I was hoping to have a review for this game earlier. But unfortunately, the game shipped with some very serious bugs. EA announced that a patch was in the works way back on August 2nd, but that patch took over a month to deliver. Either EA really dropped the ball with this patch, or the problems were even more serious than we’d thought.
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On-the-field action is much cleaner … and dirtier
Football is a “collision sport”. If you make the collisions work correctly and look good, then you have an excellent foundation for a football game. For the first time in years, we finally have a football game that has good collisions!
Better player control on defense
The primary emphasis on this year’s EA football games (NCAA and Madden) is to eliminate all the suction, warping, fusion, and “tumbleweed” issues that have been becoming an increasing problem since Madden NFL 10. EA has made significant steps to alleviate these issues, and the end result is very positive. The PRO-TAK animation system (which was a major culprit of the aforementioned issues) has been completely abandoned in favor of a system that much more consistently respects player momentum and the physical presence of players’ bodies.
Tackles in this year's game look much more realistic and fluid, but they still aren't perfect.
Many members of the online community (The Sim Standard, Versuz, Apexis, and so on) have been requesting the addition of “consecutive hit tackles” for years now, and EA has finally delivered - mostly. Players can now continue to interact with the ball-carrier even after another defender has already made contact – and not in the way that PRO-TAK would “suck” players into a tackle. These are actual collisions that change momentum.
“Wrap-up-and-clean-up”, which is an essential part of playing defense is now fully integrated into the game! Tacklers can now stand up a runner and hold him in place or slow him down long enough for another player to come in and finish the tackle. And for you stat-tracker guys out there, the game does correctly track assisted tackles in these situations! And even if you can’t wrap a guy up, hitting him might still be enough to knock him off balance and give another player a chance to make the stop.
Because of this, the “bend but don’t break” mentality can finally work in this game.
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Finer control on offense
Changes are most noticeable in the running game. Small holes in the line can now be exploited for big yardage, since running backs can now squeeze through without a defensive lineman being automatically sucked into making the tackle. Hopefully, in the coming years, EA will add some animations of defenders attempting to reach through their engaged blockers in an attempt to slow down the runner so that running up the middle can’t be accomplished so effortlessly.
Warping and suction have also been almost completely removed from receiving and blocking animations. Instances of the ball being shifted in the air or bouncing off invisible “force fields” are almost imperceptible. And best of all: that irritating David Tyree over-the-back mid-air tackle-catch animation no longer shows up 10 times every game! So when a receiver makes a catch in traffic (doesn’t happen very often due to the insane jumping ability of linebackers), he actually has the potential to get away from the defenders and break for a big play rather than automatically have a defender climb up his back midair and bring him down.
One place in which suction still occurs though is in aerial collisions. There are a few air collisions that the game supports, and they look really good. But I’ve also seen quite a few situations where a jumping runner is pulled back to the ground prematurely in order for tackle animation to occur. This doesn’t happen often, but it shouldn’t be happening at all! If a player manages to jump over a tackle, then he should jump over the tackle.
There are some good-looking mid-air collisions in this game, but sometimes, runners will be warped back to the ground when the tackle animation is triggered.
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Worse blocking is better blocking? ... Maybe?
Without defenders being suctioned into blocks, the defensive lines are finally able to get a realistic pass rush and pressure on the quarterbacks. It’s now possible to have an effective pass rush with just 4 rushers. And it is now much easier to get a blitzing linebacker to squeeze between a gap and blow up a play in the backfield! The days of sitting in the pocket forever are gone, as even a three-man rush can now get pressure on a quarterback if the defenders are skilled enough. Quarterbacks now have a much more realistic few seconds to get rid of the ball. This leads to a lot more incomplete passes and sacks, but that is a worthwhile side effect for a more realistic experience.
I’m even seeing consistent penetration from defenses on field goals and punts! I haven’t seen any actual blocks yet, but they’re getting pretty close! When you blitz more players than the offense can block, they will get pressure on the QB. Or at least, that was the case pre-patch, as EA seems to have partially nullified the aggressiveness of the pass rush in the most recent patch. But I can't say for sure, since this might just be the result of playing with different teams.
