NCAA Football 12

At The Top Of Its Game?
by Matthew Kato on Jul 08, 2011 at 04:25 AM
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Rating: Everyone
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Also on: Xbox 360

The year after a championship can be tricky. You may be the team to beat, but you still have a long road ahead of you as you try to recapture that magic. Last year, EA came out with a great college football product that captured the feeling of the sport. NCAA 12 builds upon NCAA 11 with a list of improvements, but how much better is it?

Going into this review, I was most interested in NCAA 12’s promise to fix the magnet tackles and catches from years past. For the most part, developer EA Tiburon succeeded, yet the game feels much like it always has. The new tackling button doesn’t create unrealistic whiffs, nor does the catch button facilitate unbelievable grabs. You won’t see wide receivers slide across the field towards the ball or tackle animations engage too soon. True multi-defender gang tackles don’t occur, either, although they look better than they did last year because multiple defenders can throw their weight around to change the trajectory of the runner.

The franchise’s improvements, however, are balanced by an ongoing problem – the AI’s lack of ball awareness. While I’m glad that receivers don’t magically shoot forward to make catches, there are times when the opposite happens – the ball sails by them and they don’t even put their hands up to catch it. The AI’s ball awareness improves as you move away from the default difficulty, but even then you’ll see the occasional defender letting the ball carrier run by without attempting a tackle or an AI QB make some glaringly bad throwing choices. At least defenders are more aggressive, moving fluidly in their zones, jumping passes, and providing tighter coverage in general.

NCAA’s gameplay wrestles with the constant process of improving the past, and I think Dynasty Mode’s new Coaching Carousel reveals a need to update the series’ recruiting component. The Coaching Carousel lists goal-based expectations that influence your coaching prestige and keep you gainfully employed. This provides more structure to Dynasty mode, but it didn’t change how I went about my business. Recruiting was renovated just last year, but I wish the points you get for talking to recruits were more spread out and distinct (right now you can get a similar amount of points for seemingly disparate answers) and that recruiting encompassed the physical and mental traits of players instead of just discovering whether they like the campus weight room. Improving recruiting could take the coaching experience to the next level.

Road to Glory’s additions are more numerous than the Dynasty changes, but stop short of being a full overhaul. Earning coach’s trust through your play and working your way up the depth chart isn’t hard, and I have mixed feelings about the mode. It’s fun to upgrade your player and unlock the ability to call audibles, but that’s all stuff that I wish I had from the beginning.

NCAA 12 is better than NCAA 11, and yet I feel like we’ve come to the point in the series’ lifecycle where the changes – while all worthwhile – are getting harder to notice. Perhaps that’s because of all the hard work has already been done. Consider the game’s online dynasties, which are already full-featured enough that one of its main new additions – being able to sim ahead a week from your computer – is an optional pay-to-play feature. When things are going this good, it seems insane to ask for an overhaul of some core features like recruiting. But as they always say in football, you’ve got to fight for every yard.

NCAA Football 12 cover
NCAA Football 12

NCAA 12 builds
upon NCAA 11 with a list of improvements, but how much better is it?

Game Informer's Review System
Concept NCAA bolsters its game by giving Dynasty and Road to Glory modes a backbone by making coaches more prominent in both
Graphics The new lighting system is noticeable while you’re playing as well as in replays. The 3D grass, however, is largely irrelevant
Sound It sounds weird, but I miss third booth man Lee Corso. The booth sounds dull with just Kirk Herbstreit and Brad Nessler, and there are still comments that seem out of place
Playability The improved tackling and catches fix those legacy issues, but the game doesn’t feel dramatically different
Entertainment Despite the variety of improvements, the most exciting new feature is the ability to create custom conferences and mess around with the BCS bowl tie-ins
Replay High