Reviewed: July 21, 2011
Released: July 12, 2011
As college football fans are gearing up for another great NCAA college football season EA is here to bring us our annual serving of videogame bliss to get us in the school spirit with NCAA Football 12. First, I’ll start with a warning for those of you without an internet Xbox Live connection: the retail disc version of NCAA 12 has quite a few bugs out of the box. Some are pretty severe – like several second long pauses during gameplay – while others are merely minor annoyances. |
Unfortunately in the current game industry, sports games are expected to have a new release every year, even when just a roster update would do. Publishers have come to rely on release day downloadable patches to fix any last minute bugs that didn't make it to the final disc production master. So in that tradition, all the bugs and annoyances I had with the initial release disc have been fixed with the update. If you don't have an internet connection, I highly recommend you take your Xbox to a friend’s house that does, and update your system.
The most common question I get asked is if NCAA Football is better than last year… and is it worth an upgrade. While last year’s answer was a definite ‘yes’, NCAA Football 12 isn’t quite the same. Most of the changes are cosmetic. EA improved the graphics, adding 10 more mascots, 18 more school traditions (like the Oregon Duck on a motorcycle), and more ESPN presentation items. The on-field eye candy has increased with 3D grass, dynamic lighting exposure, and particle effects, and the list goes on. But most of the other upgrades are behind the scenes improvements in zone coverage a.i. and custom playbooks. So my answer to previous owners is usually “it depends”.
The general gameplay really hasn’t changed all that much. When you first start the game the menus have been updated with a lot more ESPN graphics. So it looks great. The biggest change for me is this game just looks and feels more like the college football experience. It’s more fun.
In Exhibition mode you just pick your teams and go for it. The noticeable changes over previous games are more on the defensive side of the ball. Especially in zone coverage. Players appear to be smarter about where their help is on the field. They hand off coverage from one zone to another and are more aware about being in position to make a play. A very subtle difference over NCAA 11, but it is noticeably better. In Practice mode you just set scenarios and plays in the practice facility. The facility is generic so don't expect yours to be unique to your school. Not many people really use this function, but the assets are already in the game so might as well include it.
Another new item comes in the Coach A Game mode. For those more into the X's and O's of the game, Coach mode may be more your style. You get the press box view of the game and pick plays and when the ball is snapped. The improvements add custom playbooks to the mix so you can create up to 15 offensive and 15 defensive playbooks. You can now include up to 40 formations and 374 plays in a playbook. If you absolutely hate certain plays, you have the added ability to reorganize your play call screen including the removal of your hated plays.
For the casual fan, EA has the Mascot Mash Up and 1 Button Mode. With the mascots, you pick from the 79 mascots included in the game for a balanced game between teams of the same mascot. EA also borrowed the simplicity of the Nintendo Wii and included a “1 Button Mode”. This mode of play allows for kids and non-videogame players to enjoy a good game. It's very simple. You pick a play, press A to hike, press A to pass, press A to break a tackle.
You can build a winning college program in Dynasty mode. It hasn’t changed much from last season. It’s still a lot of fun to take your team to BCS Championship glory, but most of the changes seem to be in the coaching area. Coaching Carousel now lets you take on the role of coach with contracts, hiring, firing, and other things. You can start out in a coordinator position. Your decisions will determine your success. You have to meet certain goals, both stat based and on the field. After each season your job is reviewed. You might get promoted or you might end up looking for a job elsewhere.
Where this can get tricky is in the new Online Dynasty mode. The commissioner of the online dynasty your join will determine where you begin. You have full access to your playbook and stats so bring your unique flavor to the coaching ranks. You never know, this might be a good way to test out your own custom plays that compel you to try coaching football for real.
Once again I found Road to Glory mode to be the most fun of the career modes. Players start in their senior season of high school. You play up to 12 regular season and playoff games. Additionally this year you can be an “iron man” and play on both sides of the ball, but when you go to college you have to decide which side will be permanent.
As an experiment in the Game Chronicles office, we used the online Teambuilder application on EAsports.com to create our high school teams. Unfortunately we found out too late that you can only import team uniforms and stadiums into the high school mode. All the player names are ignored. This was a big letdown, but it was still fun to at least see my old high school team on the menu screens.