Nerfing the rush wasn't necessary, either. The QBs hold onto the ball a little too long. EA should probably have tweaked the AI to throw shorter drop-off passes more often so that sacks aren’t quite so easy to come by. And it would be really nice to see the lineman AI be adjusted to allow double-team pass blocks and to be better at getting in the way of defenders. In fact, the lack of double team blocking on pass plays is probably the biggest issue remaining with blocking AI. Basically, the offense only has any many pass-protectors as there are rushers. If you keep six players in to as pass blockers, and the defense rushes only three linemen, then they only need to beat three blockers in one-on-one engagements, instead of having to defeat all six. All you've accomplished is taking away a potential route-runner from having an opportunity to get open. It's a pretty aggregious flaw that is much more apparent now that all the suction is gone.
QBs have much less time to throw the ball now that suction has been removed from blocking. Defenders no longer get sucked into blocks or stuck on other linemen, but since offensive linemen can't double team in pass block, keeping extra blockers is pointless. Defenders will still get "sucked" into blocks when offensive linemen engage them from the side - with no way to break free and continue to the QB/runner.
Offensive linemen still have issues with procedural awareness too. Often, a blocker will “lock in” on a specific player and chase him halfway across the field, even though there is a more immediate threat nearby. In such instances, a lineman may lock onto a safety or cornerback and ignore a linebacker that is blitzing into the gap that the run is planned to go through. Linemen will also still turn to face blockers that engage them from the sides, instead of just ripping around them and continuing on towards the quarterback or runner.
The Read Option play art no longer shows which defender is going to be unblocked for the QB to “read”. Is it the ROLB showing blitz? Or the down RE? Is any of the play art blocking diagrams trust-worthy?
It also seems like the on-field play art doesn't diagram the blocking as accurately as last year. This is especially true for read option plays, in which the diagram no longer shows which line of scrimmage defender is supposed to be left unblocked for the QB to read. This worked last year, so there's no excuse for it not to work this year.
All in all, I have to say that blocking is overall improved over previous years. All the flaws that are present in blocking are flaws that have existed in the game for years. It's a shame that EA hasn't fixed them yet, but I'll take the more realistic pass rush and overabundance of sacks over the suction blocking any day.
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Returning legacy issues
The infamous “tumbleweed” still occurs, in which one defender hits the ball carrier and then other defenders just drop to the ground around him or bounce off without actually affecting the momentum of the ball-carrier. The really ironic thing is that the tumbleweeds are now happening in situations where PRO-TAK animations would have been present in last year’s game. So the lack of PRO-TAK is even more noticeable in these instances. The animation that is shown when tumbleweeds occur is much more realistic and believable though, so when it does happen – and it still happens a lot – it doesn’t look as bad. It just looks like the would-be tackler “missed”.
“Skating” is still ever-present though. Foot planting doesn’t occur as often as it should. This means that players aren’t punished for “wasted motion”, which is commonly discussed by football commentators. Locomotion was supposed to fix this last year, but it didn’t, and it still hasn’t been fixed. In fact, I’m not even sure if the locomotion system is still in place, as I’m not noticing such dramatic differences between players with differing acceleration ratings.
Wide receiver play is also still very weak. Receivers don’t play the ball or attempt to play defense when they are out of position. They run to a location on the field and just put their hands out with no regard for where the football actually is, how the defenders are positioned, etc. They do not attempt to play defense or fight for the ball if the defender is in a better position to catch the ball. This makes fade routes, jump passes in the back of the endzone, and many deep passes virtually impossible to execute.
Wide Receivers make absolutely no effort to go up and get the ball or play defense if the defender is in better position.
Weaknesses aside, the on-field play that occurs once the ball is snapped is much more polished and clean than it used to be.
The improved animations are supplemented by better lighting, grass textures, and new effects such as clumps of grass being torn up as players move, uniforms getting dirty, and helmets getting scuffed. It adds a nice, gritty look and feel to the game.
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A few seconds makes a huge difference
Play-selection on defense is also a serious issue in this game. The default play recommendations do a much better job of taking the opponent’s personnel package into account instead of just selecting based on down and distance. You can still see the offense’s personnel package, including the jersey numbers of the skilled players that are on the field. This is useful if your opponent has specific players that you need to worry about, but since the game doesn’t show you their names (only jersey numbers), you really have to do your research and know what numbers their most dangerous threats are wearing. This wouldn’t be so bad if there was a nice and easy interface to “scout” an opponent prior to a game, but there isn’t. And you only have about 8 seconds on defense to pick a play! So you don’t have all that much time to look at your opponent’s personnel package and think about what you want to do.
