Over the years, EA Sports’ football games have undergone situational transitions. They began as the standard by which football games were measured. There was some competition at times, but apart from a challenge from 2K Sports in the NFL arena, EA has ruled the football landscape for the last several years. With this crown comes the automatic hesitation from fans: will EA become complacent? Will they simply spit out the same game with a fresh coat of paint this year?
Sports franchises do not have the luxury (or necessity) of creating a brand new experience for each iteration. There is no world to create, no conversations to make fresh, no bigger weapons to add, and no storyline to develop. You’ve got the same court, field, stadium, players, and ball year after year. Yet this situation allows for development in its own way, and this is what EA has tried to explore with the NCAA Football series over the last few years. In last year’s title, the developers focused on presentation, giving the series a look and feel that made you feel like you were in the college football culture. This year does more of the same, while making enough tweaks to the gameplay and adding enough depth to the Dynasty and Road to Glory modes to warrant a new purchase.
The first aspect of the game that you’ll notice is the presentation and visuals of the overall product. Menus and transition screens are chalk full of school pride, mascots, and tradition. It’s a theme that does a lot to draw you in to the college football mindset, and it’s implemented very well. Once you get into a game, you’ll notice subtle improvements as well. Grass moves in the wind, goalposts sway, and shadows are more realistic than ever. While these don’t seem like major achievements, it’s these incremental improvements that make the game more appealing over time. Player models and movements are smooth, and the stadiums, crowds, and sidelines are superb.
One of the most heralded new features in NCAA 12 is the ability to take on the role of the coach as heavily as you’d like to. While in past games you’ve been able to play the role of coach to some extent, this year you’ll be able to create a coach from the ground up, take a deal with a school of your choice, and then work toward pre-set goals that will advance your career. Job security will be vital, and failing to meet goals can be
well, let’s just say you can be fired in this game. The Dynasty mode, overall, is largely unchanged, but does get some attention. For the first time, you’ll be able to manipulate conferences in ANY way you like (in the past, changes were limited essentially to swapping two teams). Don’t like the Big 12? Make it the Big 4. Want to make a power conference with 20 teams? Do it. Online Dynasty leagues are better than ever as well, and hopping into a league with a bunch of friends is more engaging than ever.
For the first time, you’ll also be able to leave the actual football completely up to the AI, and play the Dynasty mode as a “Coach’s Career” mode. You’ll have your own camera angle from the sideline, you’ll have more in-depth goals and landmarks, and you’ll have to deal directly with contract situations more than ever.
The other time-sink mode, Road to Glory, has also been expanded. You’ll now begin by playing the entire senior season in high school, tracking your position on the recruiting boards and watching your options increase. Then comes the actual recruiting process in which you’ll take visits, weigh options, and decide to which school you want to take your talents and the college career is underway. From this point on, the mode is very similar to last year, with the only differences being some flashier activities and options in between games.
With NCAA 12, EA chose to focus on presentation and major mode features, so, frankly, there are not a ton of changes in the gameplay. The most touted adjustment is the improved tackling system, which is advertised to make tackles and collisions less “canned” and more variable and realistic. I didn’t see any drastic differences, but it is clear that it has been improved. We have yet to see truly organic collisions, but this is a reality of technology more than a fault of EA. The core gameplay from last year is here in full force, and to make any huge changes would have been a mistake.
Overall, NCAA Football 12 is largely unchanged from last year’s product and this is not a bad thing. However, there are enough new features in the package to make it worth the money. The deeper Dynasty mode, including expanded coaching options and careers and online leagues, and always-addicting Road to Glory mode will keep you coming back for more. This is an easy recommend for fans of the series.