Teambuilder is a great way to add teams you want to see. You can add that NAIA or Division III school you attended or even put your old high school team up against Ohio State. There is a wealth of opportunity to waste all kinds of time creating your favorite schools and sharing them with the world. Connecting to the Teambuilder in NCAA Football 12 online lets you search for others creations and there are some great ones out there, all with the real player names (added by users, not EA). Classic NCAA teams are a favorite of mine, from Championship teams to Drew Brees’ senior year at Purdue. You can even replace your present day team with a classic team and play out the season.
Roster Share in the Team Management menu is an item you will want to be familiar with right away. This little function allows you to download entire NCAA rosters from other users. If you do a Google search on “NCAA 12 rosters” you will find the Gamertags of some people who spent many sleepless nights putting in the actual player names and stats of each and every real NCAA player and coach. If you download those, your favorite player will look like the real deal. The great news is this is free (don’t pay someone for updated rosters, they are available FREE). Once you save it in your profile, your “real” roster will increase your enjoyment of this game a lot. There still isn’t a way to play online against others unless the stats stay the same, but this is still a great tool for any NCAA fan.
Along with the new BigTen (actually 12) and the transition to conferences, NCAA Football 12 now allows you to create new rivalries and switch around conferences to the way you think they should be aligned. You can even protect rivalries so Michigan and Ohio State will play each other even though they are in difference conferences. You control the schedules and BCS bowl tie-in’s too.
Xbox Live presents the usual lineup of ranked and unranked quick matches, but this year they have added the Teambuilder quick match so you can play with your created schools. EA has also taken things up a notch with NCAA Season Showdown. EA generates a little school/fan rivalry by using points for games played and assigning them to your favorite team. A press time, Ohio State was up by almost 2 million points over Michigan with a lot of non-Big10 schools trailing by over 5 million points. It would be really interesting to see the schools average GPA and graduation rates posted alongside the rankings. Perhaps Ohio State might not be doing so well in that statistical category since they all seem to be playing videogames. You can also use My NCAA Legacy to save your highlights – videos or photos – for others to see online. If you have a good enough game, it will be saved to the ESPN Instant Classics library and any rivalry or championship trophies you win can be viewed in your trophy case.
Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Erin Andrews return for broadcast duties in NCAA Football 12. This hasn’t really been improved much over previous years. “The Coach” Lee Corso still isn’t around which isn’t a bad thing, but overall the audio really needs an update next season. One of the few areas I enjoyed about the audio was the capability to add your own audio clips to specific events during games. You can either set the globally or to a specific team on a specific event. So if the band plays a certain song when your team makes a 1st down, you can now link that audio file to NCAA Football 12 and it will play just like a real game. It adds a nice bit of team customization when you can hear your band play the correct song and the fans do the correct cheer. EA still hasn’t corrected a few teams home crowd clothes and cheers. Again, doing a Google search for “college football fight songs” will keep you occupied for hours customizing your favorite schools.
NCAA Football 12 offers 39 achievements worth up to 1,000 gamer points. The majority of them are easy to get just in the normal run of play, but a few like winning by over 35 points on Heisman difficulty are only for the strong willed. There is even a unique achievement worth 20 points for getting a 20 yard run to celebrate EA Sports’ 20 years in business. There are currently over 20 different items you can purchase on the online store that will upgrade your players or your storage space. Some items are just outrageous. Upgrading your Teambuilders slots to 120 teams cost 800 Micro$oft Points. EA knows how to make a buck.
If you buy the game new, you get a code to unlock your online pass which lets you play others online. If you don’t have the code (if you buy the game used or borrow it from a friend) you can get a 2 day trial. Yes, EA has shortened the trial from a week to 2 days. They figured out that all the players who just want to get the online achievement points can do so pretty easily in a week. Two days isn’t enough time to get them all. So if you don’t have the code, you have to pony up $10. It’s annoying and costly for us, but EA has to recoup their investment in all the licenses and other development costs… such as getting lawyers for when former NCAA players sue them for using their stats.
It may feel like a minor upgrade, but NCAA Football 12 really adds the eye candy graphics to make it compete with other sports games this year. NCAA Football 12 takes us to the next level of depth and authenticity with new Game Day traditions, improved Road to Glory mode, and a ton of little detail improvements that make it a real joy for any college football fan to play. All that’s missing is the tailgate party.