And once a play is selected, the AI QBs snap the ball almost immediately after lining up! This makes it virtually impossible to make any pre-play defensive adjustments. I often don’t even have time to flip a play or switch to the defensive player that I want to control! Forget about trying to correct an assignment mismatch, or quickly switching a safety to double-cover a receiver, or hot routing more than one defender. This was an issue in Madden 09. People complained that it took all the strategy out of playing defense (which it does). EA fixed it in a patch. Why is this still a problem every year?! Best case, I'd like to see animations of the QBs reading the defenses, wide outs checking with the side judges that they're onsides, and linemen pointing out their blocking assignments to each other at the line. But I'd settle for the QB just standing behind center. Just give us a few seconds on defense to do something!
See all those neat options you have on defense? That's just the adjustments you can apply to the whole defense. There's a whole set of defensive hot routes that you can apply to individual players one-at-a-time, too! But guess what? You only get two seconds to get it all done. The AI-controlled quarterbacks snap the ball almost immediately after getting behind center. Look! He's almost there...
The play-selection screen is also missing the Package Substitution feature that was implemented a few years ago. So now, if you want to substitute in a 3rd down running back, you have to do that from the Depth Chart in the Pause menu. If you want to rotate your receivers, you have to do it from the Pause menu. If you want to flip your defensive ends - you guessed it - pause menu. Seriously, EA: why is this feature not in the game?! Inexcuseable.
There’s also still no “accelerated clock” feature either (except when a team is running a “conservative” temp). This really confounds me because that 8 seconds that you have to pick a play on defense seems like it would be a perfect opportunity to run some time off the clock on AI possessions! Time of possession is severely unbalanced, and clock management just isn’t very realistic because it’s often quicker to just go to the play-selection screen and quickly pick a play than it is to run the no-huddle offense.
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Yeah, the AI still cheats
Another major enhancement this year was supposed to be improved defensive zone coverage. But if you ask me, this year’s zone coverage is too tight. Strafing and backpedaling AI defenders seem to be able to keep up with a sprinting wide receiver far too often. The reaction time of defensive backs is way too fast. Defenses are also ridiculously good at knocking down short passes, especially in the flats. Screen passes are even more impossible than ever because not only is the blocking bad, but now the defenders are always there to knock the pass down or intercept it.
The game's AI is also still overly reliant on the passing game. Even run-heavy teams like Wisconsin will routinely air out the ball on first down, or spend an entire drive without a single running play - usually resulting in a three-and-out.
We also still have no option to call audibles on punts. So if the defense lines up in punt block formation, you can't audible to the max protect. Of course, whenever the human player selects punt block, the AI automatically lines up in its max protect punt formation. This has been an issue in EA's games for as long as I can remember. And it is BULLSHIT!
And, oh yeah, linebackers can still jump up 5 feet in the air and knock down passes over the middle that are intended for a receiver 20 yards downfield.
The AI also blatantly cheats in some situations. For example: whenever you run a zone blocking run play with the game set on All-American or Heisman difficulty, the play-side AI cornerback will instantly react to the run and have a clear shot at the running back behind the line of scrimmage. If you flip the play, then the other cornerback will do the same thing. If you set the difficulty back down to Varsity, then those players will realistically follow the receiver for a split second before committing to the run. At least EA was generous enough to make this problem work both ways. Your team’s AI-controlled cornerbacks will react the same way whenever the game is set on the easier difficulties. And this happens regardless of the slider settings, so there is nothing that you can do to remove this issue. Either your players do it, or the CPU’s players will do it. You can’t fix both. I really hope this is something that EA will address at some point.
On the hardest two difficulty settings, defensive backs can sometimes react to a play immediately. This play is not a corner blitz. I am not manually controlling the defender. He is supposed to be playing a zone. This is cheating. Plain and simple.
There are other nagging issues that kind of baffled me:
- There is significant lag when running the no-huddle. Sometimes, the game completely locks up for a few seconds. Other times, the players run to the line, but the play-selection window doesn't appear until after the players are lined up, leaving the defense with no time to select a play (is this intentional?).
