A few posts ago, I previewed the first gameplay trailer for NCAA Football 2012. I didn't really have the time to go into depth about what the trailer showed and what the trailer didn't show, and I accepted the trailer on face value. Now, I'd like to spend some time and break down this trailer in a similar fashion as the Madden NFL 2012 teaser from back in March. Except unlike the Madden teaser, this time, I can actually see what's going on!
Table of contents
First, a little eye candy: Presentation
Before I get into the gameplay trailer, I want to show you the presentation and tradition trailer that was released at about the same time.
There's some very nice stuff in this trailer!
Tradition and pageantry is a big part of college football, and one of the reasons that it is even more popular in some areas of the country than the NFL is. It's nice to see EA going back to putting more emphasis on improving the school spirit aspects of the game. These changes might even make me want to play with a wider variety of schools in this year's version just so that I can see some of the different traditions, mascots, bands, and so forth. After all, playing as my alma mater, UNLV, probably isn't going to expose me to much of the game's flashy new presentation improvements. Heck, EA couldn't even include UNLV's fight song in last year's game due to a lawsuit from its writer. Hopefully that has been resolved, and "Win With the Rebels!" will be back in the game, and hopefully, the mascot Hey Reb will be back too.
There are two concerns that I have here, though. This trailer keeps showing the same few schools over and over again. Oregon, Texas, Georgia, Auburn, Florida State, and Colorado are pretty much the only schools that are depicted in this trailer as having anything unique to show. Hopefully, some of the other 114 schools in the nation will have a few of their unique traditions presented as well.
Secondly, in last year's game, the new pre-game introductions got really old really fast because they were identical every time you watched them. Hopefully, in NCAA 12, there will be a little more variety. I remember coming across an interview with the game's lead designer Ben Haumiller, in which he states that there are multiple camera angles and different sets of animations that can play for each school, so that the user won't be stuck seeing the exact same sequence every time. I can't remember where I read that though, so I can't give you a link to it.
But presentation always takes a back seat to the on the field action, and fortunately for us, EA has also given us a gameplay trailer to salivate over (or not, as the case may be).
Onto the main attraction: Gameplay!
The gameplay trailer, in its entirety:
My initial impression to this video was "Wow". Kirk Herbstreit certainly promises that this game will give nitpicky fans what they've been clamoring for over the past few years. But does the video itself really show us that this new collision system is going to solve the problems of the past?
Will the game really be "better"?
The two trailers that were provided actually do contain some painful red flags that indicate that this year's game may end up having most of the same problems of previous years.
Line play in EA games has been one of its most atrocious aspects over the years. Usually, either the defensive lineman would throw his blocker to the ground immediately, or the two would just lock arms and "waltz" around the field together, with neither player appearing to put up much of a fight.
Starting with the Presentation Trailer, I actually see some very good signs with regard to line play:
- 0:33 = we get a very good look at a pocket forming. In this clip, there appears to be much more jostling at the line of scrimmage than I am used to seeing. Defenders are actually pushing and swatting at the offensive linemen to try to get through or around them. And not just against one lineman! We also see the noseguard and defensive left end (on the right of the screen) actively engaged in a double team and appearing to actually put up a fight against both blockers.
But then things go south:
- 0:41 = we get another good look at a pocket forming, except this time, we see the noseguard (#98) having a clear path to the quarterback. But the center engages the noseguard from the side while the right guard just strafes right by him without making contact. Instead of the noseguard ripping or swimming through the center's reach block to continue upfield, he turns to engage the center!
- 0:47 = we see defensive lineman number 43 suffer the same pancake block animation that we've seen a million times in previous games.
- 0:55 = is a closeup of the 3-D grass, but also a close-up of some blocking. Here, we see the classic "locked-arm waltz" happening with both blocks that are occurring in the foreground. Neither defender appears to be jostling or attempting to push the blocker's hands away. So are they "bull rushing"? Maybe. But if they are, then they're not very good at it. They should still be jostling to try to get their hands under the arms and pads of the blocker to gain leverage. But instead, they seem to be content to just lay their hands on the blocker's shoulder pads.
Moving on to the actual gameplay trailer, things start off bad and only get worse:
- 0:19 = Minnesota defensive lineman number 85 just throws his blocker to the side in an all-to-familiar animation. He then just stands there and completely misses the tackle.
- 0:24 = Carolina defensive back number 36 just throws his blocker to the side (look familiar) and makes the tackle.
- 0:30 = a defender in the bottom left corner is forced to turn sideways to engage a blocker instead of being able to continue upfield to assist the tackle.
- 0:59 = two defensive rushers have their backs turned away from the quarterback! They actually appear to be pushing their blockers further downfield (away from the QB)...
1:02 = a replay of the previous play, with the camera in the secondary. You can clearly see the left defensive tackle "warp" through a blocker to become engaged by a different blocker. And that's in the trailer that is supposed to showcase that these things don't happen anymore. I wish I were making this up...
- 1:21 = Another clear view of the entire defensive line, and it doesn't look like a single one of them is putting up a fight against their blockers.
