Ed. note: I will very likely end up reviewing this game for PopMatters, so I don't want to go too in depth into everything, but I'll share at least a few thoughts on my first experience with the game.
First thing's first: the physics system. When I played the demo, I had a little trouble getting used to it. Players felt too jumpy. Despite it's intended realism, everything in the game felt a little bit too smooth, a bit too easy (imagine the difference between Cruis'n USA and Need for Speed; the former's twitchy controls more similar to NCAA 11's revamped physics). But the more time you spend with the game, the more that fades away and you start to settle in to what is clearly a more realistic experience. You can no longer stop on a dime after backpedaling and take off at full speed. Nor can you navigate through the defense like a fighter pilot without anyone laying a finger on you--if you start zig zagging, you're going to be tackled.
The next thing that really stuck out to me was how much more difficult the game was because of improved AI. It's not that they made the computer controlled players better necessarily--though there are a fair amount of magnet batted passes that go against you--but they made them more intelligent. Defenses play smarter zones and more appropriate schemes. They also don't always tip their hand pre-snap as to what is about to come and if you run the same play two or three times, they'll start adjusting to it (e.g., when I'd run a slot triple option, the defense starting bringing the free safety down). They react to the play better, too, meaning it's difficult to get a breakaway run down the sideline because players on the opposite side of the field are coming for you quicker and at better pursuit angles. And opposing offenses mix up their play calling a lot to keep your defense on its heels. Speaking of which...
The no-huddle offense is nothing short of a revelation. Impossible to defend. Impeccably fun to run. After being tackled, you hold down a button (for XBox, the Y button) and the game brings up a compact playbook--in on-screen size only, every play is available to you--for you to choose your next play as your team runs up to the line. Once you've picked your play, you can immediately snap the ball, whether or not the defense is set. But the same goes for when you're trying to defend a no-huddle offense. You wind up picking from a handful of plays for what seems like an entire series because you can't sub in or out the correct personnel for a different formation. The 3-3-5 makes lots of sense here despite only being able to pick from about 8 plays.
To the much maligned blocking: it works. Despite what you might have been told, it works. Running is no longer predetermined. You have to wait for holes to open up, wait for a pulling lineman, read defenses, etc. Linemen ostensibly do what they're supposed to and it's really fun.
Take this all with a grain of salt because there was very little chance I wasn't going to like this game. But this feels like a watershed moment for the franchise.