- Officials are still intangible objects. They will try to get out of the way of players, but it doesn't matter if they don't, because there is no collision-detection for the refs. This takes away the ability to use the referees as extra blockers, to pick defenders, or to get in the way of a pass or runner - all of which are techniques that are employed in real football.
- Officials also don't actually do anything. You don't see them picking up the ball and running it to the new spot after a play (it still just teleports to the new spot when you run No Huddle). You don't see them exchange the ball for a new ball from the ball boy. You don't see them actually throw the yellow flag when a penalty is committed. The officials in the PlayStation ONE's versions of Madden did all those things. Why can't a game released 12 years later on a two-generation-ahead console have similar immersion?
- On-field play art doesn’t highlight the primary receiver’s route. I’m pretty sure it used to do this, so I’m not sure why EA would remove it.
- With all the suction tackles gone, runners have an occasionally-irritating habit of bouncing off defenders like a pinball without a tackle animation being triggered.
- When selecting plays by formation, the game no longer automatically selects the most appropriate special teams play for the situation. When on offense, it always starts you off on Field Goal (even if it's going to be an 85-yarder). On defense, it always starts you out on Punt Return (even if the other team is going for the Point After Touchdown).
- Instant replays only capture about 8 or 10 seconds worth of action. So on really long plays (like QB scrambles or kick returns), the beginning of a play may be cut off. Which sucks because then you can’t analyze the replay to find out how that play happened. This is absolutely inexcuseable and was never an issue in previous years!
Want to find out why your pre-play read of the defense was wrong so that you can avoid another embarrassing mistake like this? Well too bad, because the 9 ½ seconds it took for this guy to run it all the way across the field for a TD took up the entire replay time limit. Bullshit, EA! This must be fixed!
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Other game modes got attention this year too
The Dynasty and Road to Glory modes were virtually untouched in last year’s game, but they both received a bit of an overhaul in this year’s game.
Coaching Carousel misses the point
Dynasty Mode now has a “Coaching Carousel” mechanic in which coaches are hired and fired by teams during the offseason if they fail to meet a team’s specific goals. This includes head coaches, offensive coordinators, and defensive coordinators. Sorry special teams gurus, you’ve been neglected in this mode. You can chose to start out your career as an offensive or defensive coordinator and make your way up to being a head coach by building your prestige by accomplishing goals.
I don’t really care for playing as a coordinator. It just doesn’t seem very well fleshed-out. All the grand strategy and front-office management is completely unchanged. You still have full control of depth charts, redshirting, playbooks, and recruiting for both sides of the ball. The only difference with being an offensive or defensive coordinator is that during games, you only have control of your side of the ball.
Playing as a defensive coordinator is especially boring and difficult because my offense always seemed completely inept, forcing me to have to do all the work on defense. But with only 7 or 8 seconds to pick plays and no time to make defensive adjustments pre-snap, it’s an excessively frustrating experience. And you don’t even have control of special teams and have absolutely no influence on how the offense will play!
Coaches can now be hired and fired during the offseason; although I'm not sure if the game will create new coaches to fill vacancies, or if it always just recycles the existing coaches.
The game now tracks individual coachs’ ratings and records, but coaches don’t start with a win-loss record. I wouldn’t mind if the coordinator didn’t start with win-loss records, but the head coaches really should have. It was weird to start up a Dynasty and just see an alphabetized list of coaches with 0-0 record. Where’s Joe Paterno and his 400-plus victories?
Other areas of Dynasty received minimal or no attention.
Recruiting is virtually unchanged, and suffers from some nagging problems.
The Recruiting Prospect Ratings screen uses the right stick to jump to the next/previous recruit and the left stick to scroll through the player’s ratings. This seems counter-intuitive since you use the left stick to scroll through players in the previous screen.
I also couldn’t find a way to set the activities for a recruit’s campus visit during the phone call. I’m pretty sure you could set the activities straight from the phone call screen in previous versions of the game. Now, I have to wait until I exit back out of the phone call and into the prospect list, then hope I don’t forget to re-select that recruit and set the activities.
The game also still doesn’t show the promises that you’ve made to a player/recruit on any of the player info screens. You have to go back into the recruiting menu, and go to the “Promises” tab to see them, and the interface for it is clumsy, since it’s just a long list of all the promises. It would be nice to be able to see the promises that you’ve made to a player from the depth chart screen or for players with pending promises to be labeled in some way.
