Every year, college football fans face a dilemma: should they fork out another $60 for the annual NCAA football game? Every year, EA Sports does its best to convince us that enough changes have been made to warrant copping the new game. After a couple weeks of knocking helmets we're here to let you know if NCAA Football 12 is worth the dough.
The majority of changes with NCAA are aesthetic so let's start there. If you're a hardcore face-painting frat boy, you're going to love the attention developers paid to tradition. There are 10 new mascots and several new pre-game activities like USC's "I'm In" sign (as in real life, the Trojans are also on probation in the game) and the infamous Florida Gator head statue.
The field has been upgraded as well. 3D grass doesn't make a big difference when you're playing but it's a major step up from the green carpet that gamers have been playing on for years. The biggest change outside of new uniforms, gear and the inclusion of dreadlocks (did these guys miss all the players with locks from the last decade until now?) that gamers will definitely notice is the HDR lighting—which changes exposure during gameplay. If there is a shadow on the 50-yard-line at 6pm in real life at a particular stadium then there is a shadow on NCAA 12. The lighting definitely affects vision—particularly on offense—during gameplay.
Every year all sports game developers claim the AI is more intelligent than in previous releases. With NCAA 12 it's actually true. Whether you're on offense or defense you'll notice that defenders communicate better in the secondary, blocking schemes are improved and calling the same play incessantly will get you nothing but three and outs on offense, and burned on defense.
There's also a new tackle button that allows players to lunge at the ball carrier. Warning: if you miss the hit, you'll be eating grass while your opponent takes it to the house. The addition of suction-free gameplay makes a small difference. When running in the trenches linebackers and D lineman still slide off blocks that they shouldn't, but it happens far less than in previous years.
Overall the gameplay is a lot more realistic this year. 80-yard runs with a defender seemingly an arms length away are still prevalent but hey, that happens often in real college football. This ain't Madden and we don't want it to be.
The Deal Maker:
Gamers who buy NCAA 12 are most likely hardcore Dynasty fans and the additions to the Dynasty this year are what puts the game over the top. First off, you're in complete control of bowl game tie-ins and conference lineups. Tired of Texas bullshitting about going to the Pac-12 or staying put? Wish that Boise State or TCU could bypass the BCS drama? Don't even trip, gamers can adjust any conference to their liking and give any conference an at-large bowl bid. If only the NCAA had its act together like this in real life...
The coaching carousel is fun too. Having your job on the line gives extra incentive to recruit players, win games and beat rivals. Granted, everyone won't be into this (if that's you, cut the option off) but it gets the Dynasty one step closer to real college ball realities.
The online Dynasty is a good touch as well. Simulating games and looking at standings online seems like a waste of time to us but the option to play out recruiting online is what makes this one a winner.
Not So Cool:
Having a football game without glitches is like Pacman Jones without a police record—it's just not possible. So far we've seen a bunch of offsides calls when the offense goes into the no huddle after a big gain. EA needs to send out a patch to fix this a.s.a.p. or there will be a lot of broken controllers around the world.
Overall, the game brings more to the table than just a roster update. The gameplay, graphics and features have all been improved. Will NCAA 12 be good enough to overcome its big brother as the top football dog? Only time will tell.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.