NCAA Football 12 Demo Impressions

Posted June 29th, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Judging from community reaction the demo for NCAA Football 12 has been received relatively well though it hasn’t seemed to inspire much excitement. From from a gameplay and presentation standpoint NCAA Football is maybe becoming all too familiar but the franchise still carries one of the strongest feature sets amongst all the yearly sports offerings which would seem to be enough to keep it on high ground.

At E3 it was the final version of NCAA Football 12 that EA Sports had stationed and after a limited time with it I walked away feeling satisfied by the product but having noted that the improvements were more subtle in nature than Madden NFL 12’s. Many have asked how the demo compares to the final version. It is a comparable experience so don’t go into the final expecting anything to be significantly different or you’ll be primed for disappointment.

The most notable enhancement comes from the new animation system that really opens up the field by eliminating at least a significant portion of the suction that has plagued the player interactions over the years. This is especially evident in the running game which feels fresh and explosive. Tackles can be broken realistically and momentum is much better represented as the ball carrier will often fall forward. The tackling in general just comes across so much better than ever before. Even in the trenches the reduced effect of suction pays dividends as lineman can get off blocks and various moves become more effective.

The CPU offense seems to have much more success on the ground – through the air less so – but in the open field they perform well. That excludes running out of the shotgun and the option which the CPU still struggles mightily with. One example I saw, when the CPU was practically under no pressure, involved a toss to the RB that hit his feet and resulted in a turnover. Playing against a CPU team that can’t run its unique offense can really sap enjoyment out of the experience and the potential unique challenges lost over the course of a season.

One of the most cited deficiencies with NCAA over the years has been a lack of pass rush, particularly from the front four. It’s hard to evaluate entirely considering the small sample size in time of play and the teams being used but pass rush does seem to be more effective. Blitzes especially can make it home though some players seem to get to the QB unrealistically fast in certain situations. There are also times where players on the line get pancaked in synchronized fashion which looks absurd when noticed.

Play action remains a serious issue and its becoming tiring that year after year nothing is done. The play fake animation is too deliberate and the defenders don’t seem to even hesitate at the sight of it. Play action should not result in sacks as often as it does and it just results in having to remove it from the gameplan completely which is a shame.

The graphics and in particular the lighting have been much improved and credit is due for the overall look of the game. The 3D grass, touted by EA as a big addition, is only seen in replays and that seems to have disappointed some people. The gameplay camera view is anything but ideal for showing off grass but it does stand out how flat and undefined it appears because of how much better it looks in replays. The entrances are pretty well done but a lack of audio and soft crowd noise makes them tough to suffer through after having watched it once. The dreads are at times are distractingly bad.

Commentary seems to get the most attention as an indicator of a series beginning to fell stale – it almost has become the barometer for that evaluation. Commentary in NCAA 12 is already taking flak and is in obvious need of a significant refresh. Erin Andrews adds some good lines, and the ‘Game Tracks’ conceivably will help in this regard, but its become a weakness for NCAA. The crowd noise is also disappointing. While EA has started to add the emotion of the college football experience into NCAA it still has a ways to go. From players and their reactions on the field to the commentary and crowd noise.

Two critical issues spotted involve no time running off the clock when getting the field goal team out to attempt a kick and the CPU defensive lineman jumping offsides. Conceivably a team with no timeouts could get a kick off in the final seconds of a half or game that should not have been possible. When running no huddle in particular the CPU jumps far too often, and even just in regular situations I’ve drawn them off more than would have been anticipated.

A few things of note that could be issues specific to the demo:
•The CPU chooses to kickoff every time
•I did not get any ‘Game Tracks’ though some have reported seeing them.
•Post-game auto screenshots are still pretty poor in what they capture.
•The controller rumbles after breaking the huddle on offense.

NCAA Football 12 is unlikely to be seen as a revolutionary entry in the series. It comes off NCAA 11 which was easily the best football game released last year, carries over its compelling Online Dynasty mode, and adds a number of community requested features. It still seems though that NCAA 12 will benefit by having the three extra weeks before Madden 12 arrives at the end of August as that appears to be the premiere product out of Tiburon this year.