Another weird issue is that the game no longer highlights redshirted players’ names red on the depth chart or “Redshirt” screens. So you actually have to highlight a player in order to see that he is redshirted. This sort of thing is lazy and sloppy, and I don’t know why stuff like this gets changed between years.
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Custom Conferences provide missed potential
The most interesting addition to this year’s game is the custom conferences. Every off-season, you now have the option to move teams between conferences and change BCS tie-ins. This has the potential to add a lot of re-playability to the game, since you could theoretically keep the in-game conferences in-sync with any changes that occur in the league in the next few years.
But in practice, this feature falls flat on its face. You can’t add new teams to the league without removing existing ones, and your only opportunity to add Teambuilder teams is at the start of the Dynasty. You can’t add new Teambuilder teams in any of the subsequent years. The game also doesn’t include any D-II schools. This means that when 2012 rolls around, and half the WAC jumps into the Mountain West, you can’t add the incoming D-II schools into that conference. And if you want to add those new 2012 WAC teams preemptively (just so that they’ll be there for the next year), you’ll have to make them in Teambuilder, and you will have to remove other teams from the league in order to make room.
Even though conferences can be realigned and Teambuilder teams can be imported, you can't add new teams to the league without replacing an existing one, and you can't import new Teambuilder teams after the initial setup. It's gonna be lonely in the WAC next year...
You can also change BCS bowl tie-ins. This means you can give the Mountain West that automatic bowl bid that we’ve been wanting for years. But you don’t have the freedom to eventually switch to a playoff system – in the event that the NCAA decides to make such a dramatic format change in the years ahead.
It was a nice thought, EA. It’s a shame you blew such a potentially game-changing feature. I guess they need some reason for people to buy next year’s game…
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Custom Playbooks are back after years of hiatus, but they’re still broken
EA is re-introducing custom playbooks this year. This is a feature that existed way back in NCAA Football 2004, but was removed when the franchise jumped to the current generation of consoles. This feature would be a nice addition … if it worked. The interface is obfuscated and slow, and some esoteric requirements prevent you from removing certain plays or formations, so you’ll end up having several formations in your playbook that you didn’t want and which only have one or two plays in them.
And once you're in game, the problems continue. There may be blank formations and other weird glitches, and when I tried to run the No Huddle using a custom playbook, I was only given one play to chose from: QB Power. Completely worthless!
And even if it did work, it’s nothing new or innovative. All you get to do is chose what formations and plays you want to include in your playbook. You don’t have the freedom to design new plays, create new schemes, alter blocking assignments, or customize receiver routes. So this really feels like a fluff feature to me.
Even after the patch, there are still issues with Custom Playbooks. Sometimes plays can't be removed, other times, blank plays or formations show up in the play-selection screen, and the No Huddle play windo is a mess. Notice the lack of a “Package Substitutions” button in the play-selection screen!
It’s especially disappointing that the Custom Playbooks feature wasn’t better integrated into Dynasty Mode. An RPG-like element in which you actually have to add plays into your playbook a few at a time in order to “teach” them to your players (especially freshmen) would have been a neat feature to add a little depth and give the user more to do during off-season and between games. This sort of thing also would have integrated well with the “Coaching Carousel” feature, in that you would actually have something coach-like to do.
And since package substitutions were apparently removed from the game, you can't even customize the different packages that you'd like to have for each formation.
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Road to Glory lets you relive you High School Glory Days!
Road to Glory has also received a major overhaul after a year or two of stagnancy. The big new features this year are the ability to play your entire senior year of high school and be recruited by college scouts during that entire process, as well as being able to play both an offensive and defensive position.
There’s some new character creation elements. First and foremost is the secondary position. If you chose an offensive position as your primary, then the secondary must be a defensive position or vice versa. You can’t set yourself up to be a special teams star by picking punter, kick returner, or field goal kicker – not even as a secondary position. You’re also still stuck playing as a “skilled” position, so you can’t chose to play as an offensive linemen – not even as your secondary position. You can’t even choose to be a tight end!
After creating your character, you also have the option to choose your top 3 choices for what schools you want to go to.
Support for Teambuilder teams in Road to Glory's High School segment is a welcome addition! It's just too bad I have to set everything up every time I start a new RTG career.
