NCAA Football 12 Review

By Mike D'Alonzo - Posted Jul 12, 2011

NCAA Football 12 is an immersive college football experience, allowing you to either jump in and play, or get granular with the sport, engaging it on every level. It's fun and challenging, but close enough to last year's edition that you might not find it a must-buy.

The Pros
  • Robust Dynasty system gets better with customizations
  • ESPN-style presentation is more real than ever
  • Gameplay is dependably excellent
The Cons
  • Some visuals are still last-gen
  • Simulations are unrealistic and take a long time
  • Not enough has changed to make it essential

NCAA Football 12 Review:

If you are a die-hard college football fan, you're one of the luckiest sports fans going at the moment, considering there's no chance whatsoever that your sport will not start on schedule and be just as exciting as it's always been. Just in time to feed your growing anticipation, EA once again delivers NCAA Football 12, another edition of what has proved over the years to be one of their most consistent franchises.

Lockout? What Lockout?

This edition is no different, bringing the tradition of college football to your gaming console with a great deal of flair. Much attention has been paid to capture the feel of a Saturday afternoon game, whether it be the Red Rider at Oklahoma State, the cannons and Bevo at Darrell K. Royal stadium in Austin, Texas, or traditions like Chief Osceola and Tommy Trojan, it feels authentic.

ESPN has been part of the NCAA Football experience for a couple years now, but this year's game really makes it feel like you're watching the cable giant, from the intro to the booth, where Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit provide excellent, if not always situationally appropriate, commentary, with Erin Andrews giving sideline reports. In addition, while you're surfing the menus, ESPN Sportscenter radio updates keep you apprised about what's actually going on in sports, which is a nice touch.

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Building A Program Rich In Tradition

Easily the best thing about NCAA Football 12 is the Dynasty Mode, which, once again, can be controlled via console, or Online from a computer. New to this year's game is the Coaching Carousel, which allows you to take over a program as its head coach, or enter the game as an offensive or defensive coordinator, to see how your career will play out over a number of years. As such, you'll have both short and long-term goals to reach to make sure you're not ever on the Hot Seat. The more prestigious your program, the harder those goals will be. As the head coach for the Texas Longhorns, one of my goals was to win a BCS Championship within four years. Very tough, indeed.

A large part of what you do will still have to do with non-football maneuvering, like recruiting, which can actually be kind of fun. New to this year (and a subtly funny nod to what is actually going on with the NCAA) is the ability to customize conferences, change teams within them, name them whatever you want, and tie them to the BCS system at your cruel whim. Sadly missing is the ability to navigate your way through the baroque world of NCAA rule violations, wherein you, as a coach, would have to make sure your players aren't trading autographs for tattoos or some such. Then we'd see a real practical application of the Hot Seat, for sure.

One of the problems with Dynasty mode, however, is that, if you don't play every game yourself, advancing weeks can lead to some very strange results. The game seems not to take into account how you've played, in favor of statistical-based simulation. Here's an example: After handily winning my first six games with unranked Texas, I whipped #2 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry, only to lose to unranked Baylor 45-10 in a week I decided not to actually play through, ruining my Top 25 ranking (one of my head coach goals), and keeping me out of the BCS picture for the rest of the season. This happened a couple of times, so if you want to be sure that you're really running your program the way you want, you'll have to play through all of the games yourself, which can be a little tedious.

It's All About the Hardware

The Road to Glory mode has been expanded in NCAA Football 12, allowing you to really take seriously your effort to move one player through his senior year in high school, playing on a team you've created, perhaps on both sides of the ball, to become a small fish in a much bigger pond. You'll have to earn the trust of your coaches and teammates to even get playing time, and even then, you'll need to perform to be given the ability to run more than the most rudimentary plays. It's a long haul, but there's a palpable sense of satisfaction rising through the ranks to become one of the star players in the game.

Of course, there are microtransactions that will allow you to buy attributes for your player, so that you can join the ranks of the elite, and perhaps work  your way toward winning the Heisman Trophy. They're not necessary, but it's a little bit of a shortcut. Think of them as digital HGH.

The Game's The Thing

Gameplay is what you've come to expect, especially if you're a year-in, year-out NCAA player. Since it's not broken, EA has seen fit not to fix it. Sure, there are some tweaks in the tackling system, allowing you to get help if you're far from the ball at the time of impact, but, for the most part, the actual mechanics of playing the game haven't changed, and that's just fine.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about gameplay is the way the actual game of college football has changed over the years. Teams run wide-open spread formation offenses, often times running a no huddle offense for the entire game, and ignoring the time-honored tradition of down-and-distance based decision making altogether. Do not be surprised to see a team bust out a five-wide set on 4th and 4 in the 1st Quarter of a 0-0 game. This is going to force you to figure out how to call defense very quickly, and to learn how to audible quickly and stay disciplined.

In this way, it seems to be art imitating life imitating art. I can't be sure how much gaming has contributed to the freewheeling style of play in the actual NCAA, but it sure seems like real games emulate videogames much more often than they used to.

As always, with so many moving parts, there are some animations that just look...tired, as if the designers spent so much time working on the overall game presentation that they sort of bypassed the finer elements of weird shadowing and physics-defying motion altogether. It's forgivable, but definitely reminds you that you're playing a videogame.

And In The End. . .

NCAA Football 12 is a fine game, and a nice extension of what is the best college football franchise on the market today. So, if you haven't bought a copy in the last couple of years, you'll be quite happy with the result. If, however, you own a copy of NCAA Football 11, you'd probably do well to think long and hard about whether or not you want to own a game that is very, very similar, albeit with a fresh coat of paint. It's not a failing of the new game, but, with each passing year, it becomes harder to make significant improvement. While not necessarily an essential edition of NCAA Football, NCAA Football 12 is a really nice game with a lot to love.