NCAA Football 12 Impressions

Posted July 10th, 2011 at 1:00 pm

NCAA Football 12 has experienced its share of ups and downs in the lead-up to its Tuesday release. The series continues to present one of the strongest feature sets amongst sports games and comes off a well-regarded iteration. It has stumbled in the last month or so however as EA Sports committed several missteps that hampered anticipation levels and followed that with notable indications of desperation on their part to build back some excitement. After spending an extensive amount of time already with NCAA Football 12 here are my initial impressions of the offering with more coverage to follow over the coming days. 

When it comes to gameplay there are no real flashy new features and it appears similar to last year but the actual experience is much more refreshing. The new tackling animation system pays immediate dividends leading to a much more wide-open feel on the field. That also results in momentum being better represented and the running game becoming potentially very effective. Considering I prefer to run downhill this is especially beneficial to that style, however getting into the open field with a shifty back or receiver can lead to more explosive plays.

Defense is certainly improved but I don’t believe NCAA 12 will be looked back upon as a “defensive year” for the series. There seems to be a fair balance between the offense and defense. One thing immediately noted was how much more often passes were being dropped by receivers when getting hit as they make the catch attempt or immediately after. The ball often gets jarred loose when hit under those circumstances forcing the QB to find receivers that are more open. That in turn that keeps completion percentages down and gives an advantage to those who find open space to place the ball.

The CPU seems to put up a better challenge than in the past but still has its share of issues. The CPU running game has been anemic and they especially struggle out of the shotgun and running the option. The QBs tend to hold the ball too long and take sacks – this seemingly having been done to cut down on the number of INTs. Coverage sacks will be plentiful.

‘Custom Playbooks’ are such a welcome addition. Some will surely craft their entire playbooks to their liking, someone like myself will tinker with current ones to improve on them, and others may not dedicate the time to creating the playbooks. Still, with the ability to use them in all modes including Online Dynasty and ranked games, this is a big win for everyone.

Graphically – and I’ve said this now numerous times in various places – within replays and for screenshots NCAA 12 is arguably the most impressive sports game of its time. The 3D grass has more impact on perception than I believe most would have imagined. Unfortunately the field looks far less defined from the gameplay camera. That is somewhat understandable considering the distance but it still looks overly dull and flat. The field art is also affected with logos and end zone text that even appear pixelated in some instances. In Road to Glory mode the crowd looks horrendous – far worse than in standard games.

One of the best things I can say about NCAA Football 12 is simply that it has avoided frustrating me in any way and that is a rarity. Typically I’ll come across something even within minutes that lingers as a problem and becomes hard to overlook. I don’t break down the games and seek out problems. Instead I wait to see what presents themselves as such. I haven’t reached the point of frustration with any of NCAA 12’s faults yet.

Being able to return play action to my general gameplan probably plays a large role in the positive feeling towards NCAA 12 overall. I’m genuinely excited about just now beginning to feel comfortable enough to run it this year. I was disappointed with its representation in the demo but here in the retail version it executes more realistically and doesn’t result in automatic sacks. The pocket seems to form much better and I’m enjoying stepping into the pocket instead of running away from pass rushers.

What has annoyed me though? Two terrible animations that play all too frequently. One is a solo animation where a player runs upright in a half circle after a play ends. This can be noticed seemingly every couple plays and stands out even more in Road to Glory where the camera is always focusing in close to individuals. It’s infuriating that “I” celebrate in this fashion! There is a post-tackle animation where it looks like the player is seizing up while laying on the ground which looks bad as well. Both really need to be patched out.

The celebrations in general are completely detached and contextually rarely seem appropriate. Every player ends up on their own and overreacts to mundane plays while underreacting to the big ones. There are some cut scenes after TDs now that involve several players but they’ll sometimes happen in the wrong area of the field or involve players that wouldn’t have been there to celebrate. The proper on-field emotion is still lacking in the NCAA series.

This, along with commentary, would seem to be the presentation areas most desperately in need of complete overhauls or serious enhancements. Having played Madden NFL 12 the television style camera placement makes a big difference there and that will expose NCAA’s replays and cut scenes for being severely deficient. How many times on a TV broadcast following a play does the camera focus on random players running around in half circles or them bumping into each other constantly when just heading back to the line of scrimmage? How behind NCAA is with its post-play coverage will be realized soon enough.

The commentary is all too familiar and the addition of ‘Game Tracks’ has been a letdown. I’ve yet to have any besides the post-halftime one trigger and those have been mediocre and non-specific. It stands out that Erin Andrews isn’t saying the names of any players or coaches – instead just referring to everyone as “he” or their position. The concept is sound and it remains a welcome addition but it isn’t going to be near enough to hold off complaints about commentary or the need for more dynamic recounting of events during the game such as a halftime show.

Road to Glory is much more compelling this year….at least that is the case after getting out of high school. Though HS added the ability to play both ways and for a whole season the games take longer due to that and feel tedious – lacking any excitement or real draw. The new additions once in college though are good motivators and rewards but I feel that I may be progressing too quickly in “Coaches’ Trust”. The main downside to the mode is that it still favors positions that rack up stats. I’ll have a lengthy write-up on RTG mode tomorrow.

Online Play has not been possible due to the servers being down over most of the last few days so that will be covered in its own impressions article and/or the Hits and Misses review. I still want to dig more into Dynasty mode and play around with features such as the ‘Custom Conferences’. The Online Dynasty setup looks great bringing in all the features of offline including the ability to have coaches start as coordinators.

Random Observations
•The ‘Online Pass’ free trial is now just two days instead of a full week.
•Each game now only has save slots for three images and two highlights.
•Penalties other than ‘Holding’, ‘Offsides’, and ‘False Start” are rare (actually I’ve seen none).
•The CPU will occasionally throw the ball away instantly after a snap.
•The CPU always chooses to kick when winning the toss on the road.
•Auto saved highlights and screenshots are just as bad as ever.
•Even if set to not save those videos/screens still forced to sit through them at the end of game.
•Games played on neutral fields still give the ‘home’ team the crowd support.
•Only seen fumbles caused from big hits so far.
•CPU kickers have hit several 50+ FGs (one was a 55 yarder)

NCAA Football 12 may lack the introduction of a highly anticipated new feature or mode and comes across somewhat bland due to the presentation and atmosphere but it still packs in great value. Particularly with the deal at Amazon (360,PS3) it’s hard to go through the game’s feature set and the (more subtle) gameplay improvements this year and not feel EA Sports is delivering ultimately a very satisfying product.