Sometimes, even great drives come up short.
Growing up with a football school in your backyard instills a special sort of pride when firing up an NCAA football title in an effort to rewrite the legacy of a team that means so much to the community you call home. Such is my lot in life, and with each new season comes yet another attempt to deliver the Marshall University Thundering Herd from the evils of the mid-majors and propel them into proper prominence, and my journey with NCAA Football 12 was no different.
But, just like real life, the road’s rough for the little guy, but not for the reasons you might suspect. You see, from a historical standpoint, it’s always easy to choose a major program like Alabama or USC and smack the crap out of everyone on and off the field, but for the lesser-knowns, there’s a lot of glaring holes in NCDub that makes less and less sense each year they’re encountered.
For example, the revamped recruiting process is way cool, inspiring tireless hours of tinkering, but the logic underneath is still annoyingly suspect. Take the fact that coaching prestige and championship contention only update after the season is done. Call me crazy, but when I’m riding a 12-game winning streak on the way to a No. 4 ranking across all three polls, I expect the blue-chip recruit I’m wooing to take notice, yet I’m getting mocked? Or maybe he’s trying to decide between us or No.1 LSU, but there’s no bonus in talks the week after I destroy them 21-0 on national TV? Really?
The game’s interface also stands out, with notable visual enhancements that unfortunately slow the screen-to-screen navigation—an issue made worse by the fact that the information you need’s often buried in pop-ups instead of being presented front and center, which can make management tasks and audibles a pain. The host of new features excite, to be sure, but I was genuinely bummed by how tiresome it was to move around and make things happen.
And then there’s the game’s presentation. Sure, NCAA looks better with each new version, all the prerequisite trophies and ties-ins are here alongside a ton of cool new traditions and mascot cutscenes that amp up the attitude, but generally speaking, the game can’t tell a story to save its life. The announcers seemed oblivious to my Cinderella-story season and often called games “close” when my top-ranked D was up 14-0 with the ball at halftime, and stat presentation doesn’t really push big games or key moments outside an occasion nod from the booth. For a game that’s all about the pageantry, EA Sports continue to lag behind standards set by 2K some six years ago.
That said, the game itself is still a joy to play. Slants and crossing routes are still money, but line play, tackling, and ball-carrier movement have never felt better. Perhaps more than any other version before it, NCAA 12 also does a good job of balancing the host of real-world squads across difficulty levels in a way that really rewards the player for sticking it out to build a winner. And despite their aforementioned usability issues, taking a player from high school to a major program via Road to Glory is a great NCAA answer to Madden’s Superstar mode, and the Coaching Carousel adds an enviable dose of replay value to the game, regardless of how you like to play.
And that’s the thing—when the final whistle blows, NCAA Football 12’s an addictive, atmospheric game, but with so many nagging issues, it’s just a few yards shy of greatness. All the pieces are there, and if you’re a true pigskin addict, you’ll have more than enough fun to justify a purchase, but the shaky tuning on the logic front, lazy presentation, and a lack of love for lesser programs really sting. I’ll still play the fool out of this one, but as any good coach will tell you, football is a game of details, and it’s there that NCAA fumbles a bit too often to be considered a gamebreaker.
SUMMARY: NCAA Football 12’s an addictive, atmospheric game, but with so many nagging issues, it’s just a few yards shy of greatness
- THE GOOD: Unrivaled depth, improved animation
- THE BAD: Cumbersome, slow, unwieldy menus
- THE UGLY: Dated, frustrating dynasty logic