The college football landscape is in a constant state of flux.
Players leave and new recruits arrive to take their place. Coaches are hired and fired, opening the door for eager assistants hungry for a chance to take the reins. Programs rise and fall, with true dynasties becoming the exception rather than the rule. Schools abandon decades of tradition to seek glory and fame in a new conference. Even the game itself is constantly evolving, with trendy new offenses replacing "3 yards and a cloud of dust" and defenses adapting to keep pace.
Indeed, nothing about the sport of college football remains the same for very long.
With "NCAA Football 12," the developers at EA Tiburon have not only given gamers the tools needed to keep up with this ever-changing world, but also to create their own unique college football universe. Combine that with the most compelling on-field gameplay the series has ever offered, and it's clear that "NCAA 12" isn't simply the best college football game to date.
It may also be the last college football game you will ever have to buy.
Before talking about the revolutionary features that give "NCAA 12" its near infinite replayability, let's focus on what really matters - the action between the lines. I loved the way "NCAA 11" played, but the Tiburon team has taken things to a whole new level this year.
It starts on the defensive side of the ball, where a new collision-based tackling engine has eliminated all of the player warping and suction from years past. Now, tackles aren't initiated until the defender makes contact with the ball carrier. This new collision system not only leads to more realistic-looking tackles, but also affects the way players block and run their routes.
As offensive linemen are no longer automatically sucked into a blocking animation when the ball is snapped, they are free to disengage players at the line of scrimmage and seek out blocks down field. One of the first long touchdown runs I had was made possible by a guard who pancaked his defender at the line of scrimmage, then took on a safety who was moving into position to make a tackle some 10 yards further down field.
For receivers, the new collision system makes it much more difficult to get a clean release off the line when a defender has tight coverage. I've watched as receivers stumble and get knocked off-balance trying to free themselves from defensive backs, disrupting the timing of their routes. This dynamic works both ways, though, as I have had receivers get wide open deep down field after the defensive back missed his initial jam at the line of scrimmage. Playing bump-and-run coverage is a definite risk-reward proposition.
While the new collision system is an overwhelming success, I did discover one unfortunate bug caused by it that cost me one game and nearly a second - roughing the passer penalties. In years past, a player could get near the quarterback and even collide with him withou triggering a tackle animation. This year, the quarterback instead reacts to any contact from an opposing player. The first time this happened, one of my defensive linemen was rushing off the edge and putting pressure on the quarterback, who stepped up and fired a pass down field. After the ball had been released and both players were walking back toward the line of scrimmage, my player brushed up against the QB, which sent him flailing to the ground like a European soccer player. Fifteen yards and an automatic first down. The second time this happened was even more egregious. My defensive tackle, while still engaged with an offensive lineman, barely touched the quarterback with his foot - yes, his foot - yet that was enough to send the signal caller tumbling to the turf and draw another roughing the passer call.
I'm hoping that turning down the slider that controls the frequency of roughing the passer penalties to zero with help eliminate this problem, but only time will tell. Perhaps this is something that can be addressed in a patch.
Outside of the new collision system, the biggest addition on the field is unquestionably the improved AI on both sides of the ball. This is especially true on defense, where zone coverage is finally an effective tool. Players recognize their assignments and actually point out receivers as they move from one zone to the next. Man-to-man coverage has also been tightened, but at no point did I feel as though the defensive AI was cheating. Middle linebackers no longer have world-class leaping ability or eyes in the back of their heads. I have thrown plenty of interceptions, but each one was my fault, not the result of crooked AI or a canned animation that caused a player to suddenly warp in front of my receiver.
On offense, the improved AI looked to exploit any weakness in my defense, be it on the ground or through the air. Running backs moved with a near human-like quality, utilizing their full range of jukes and spins to pick up extra yardage. Running out of the shotgun formation was still hit-or-miss for both myself and the computer, but AI quarterbacks aren't afraid to tuck the ball and run. In my West Virginia dynasty, the LSU quarterback consistently shredded my defense with both designed runs and improvised scrambles. He won the game for the Tigers with a 38-yard quarterback draw that caught me completely off-guard.
Had EA Tiburon stopped at simply tweaking the gameplay I would have been impressed with "NCAA 12." But the developers didn't stop there. Not even close. The list of new features includes a full coach mode complete with a broadcast camera angle, the ability to create custom playbooks and a revamped Road to Glory mode that allows for a full high-school season and the option of playing both sides of the ball.
But the biggest additions were saved for Dynasty mode.