You also finally have the option to customize your high school uniform a little bit by choosing from 36 pre-set uniform styles, a primary color, and a secondary color. You can even chose to import a TeamBuilder uniform, which is a neat addition. Doing so automatically sets the School name, stadium, and school nickname. There are even a few preset high school stadium variations that you can use; although, the game doesn’t show you what they look like on the player creation screen. Although customizing your offensive and defensive playbooks for your high school is sadly off-limits.
The Teambuilder app itself is still missing some key features that the old PS2 games’ Create-a-School modes had. We still can’t add pride stickers, set a fight song, set a rival school, or customize your stadium in any way. There is also still no way to edit or create a mascot, not even a reskinning of an existing mascot!
Before playing any of the high school games in Road to Glory, you are free to customize your schedule, including the schools you play, their nicknames, uniforms, team colors, and their offensive and defensive ratings. It would be nice if you could set up your high school information and opponents before creating your Road To Glory player, so that if you ever want to restart at a different position, you won’t have to go through the trouble of setting everything back up. Ah well. Maybe next year…
This year’s Road To Glory Mode went all-out on the nostalgia factor, so now you can relive that time when you scored four touchdowns in a single game as often as you’d like! ;) ;)
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Trying to put an “I” in “TEAM”
The Road To Glory gameplay is still pretty much the same as before, minus the Erin Andrews commentary. The game’s controls, camera, and speed just aren’t well-suited to playing as just one player, especially if that player is on defense (which more people will now play with the new “Iron Man” feature). If you’re not a quarterback or running back, then you have so little control over what is going on that this mode is almost unplayable and not very fun.
I honestly don’t even know why the developers let you play as a defensive lineman! Even if I do get a good jump off the ball, my character is too busy pancaking his blocker that he doesn’t make the tackle against the running back that runs right into me. As I mentioned before, there really need to be animations that allow defensive linemen to make reaching tackles while engaged with a blocker, and that necessity is never more obvious than when you are playing Road To Glory as a defensive tackle! This is especially problematic in 3-4 schemes, in which the noseguard’s job is usually to stay engaged with the center and wait till the runner commits to one side or another before going for a tackle. It would also be really nice if there weren’t so much of a delay between hitting the right stick and the actual performance of an evasive move. Sometimes, I hit it twice, then break the first move and end up taking myself out of the play with a missed hit stick attempt.
Bull rushing or jumping the snap as a defensive linemen will almost always get your player stuck in this animation that prevents you from being able to interact with the ball carrier in any way. The running back just bounces right off of me! The game stole numerous tackles for loss and sacks from me in this manner - which is a big deal in a game mode that's all about accumulating individual stats!
And since the game doesn’t care about or track any of the “intangible” aspects of playing defense, doing your assigned job is never going to accumulate enough stats that you’ll feel good about the game. The game doesn’t care about hustle, or play recognition, or filling your gap, or forcing a false start, or covering your zone, or disguising a blitz, or hurrying the QB, or containing the HB on an option even when he isn’t given the pitch, or performing any of those supporting roles that are so essential on defense. If you’re not the one making the tackle or swatting down the pass, then you will go completely unrecognized for your efforts. This actually encourages you to disregard your assignment and just play the ball every play, since the game won’t care if a receiver makes a catch in your missed zone or if a runner breaks a big gain through your untended gap for first down after first down. At least you can actually call audibles on defense now (which is a big improvement), but – just like on offense – you have to earn the right to do so.
On top of that, the Road To Glory AI is really irritating, especially in the High School portion. I guess, in order to make the game more challenging, they had to make the side of the ball that you are not on be completely inept most of the time. Which I guess is part of the reason that they let you be an “Iron Man” player on both sides of the ball this year. Your AI-controlled defense never steps up when you need a big play from them and always manage to keep all but the crappiest teams in the game. And your AI-controlled offense is incapable of doing anything other than throwing interceptions and missing field goals.
It’s also weird and irritating that every high school in the nation seems to do nothing but run shotgun pass plays. These are high schools! Not the Florida Gators!
