|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: EA Tiburon/EA Canada|
|Pub: EA Sports|
|Release: July 12, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
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.