NCAA Football 12
There’s a beautiful symmetry that ties NCAA Football 12 to its real-life counterpart. The collegiate football organization has been hesitant to make major changes to commonly derided aspects–such as how a champion is determined–and their digital facsimile replicates the same stick-in-the-mud approach. The latest entry in this long-running series feels virtually identical to last year’s offering, adding so few noteworthy features and tweaks that you’ll be assaulted with a blast of deja vu that never fades away. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the on-field action is as lifelike as you would expect. But the myriad modes surrounding the core experience waver between tedious and boring, burying the appeal of amateur football under an impenetrable sea of menus. If you want your athletes salary-free and spitting with pride, there’s still a top-notch simulator here, but there’s little reason to jump into NCAA Football 12 if you already own last year’s game.
The most important aspect of a sports sim is the gameplay, and NCAA Football 12 shines in that regard. The core action has been iterated upon for a number of years, and that refinement leads to the most realistic portrayal of the college game yet. This is especially apparent in nonglamorous aspects, such as blocking and artificial intelligence. You may take these basic features for granted, but when you look closer, you see tiny details that mirror what you find on television every autumn Saturday. Your offensive line smartly hunts down blitzing defenders and halts their progress before they can make a tackle, which gives you confidence whether you’re dropping back to pass or trying to bust a big one on the ground. Even running backs aren’t scared to get their jerseys dirty to give you a split second more to get off a pass. On the defensive side of the ball, it’s clear the secondary has been putting in work in the film room. Quick reactions ensure cornerbacks don’t give up easy passes, which makes it all the more exciting when you burn them for a deep play.
Unfortunately, although that refinement leads to an impressive representation of the real thing, the stagnant visuals are showing their age. This is especially noticeable in regard to the animations. For instance, when a safety crashes into the knee of a hurdling wide receiver, the offensive player meekly falls to the ground with barely a whimper. Two versions of Backbreaker (most recently Backbreaker: Vengeance) have been released in the last year, and the advanced animation in those games is far beyond that in NCAA Football 12. A lot of the joy of football is derived from the brutal clash of two powerful athletes, and that force is largely absent in this game. Furthermore, there are visual glitches that offer even more distractions from the exciting action. Remodeled grass has a hazy, shimmering look that’s woefully out of place. And there’s a frequent bug that turns the receivers’ route markers into dancing squiggly lines. None of these problems destroy the fun of running a perfect option play, but they do take you out of what should be an immersive experience.
Dynasty mode returns as the chance to turn a woebegone school into a national power or take the reins of a BCS big boy, and see how you hold up when the pressure is weighing you down. A coaching carousel is the biggest addition from last year’s game, giving you more flexibility in how your career plays out. When you’re first signed by a program, you can decide to be a coordinator instead of the head man. If you take charge of just the offense, you don’t have to worry a lick about the defensive side of the ball during the course of the game, which is a relief if you enjoy one side more than the other. There’s also constant pressure to perform. Metrics gauge how well you’re doing, and if you don’t accumulate the expected wins or statistics total, you could find yourself out of a job. But if you do take your program to new heights, you could land a cushy role in any school you want. This is a good idea in theory, but in practice, it falls flat. Because you can choose to coach any school from the onset, there’s little incentive to build up your credentials to get your dream job. Coaching carousel gives determined players something to strive for, but doesn’t add much to the overall experience.