So, we've got some minor improvement and possibly a bit more conflict and jostling at the line of scrimmage. But despite Herbstreit claiming that
"This new collision system extends beyond just tackling. Catching and blocking are improved by this system too. Players will no longer warp or slide to get into position."
we still see examples in the trailer of players being warped through other players to make a blocking animation work. Additionally, we have several examples of players putting themselves out of position so that they can turn and face a blocker, instead of letting the blocker commit a holding or clipping foul. Doesn't look like much has changed.
Tumbleweeds keep on a rollin'
OK, so blocking may have received some minimal improvements (at least), but many of the same problems still appear to have persisted into the new game. But blocking wasn't the focus of this trailer. Tackling is. So how does the new tackling stack up?
Well, I have mixed thoughts on this too. Most of the actual collisions that are shown look pretty good. I don't notice any of the ridiculous losses of momentum that plagued Madden 10's PRO-TAK feature and warping, sliding, and clipping are not noticeable in any of the tackles shown. Forward progress seems to be well respected, and defenders are stopping or standing up the runners where appropriate. Tackles shown at 0:16 and 0:33 both show appropriate respect to player momentum and forward progress. And the clip at 0:22 of a Notre Dame player leveling a Michigan runner is a great example of how "wrap up and clean up" is supposed to look.
At 0:29, we see a Texas Tech runner be pushed by one defender and then wrapped up by a second defender as he's falling. This looks like it would make for an excellent replacement for the infamous "tumbleweed" animations that plagued previous games. Except that tumbleweeds appear to still be in the game! Check out the Presentation trailer at 1:20 to see an Oregon runner being tackled by a Stanford defender, only to have a second Stanford defender run up and appear to put a shoulder into the runner, except that the animation of the first defender dragging down the ball-carrier is completely unchanged! The second Stanford defender just falls to the ground as if he hit an invisible force field. Damnit, EA, why is that still happening? And why the hell would you put that in the trailer?
Now, we do also have other examples of the game paying much better attention to the physical bodies of the players. For example, at 0:40 in the Gameplay trailer, an Oregon defender is apparently pushed away from being able to make a tackle by his own teammate. We also see several examples of "consecutive hit" tackles at 0:38 and 1:37 (screen to right) of the gameplay trailer. This feature has been a hot topic request for many years, and if it works properly, it should reduce the frequency of "tumbleweed" animations.
So I believe EA's claim that momentum has more of an effect on tackles. This area of the game really does look like it has been improved. This trailer shows many things that players have been asking for for quite some time, and much of what we are seeing really does look different than anything we've seen from Madden or NCAA in the past. It might not be perfect (as the above tumbleweed screenshot demonstrates), but it's at least looking like it will be improved.
Receiver play and coverage
The trailer promises that receiving and coverage have been improved as well. Receivers are no longer supposed to warp or slide in order to make catches (or, one would assume, interceptions), and instances where those would happen have been replaced with diving catches instead. OK, that's fine, just as long as the game isn't forcing my receiver to dive when it isn't necessary, and as long as they can still keep their feet in bounds.
I do really like the idea of improved zone coverage down the field. It should be a huge relief to know that if I call a zone defense, and the offense comes out in a loaded trips formation, my off-side defenders might actually still do something in the play! I have complained extensively in the past that NCAA and Madden's AI is too dependent on medium-to-long range passing plays, and that this has the effect of creating a lot of big gains or clock-stopping incompletions that really mess with the pacing of the game, and leads to over bloated scores and stats (particularly in passing yards and time of possession). So I really hope that this change also has the effect of forcing the AI to make more underneath throws, limiting their yardage, forcing them to run the ball more, increasing the CPU's time of possession, and leading to more drives that start off good, eat up clock, but then stall down the field.
But there are still problems. In a play that is shows twice (once at 0:58 and again at 1:02 in the gameplay trailer), we see an Oregon defensive back seem to "hover" in air while making an interception. Now, I can't say for sure that this is a problem. I've seen plenty of jumps in real life in which the person seems to "hover", but this has been a consistent problem in EA football games for a while, so it is disconcerting to see it in the trailer.
But even more disturbing is a clip at about 1:10 into the gameplay trailer, when we see a TCU (I think) defender be given a miraculous speed burst that allows him to suddenly break on the ball and prevent the wide open receiver from being able to catch it, despite the fact that the defender is backpedaling (well, sidestepping, actually) and is clearly beat. This has been happening all the time in Madden and NCAA for years! Even though it was supposed to have been fixed by last year's "locomotion" system. A receiver gets a clean break on the defender, but the defender who is already at full sprint hits the nitros and knocks it down. Unacceptable. At least the defender is actually looking at the ball though. And I don't recall seeing any incidents of the irritating "blind swat" in either trailer, so that may be good news.
Has it earned my $60 yet?
Well, as I said before, I'm not hopping on the bandwagon just yet. I'll wait until we have a playable demo before I make my final judgement. This gameplay trailer makes some pretty lofty promises, and it is very nice to see that EA is finally taking the time to at least acknowledge and attempt to address some of the biggest criticism of this game. I really hope the final game manages to deliver everything that Kirk Herbstreit and Ben Haumiller are promising, and I'm sure that it will be a dramatic improvement over the last few years. But I highly doubt that it will be the definitive football video game that some may hope it will be. I guess we'll find out for sure this July.