NCAA Football 12 Road to Glory Impressions

Posted July 11th, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Yesterday I posted my overall impressions of NCAA Football 12 and included some brief thoughts on Road to Glory mode. Largely neglected since debuting as ‘Race for the Heisman’ in NCAA Football 06 and also going by the ‘Campus Legend’ name for a few iterations the career mode now adds in motivating factors establishing more of an investment in progression for users however some underlying issues remain.

High School starts with creation of the player including selection of a single position or both an offensive and defensive position in order to play both ways. Then comes the the selection of three colleges of interest. They are tracked and display interest levels for the particular positions. Earning XP will increase their interest and enough of it (which varies based on college prestige levels) will earn a scholarship and a better place on the depth chart going in as a freshman.

Other colleges will also jump in when they become interested. In my case they were in my player’s region – Idaho, Washington State, Boise State, and Oregon State. Presumably earning enough XP could get any college involved in the process.

High School though is a terribly tedious time. Playing both ways means the games go about twice as long. Considering they are so dull and the CPU plays so poorly I ended up simming the second half of the season and coming back in for the playoffs. XP isn’t earned when simming however. Still I was able to collect enough by extending the season all the way through the playoffs and winning State in order to get a handful of offers.

When playing both ways the XP builds by individual position. Some schools will have high interest in one position potentially offering a scholarship while showing less in the other. It ends up making for an interesting choice when the time comes to choose a school. Only one position can be played in college so the decision has to be made.

Players can accept a scholarship – with which they are given an XP bonus – or choose to attend a school as a walk on. Every school lays out the position on the depth chart that will be the starting point. Most of the walk on options were 4th and 5th string however some lower prestige schools or those who run certain systems were still offering 1st or 2nd string opportunities. I noted Georgia Tech offering a starter role as a walk on receiver and figured that’s because they don’t throw the ball that often.

Once into college that is when the mode starts to really become compelling. Coaches’ Trust comes into play and XP points can be spent on ratings boosts. Positional battles can also enter in though as a starter I’m just told after each practice that my current position on the depth chart is safe.

Coaches’ Trust is the most interesting new element. Players will come in at different levels – as a starter I came in at the “Starter” level. Making positive contributions on the field will earn ‘trust’ points. There is also the possibility to lose ‘trust’ by playing poorly. As a receiver however I’ve only seen that happen on dropped passes and the loss is insignificant.

At WR points have been given for catching passes, yards gained, touchdowns, and on reverses for yards gained (or a deduction for losing yards). What I quickly realized was my instinct to sim run plays was misguided. A “lead block” earns +10 ‘trust’ points and those are easy get. I simply hunt for someone to knock on their ass with the right stick and pick up +10 for each one on a given play (sometimes I get several). Those points seem to be earned even when a run isn’t coming my direction. Because of this I’ve earned more points for blocking than receiving.

Along with XP both can be earned in practice as well as the games. 25 reps are given. The very first practice when I was just feeling things out I earned 1200 XP and a decent amount of ‘trust’. That seemed like a lot at the time but I’d imagine QB and RB can earn much more considering how often they touch the ball.

The different Coaches’ Trust levels offer different rewards. Move up to a “Captain” and receive the ability to pick from three plays instead of being assigned one to run (up to five times in a game). Reach ‘Hometown Hero’ and be able to call hot routes at home. The pinnacle is “Team Legend” where up to 20 times in a game you would have the choice to pick from three different plays.

After just four games and practices I had earned an upgrade to “Veteran Starter” which sounded premature. Now after five games my player is very near achieving “Captain” status. Sorry, but this doesn’t scream “Team Captain” to me: Freshman WR, 19 receptions, 171 yards, 1 TD through five games.

At certain positions and using the XP to purchase ratings boosts (which is the mode’s intended use of XP) it would be possible to get a player’s rating up as high as 99 even in the freshman year. Gaining enough ‘trust’ to move up several steps in a single season is also obtainable.

Once to a 99 rating what more is there to the mode than just playing games? It takes any challenge and sense of achievement out of the picture. If someone just wants to play that way then provide the option to start out as a 99. The mode should be designed otherwise to provide a RPG feel as players improve their skills and team stature over the course of years not just a few games.

Looking at the mode as a whole the players are rewarded for putting up numbers and not necessarily for playing well or being consistent. As a receiver no reward or penalty is based on running the right routes, or running backs picking up a critical block, of defensive tackles collapsing the pocket and leading to a sack or forced pass. Until credit is properly distributed it will be a mode based solely on putting up numbers instead of helping the team win.

CPU play calling is improved, especially as it pertains to running individual team styles, but problems still crop up at times. As a receiver being sent on a fly route when in the red zone (had it happen as close as on the opponent’s four yard line) is a waste of a play. The CPU performs pretty well once to college but basically it holds all the positives and negatives of the gameplay in general – play on defense and see the CPU sacked a ton for example.

Quarter lengths are not adjustable and the option is not given to select the uniform to be worn before each game. These have been requested as options over the years but as it stands now way too much XP and ‘trust’ would be earned in longer games so they’ll need to find a way to change distribution levels depending on quarter lengths. Also keep in mind that time still doesn’t run off the clock like it should. Non-dead ball situations see only eight seconds run off the clock from the end of one play through the break of the huddle.

One big graphical difference between the standard game and Road to Glory comes with the crowd. The crowd becomes much less defined, is more sparsely populated, and blends together at a distance. Frankly the crowd looks terrible and sorely stands out in what otherwise is a largely beautiful game.

Understood is the idea that as an individual player there is no need for commentary. That is a big part of the blandness however being left with just the PA announcer. Maybe if there was something more be it better crowd noise, some sort of emotional factor on the field, or coach interaction and talk from him then maybe that would spice things up. (Edit) Turns out commentary can be turned on but only for college. The option is in the ‘System Settings’ area of the RTG menus.

The biggest problem with Road to Glory is that it still favors positions that rack up stats. QB, RB, and to an extent WR have a huge advantage over any defensive position. I always want to play as a corner but no credit is given for shutting down a receiver. Since the CPU intentionally (still after all these years) avoids throwing the way of the user the opportunity to gain XP or Coaches’ Trust is much more rare and there is a sense of being completely uninvolved which saps the enjoyment level heavily.

The work that went into Road to Glory is appreciated as the concepts are sound…they just don’t seem properly balanced. In the future more elements such Coaches’ Trust and ratings distribution should be added to manage, an emotional factor needs to be instituted in order to really feel involved, and proper evaluation of every position has to be instituted. Until then it will be a fun mode that in what it lacks keeps it from being great.