NCAA Football 11: Director's Cut
Reviewer's Note: This review is regarding the Xbox 360 version of the game. I have no experience whatsoever with the PS3 version and have no plans to do so.
At three in the morning I was hit by a wild wave of deja-vu: wasn't I playing the exact same game in the exact same manner last year? Maybe I was up too late and I was merely delusional, so I slept on it, thinking about this preposition. When it comes down to it, this game is basically NCAA Football 11: Director's Cut, it adds very little in the way of new modes or features, makes small improvements in the field of gameplay, and looks basically the same as it did a year ago. While this lack of innovation shouldn't be unexpected from an annual football franchise, it is hard to buy a game that you might already have, albeit with a slightly different title. Let's not belabor the differences of the last game for too long, however, because this game is still a ton of fun and can easily suck you in until the wee hours of the night.
EA Tiburon's big pitch for this year's iteration was the true-to-life presentation, and while that promise is mostly true, it gets bogged down in the most basic of visual hitches and bugs. The ESPN integration carries over from last year's game, and it still works great. Combine this with the brief but always well-done pre-game show and it manages to feel like an actual college football game at times. Tiburon included 3D grass, which can make for some really authentic replays, but that is really where they decided to stop improving on the graphics. The game looks basically the same as last year's game, and as such, includes rampant clipping of referees, coaches, and other sideline personnel. Overall, the presentation is just fine, but it doesn't make great strides to improve on last year's presentation.
Even though the presentation may be a huge bummer, it is a moot point when compared to the gameplay. The collision system has been reworked this year, as it now gives a much greater role to momentum in every single collision that takes place on the field. This means that the "suck-in" motion that has been prevalent in every iteration of the series prior is now gone, but the collision system is so much more than just animations. It makes the run-blocking more realistic and makes the running feel the best it has ever been. 170-pound scat-backs feel and perform how they should and the same goes for the hulking beast that is the fullback. The defense has also received its fair-share of improvements, mainly in the form of zone-coverage. Defenders will now man their respective zones in relation to the receivers routes, which makes throwing screen plays or throwing to the flats much more difficult than it was in years prior. For example, if the cornerback's zone is around the first down marker, but his man is bypassing his zone, then he will "hand-off" the receiver to the safety or to another defender further downfield. This makes passing the ball much more difficult than it was last year, but that also means that it is much more rewarding. Overall, the gameplay is as good as it should be. NCAA Football 12 is a simulation football game, make no mistake, and what really matters in a sim is the gameplay, and it does not disappoint.
The franchise's marquee Dynasty Mode is still alive and kicking in NCAA Football 12, with the main improvement coming from the Coaching Carousel. If you so desire, you can enable coach contracts, which means you can go from school to school either as a head coach or one of the coordinators. However, the only incentive to start at a weaker school and work your way to a premier program comes only from the player. Why begin your coaching career at Fresno State when you can immediately begin coaching atAlabama or Texas? The coaching carousel itself is also a big mess. You have absolutely no influence on what goes on during the phase and you can often end up at a school such as Arkansas State, even though you coached at Miami the season prior. When you do land a job at a school, your contract obligates you to fulfill certain goals, which change dependent on your role and prestige. If your coach is an offensive coordinator, then you only play the offense, and thus your goals require you to accomplish tasks that are only related to the offensive side of the ball. Carrying out these goals rewards you with prestige for your coach which is the only real way to get to a good program, and to stay there.
Other than the games themselves and the coaching carousel, the other pillar of the Dynasty Mode is recruiting. Recruiting, honestly, might be the worst part of the game. You have to sift through menu after menu only to hope that you get lucky and a recruit will commit to your school. Other than pitch a certain aspect of your program, you can promise him playing time or other things, offer the recruit scholarships, or schedule visits, all done in the same menu. You spend a lot of time in the same menu, selecting the same options, over and over again. You can quick call, which lets the game take care of each individual call to a recruit, so then your eyes can get a rest from that dreaded recruiting menu. Even though the recruiting is dull and tedious, it still provides some minor thrills. My enjoyment when I landed two 4-star recruits and one 5-star recruit during my tenure at Fresno State was palpable, to say the least.
Road to Glory also makes its return, and it is mostly the same as last year, with one difference. You can now play through your entire senior year of highschool, and your player can play on both the offense and defense. Schools recruit you on your performance separately, so don't worry if your 5-star half back is a terrible free-safety. Other than that, there really isn't anything new added to Road to Glory, and its additions are minor, at best.
Even through all of the tedium and feelings of deja-vu, I still managed to play a ton of NCAA Football 12. Whether it was playing online or creating the perfect college football player, I was always having fun. Don't let the lack of new modes or features scare you away, it is still a game I would recommend to anyone with a love of college football. As long as you don't already have NCAA Football 11.
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