Once you’ve made it to college, there is now an RPG-style experience and skill-progression system. You acquire experience from participating in practices and playing in games. Once earned, you spend the experience for various boosts before a game. Some boosts are permanent enhancements to your stats, and others only last for a single game. You’ll also gain “trust” from the coaches, and once you reach certain thresholds of “trust”, you’ll get promoted up to the next string, or earn additional responsibilities (such as the ability to call audibles on the field). If you’re currently a backup, then once you reach the threshold for the next level of trust, you’ll have to win a “position battle”, which is the same thing as a regular practice except that the scoring system is a little different. But it’s still just you against a static point value. Not you against the other AI-controlled player.
This adds a nice degree of depth to the mode. But I was disappointed that “leveling up” always requires a fixed amount of points depending on your current depth chart position. There’s really no sense of there being a “battle” for the position on the depth chart, since the other players don’t earn points based on their performances in practice and in games, nor do they level up (except during the off-season). You don’t really have to compete for your job. You just kind of have to show up and play competently, and eventually, you’ll earn that starting spot, regardless of how the other players at your position are playing.
Overall, Road to Glory mode is much more competently executed this year, and the few wrinkles that have been added provide much-needed depth. It’s easily the most improved feature in this year’s game, but it’s still not up to the level of Dynasty Mode.
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Presentation looks slick, but sounds horrible
Presentation was a big point of emphasis for EA this year. The first big change you’ll notice is the integration of ESPN College Gameday elements. The game’s menus really give a great sense of being part of an ESPN broadcast with their look and music.
EA definitely got the ESPN College Gameday look down!
The team introductions are also a nice addition that add additional college flair to the game. But they have a way of getting really repetitive really fast. The teams that have unique entrances only have one script that they follow for those entrances, so they look exactly the same every time.
Play at Colorado: you’re going to watch one of the buffalo handlers stumble and fall when they’re running the buffalo onto the field every time (they should maybe fire that guy).
Play at LSU: you’re going to see a visiting player get scared and stagger back when the caged tiger roars as he’s walking by it – every time.
There is no variety within an individual team’s entrance. Some minor, subtle variation would have gone a long way towards reducing the tedium of these entrances, and adding an extra bit of believability to the game.
The teams that don’t have unique entrances also have no variety in their intros. It’s all just the same run-out-of-the-tunnel for everybody. Every time. The developers probably could have provided at least a few different generic entrance scripts for the rest of the NCAA and for Teambuilder teams. Inflatable helmets, pyrotechnics, flyovers, dancing mascots, cheerleader routines, the firing of a cannon, and so on all could have been added as generic options for the remaining teams. Maybe that’ll be in next year’s game.
The commentary is still horrible. Lee Corso is still gone from the broadcast booth, and Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit just don’t sound right without him. Commentary is sparse, inaccurate, and unnatural.
The only bright spots in the commentary come from some half-decent first-half recaps that are provided by Erin Andrews at the beginning of the third quarter. In fact, sometimes, these analysis are spot on! And they even include replay highlights and stat overlays to boot! Very well done. How come you can put something like that together, but you can’t get a coherent half-time or post-game highlight show? It’s still not up to par with NFL 2k5’s glorious, context-sensitive pre-game, half-time, and post-game shows, but it’s a start.
It may not be NFL 2k5's halftime highlight show, but it's actually a pretty good start - except it's not during halftime, and half the time, I accidentally skip it by pressing a button after the play is over.
Oh, and get rid of those horrible field-level “action cam” replays. They are disorienting, and half the time you can’t see what’s going on because everybody’s body is blocking the action.
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My single biggest complaint with this game is that it was released with some seriously game-breaking flaws.
The most noticeable problem (for me) is a roster glitch that causes player tendencies to change whenever any detail about them is changed – even their name. This means that loading a custom, named roster will cause every player in the game to play with a different style than their attributes are balanced for. Pocket passer QBs will become scramblers, power running backs will try to out-run and out-finesse defenders, coverage corners will try to play more like heavy-hitters, and so on.
This forced players to use the built-in, numbers-only version of the rosters that ship with the game. For hardcore players like me, this meant that the career modes are completely out of the question until a fix was issued.
A longer (but not complete) list of patched issues include:
- Custom Playbooks were created with missing plays.
- Custom Playbooks would become completely empty if too many formations were removed.
- Player tendencies were changed whenever any detail about the player was changed.
- Profanity filter for player names would block common names (such as Cox).
- Game would crash when multiple TeamBuilder teams were added to an Online Dynasty.
- Game would crash when downloading an Online Dynasty file.
