all that easy. You can’t clear all your plays from a book at the same time if some of them have audibles attached, and you can’t just clear your audibles either, you have to switch them to another play. So in the end, setting up a playbook is almost like managing your inventory in a poorly designed action game. For the record, there isn’t any good way to search for the exact play you want to include in a playbook either. A useful filter function would go a long way toward making this more fun and accessible.
It’s a shame that custom playbooks aren’t better implemented considering some of the game’s main modes focus on them so much. The new Coach Mode allows you to control pretty much everything up until the ball is snapped, where the computer then takes over and does its best. This was supposed to simulate what being a coach is like—or perhaps appeal to people who like turn based strategy games—but in execution it gets kind of boring. You’re basically electing to let the computer play your game for you, and if it screws up there’s nothing you can really do about it.
Then there’s the Dynasty Mode’s new Coaching Carousel, which is supposed to simulate what a real coach’s career is like. You even get to customize everything about your coach right down to his appearance. You start out at the bottom, taking whatever job is offered, and then work your way up the ranks by clearing micro-goals. The game may ask you to beat a rival, win a bowl game, or even something as simple as gaining a certain amount of yards on offense. Complete your goals and your coach will gain status, eventually finding better job offers. Don’t complete them and you may find yourself unemployed.
Dynasty mode is pretty fun, but there’s a bit of an issue with the job system. You don’t always get to be the head coach at your place of employment. Instead, you may find yourself employed as an offensive of defensive coordinator, and these positions only get to play half of the game. It’s insanely frustrating when you explode out the gate with an amazing offense only to have your computer-controlled defensive coordinator screw up the whole game for you.
Then there’s the Road to Glory mode, which my favorite mode in the game because it centers on a character and a narrative. In Road to Glory, you are basically re-living the life of a football player from his humble beginnings in high school to becoming a college ball star. First, you get to re-create your entire senior year of high school, right down to what teams you play and the uniforms they wear. You will play both offense and defense, and when you finally graduate, you’ll have a number of schools to choose from, each with different offers depending on how you did in your high school season.
Once you get to college, it’s all about earning the coach’s trust. If you screw up a lot, don’t think you’ll see field time very often. However, if you do great in both your games and in practice sessions, your coach will trust you more. Not only will you be able to show your stuff on the field, you’ll eventually be able to call your own plays as well. You’ll also earn XP, which you will spend on boosts to your attributes, making you a better player overall.
Still, despite the narrative and strategy in Road to Glory, I found it hard to care about NCAA Football 12. Since the core gameplay is the same game we have seen for years in the past, the routine gets boring, and since all the improvements in the game basically force you to play the game longer, boredom sets in very quickly. Sure, it’s the summer and our release calendar is pretty dry, but I can think of better things to do than play the same football game over and over and over again while I watch my player’s or coach’s stats go up.
But, honestly, if you are a football fan, the simulation experience is second to none. Not only is NCAA Football 12 way better than its predecessor, it has more options than any college football game that came before it. In the end, if you are looking to re-live the college glory days, then this is the game for you. There are tons of great ideas here, they just need to be better implemented. So, in a way, you can say that it can only get better from here.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
New lighting engine, new 3D grass, customizable high school jerseys, and more end zone dances. What more do you want? 3.5 Control
It’s basically the same engine we played in NCAA Football 11. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Kirk Herbstreit, Brad Nessler, and Erin Andrews return, and they sound as great as they ever did. 3.9 Play Value
You may have to be a football fanatic to like this game, but if you are you will love it. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best