NCAA Football 12 review

There’s nothing in sports more traditional than college football, which is why it feels so subversively sweet to destroy much of it with a few clicks of a button. We no longer need to moan about BCS inequities or conference imbalances; NCAA Football 12 lets us alter the landscape of the game to our hearts’ content. So we put ourselves in the position of Czar, built ourselves a one-of-a-kind 16-team “Super Conference” featuring the best programs in the land, and let the dogs loose.

Our expectation was that our impossibly powerful group of first-rate schools like Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon, Wisconsin, and others would produce an endless parade of memorable Saturdays – and did it ever. Every weekend pitted storied universities against each other, with classic games unfolding regularly. Our hope, of course, was that the winners of the two divisions (named Bryant and Rockne, naturally) would square off in the Conference Championship game as undefeated contestants with a straight path to the BCS Title match. Unfortunately, the 16 teams beat each other up so badly during the regular season that the best any team could muster was two losses apiece – and a couple of upstarts from the strip-mined Pac 12 and ACC wound up as title game contestants. It was a hard lesson to learn, but a valuable one – and we’re already back at the drawing board to come up with an even more compelling scenario for next season.

Re-drawing the NCAA football map is only one small improvement in a sea of tweaks that make up EA Sports’ latest take on the collegiate game. But it’s indicative of what NCAA Football 12 provides – a broad series of improvements to pretty much everything without introducing any significant new modes or features. In a title this deep, that was probably the wisest possible choice.

Thanks to the best tackling system we’ve yet seen in a football game, the on-field action is incredibly compelling. We found ourselves being constantly impressed with the realistic angles that bodies would bend based on where they were hit or the velocity thrown into the ballcarrier. Whether getting flattened by a flying linebacker along the sidelines or pancaked by a 350 pound defensive tackle at the line of scrimmage, NCAA Football 12 convinced us that it may be wise to seek a career doing something other than playing big-time football.

The visuals haven’t changed much – they were already superb – but the one noticeable improvement is welcome. The field itself is the feature this season, as the grass comes alive like never before thanks to a 3D effect that we didn’t know we wanted until we saw it. It’s especially great in the replays, adding a layer of realism that’s always been missing.

Of course, if there’s anything that the current generation of hyper-realistic sports games has taught us, it’s impossible to remove the uncanny valley. The better the games get, the more the unnatural moments stand out. Players still glide through referees and even each other on occasion, the crowd appears non-responsive to big plays, and players don’t always react appropriately to what’s happening in front of them. In addition, the commentary remains mostly unchanged and can get repetitive. None of these are game breakers, but they do take you out of the moment.

We could spend hours talking about the finer details of so many aspects of NCAA Football. For the first time since its introduction a few seasons ago, the Road To Glory mode has gotten some meaningful updates, including an expanded amount of time for your player in High School (a full season plus the ability to play both sides of the ball), and a slew of improvements to your experience once you’ve chosen a university. The online dynasty options continue to be the best offerings of their kind with any sports game – between the incredible website for you to monitor your school and interact with your competitors to the custom Team Builder interface, the depth you can reach is unprecedented.

With an extra few weeks to savor NCAA Football 12 before Madden hits, you’ve never had a better chance to sink your teeth into a sublime sports experience. It ain’t perfect – and we’re more convinced than ever that perfection in an HD sports game is an impossibility – but it is another soaring triumph that has something for just about everyone.

Jul 11, 2011

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