- Game would crash in Online Dynasties when backing out of the coach editor.
- QBs did not accelerate properly on Speed Option plays.
- Defenders in curl flat zone did not engage a scrambling QB.
- Safeties in deep ¼ zone would not react to run plays.
- Nickel defender in cover 3 would not react to the QB.
- Manual control of receivers allowed for “jetpack catches” when user changed directions.
- Defenders would not switch assignments when the outside receiver was put in motion.
- Receivers would not make an attempt to catch certain passes due to an animation not being triggered.
- Offensive linemen were incapable of blocking defenders that changed from man coverage assignment to chasing down the ball-carrier on running plays.
- Defense would not update its assignments when the offense called an audible.
- Blank photos would be uploaded when uploading highlights to the server.
- Injured players in Dynasty did not remain injured when the week advanced.
- Injured players in Dynasty treated the entire Conference Championship and Bowl Season as 1 week (and so did not return to play if they were supposed to have recovered during that time).
- Coaches that changed jobs were still listed at the old school’s Players Leaving screen, preventing the Recruiting Class from being transferred to Madden.
- Dynasties sometimes could not advance to post-season.
- Dynasty and Road to Glory could not enter the Virginia Tech versus Boston College game (wtf?).
- Recruiting trophies/achievements could not be unlocked if coach signed an extension that season.
- Program Stability in Dynasty would sometimes drop from A+ (max) to D+ (min) in one season.
- The paid-for “Unlock all promises” DLC would not activate properly.
- In Online Dynasty, users were prevented from editing playbooks if more than one user used the same playbook.
- In Road to Glory, CBs could not audible even after earning that responsibility from the coach.
- In Road to Glory, HBs could not flip the play even after earning that responsibility from the coach.
And there's still more glitches that haven't been fixed! Case in point:
One thing that has been irritating me for years is that the EASports radio never finishes it’s stories. The announcer always gets cut off right in the middle of a sentence. This has NEVER worked properly – am I the only one who has this problem?
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Was it worth the money?
As much as I want to like the game, and as much as I want to give credit to EA for trying to address the major issues that have been holding this franchise back, I just can’t ignore the horrible condition that the game shipped in, and the tacked-on feeling of all the new game modes and features. This game either was not properly tested, or EA released it knowing that it had serious flaws. Regardless, it just goes to show that this game was released at least a month or two too early. The game just lacks polish. The removal of suction and warping is a great thing in principle, but all it's really done is expose many more flaws that are endemic to EA's football game engine and AI and shows us fans why EA felt it necessary to maintain all the suction and warping in previous years.
NCAA Football 12 feels like it was rushed into stores way too early. I never understood why EA insists on releasing its NCAA Football game almost 2 whole months before the start of the season. Teams are still finalizing their rosters, the NCAA is still handing out suspensions for rule violations, teams are still revealing new and alternate uniforms (which EA will probably charge us to buy as DLC), stadiums are still being renovated or upgraded, and Bowl sponsors are still changing. By the time the actual college football season started, NCAA Football 12 already felt severely out-of-date.
The impracticality of the annual sports video game releases is becoming more and more apparent with each passing year. With such complicated hardware, rapidly-advancing software technologies, the need for post-release support for the online infrastructure, and a demanding fanbase, EA just can’t keep up. It seems that the best thing that could happen to EA’s football video game franchise is for EA to shift to a 2 or 3-year development and release cycle so that they can spend some time rebuilding the game from the ground up.
But even if I ignore the poor condition of the game at release, I just can't get past the consistent issues that I have with every facet of the game. Every game mode contains significant problems and oversights. I can't stand that all the defensive backs seem to have psychic power and that even the AI sliders can't make that go away. I can't stand that players still get stuck in animations that prevent them from doing the things that you need them to do. I can't stand that only two defenders can make contact with the ball carrier at any given time. I can't stand that EA isn't making any efforts to add any cerebral elements to the game.
I cannot recommend this game as a purchase, and I feel genuinely sorry for everybody who bought the game on day one – before all the bugs and glitches were public knowledge.
If you really need your college football fix this year, then this game is fully worth a rental or pre-owned purchase. Unless you absolutely have to have online Dynasty. You need a one-time-use passcode in order to access online play. So if you buy pre-owned, you run the risk that the code is either not included or has already been redeemed.
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