This review was provided by freelance writer Mike Mason.
EA Sports’ lucrative FIFA franchise has been running for many a year now, scoring a mixture of goals and own-goals over the years, particularly during competition with Pro Evolution Soccer since moving into three dimensions. The last few releases, however, have demonstrated huge improvements bringing the series into its all-time best era. Does FIFA 12 keepy-uppy the run of form?
If you don’t know your Arsenal from your elbow, don’t worry. FIFA 12 still proves to be an compelling representation of the beautiful game, accessible to both those who have only the vaguest grasp of the rules of football as well as fans that follow it like a religion. As ever, it’s simple for anybody to hop into a game and start haphazardly passing the ball around – if the lower difficulty settings are used with the AI assistance applied generously. For those after an experience more closely resembling the Champions League than a Sunday pub league, however, there is plenty of room to bump up the challenge level and adjust the AI to a perfect mix of annoyance and enjoyment through the vast range of customisable sliders that allow everything from player sprint speed to shot accuracy to be kicked into touch.
A wall that may prevent FIFA 12 from instantly appealing, however, is the complete reworking of the defence system. No longer is it possible to simply run into opponents and snatch the ball away; the primary method now involves tracking and marking players properly, jockeying in front and around to unnerve and force them to make mistakes or unfavourable moves. Tackling still plays its role, but it’s now far more effective to tightly stick to troublesome players and call in back up from a team mate to lessen the chances of surprise manoeuvre.
Initially it’s not easy, a fact made immediately obvious by EA’s decision to include an in-depth tutorial before playing a game proper. The number of buttons required simultaneously to make the most of the overhaul – spread across the shoulders and face of the controller – is daunting even to adept football gamers. Struggle through the tough learning curve, though, and it becomes apparent that the changes are for the better. Matches are more realistic affairs — there are fewer charges up the field into shock goals with far more battles in midfield.
If you do manager to break away you’ll find further consideration has to be given to attacking approaches than before, as the simple single player dash and shoot method has a far lower rate of success against similarly paced teams. Own-half defensive scrambles are more desperate than ever, but it’s balanced by a greater feeling of control. If the new approach proves unsatisfying even after practice, though, the old controls are still present, albeit not default and unfortunately unusable in certain online modes.
A second revamp comes through the Player Impact Engine, which bids to add realism in its own way through the way players physically interact with one another. Clipping another player with a shoulder will barge them out of the way or knock them over completely, for example. With this system injuries are more regular and obvious, but the engine is not without its faults. There have been countless examples of ridiculous, exaggerated physics faux pas since the release of FIFA 12’s beta, and they make it into the final game also, though thankfully only semi-regularly. On occasion the illusion built up elsewhere is shattered by players falling atop others, only to be flung through the air when the player beneath clambers to their feet. A slight nudge can send somebody spinning like a top. It’s hilarious, but it’s pretty certain that this wasn’t the intended effect.
FIFA 12 holds more modes than you can fling a football boot at. There are your standard exhibition matches – ideal for evenings with friends or getting in a quick game solo – but those looking for more expanded footballing fun can find it in plenty of other places. The home menus now feature more of a social aspect. Ticker tapes relay real-life match results and EA Sports information as before, and the big boxes boasting about buddies’ best ballgames makes a return, poking at you to try and score a goal more quickly than your rivals in the one-on-one arena practice sessions that pop up as matches load in. On top of this are prompts from EA to take on challenges based upon actual events. Scenarios from recent matches are regularly added, tasking players with, as a completely made-up example, playing as Liverpool and coming back from a 2 – 0 deficit to a win with 15 minutes left on the clock.
There’s also the Support Your Club aside, wherein every team per country is put into a league, their positioning decided by how well their fans play FIFA 12. Upon the original boot up players are asked to input their favourite team, and from then on every one of each clubs’ fans’ results across all modes, no matter what teams are being controlled, are tracked and added to a formula to calculate how well each club will perform in the league table. The best clubs are promoted to the next league up, the worst demoted, on a weekly basis. Smaller clubs are not disadvantaged by their size, as league positions here are determined by the average play quality of their supporters; a club with a few consistently perfect fans will be in better shape than one with a thousand times the followers that play pathetically. Given a huge share of FIFA 12 fandom, and thus a higher amount of dreadful performers, Manchester United were predictably sent tumbling to the nPower Championship and beyond within days.
Up to eleven friends can play in the same side online with their own created Be A Pro players to compete in leagues. Be A Pro characters improve in whichever mode they are played in, gaining better statistics for scoring certain goals or running for certain distances, so it’s best to use them whenever possible to grab an advantage online. The range of possible creations is broad, from the normal looking to the nightmare-inducing.
The riveting career mode – as a player, player-manager or manager – makes a welcome return to soak up countless hours once more. It’s not as involving as Football Manager, of course, but it is more absorbing than ever, particularly if you take on a managerial role. The transfer market, despite the frequent ludicrous amounts requested making the real world’s inflated rates look half-reasonable, is more tempting than previous outings. The enhanced transfer deadline day sections can be tense and bountiful at once; an irresistible offer might tip in for an important player with mere hours to go, leaving scant time before the transfer window closes to fill the hole torn in the team through sheer insurmountable greed. Scouting networks have been improved too, with scouts able to be sent worldwide in the hunt for talented young starry-eyed teenagers to boost a club’s future prospects. Existing players will pop up to complain without enough or too much play – it’s more of a balancing game than ever.
The breakout mode of recent FIFAs has been the football card-based Ultimate Team, a quest to build a formidable side from whatever random elements are given. Beginning with a fairly weak deck, players must construct a team and play matches, online and offline, to gain points that can then be spent on new packs of cards and increase the team’s collective skill. With more points better packs can be bought – bronze, silver, gold – to try and add superstars to the usual band of misfits, though play a team long enough and they will build chemistry together for stacks of handy stat increases. For the impatient, the more dangerous world of micro-transactions is more than happy to open its doors to sell Ultimate Team packs for real world currency.
EA have done a sterling job with FIFA 12, bringing back everything enjoyable about FIFA 11 and adding more on top. There are still surely things it could do better – even more recorded commentary is always desirable, and the Player Impact Engine’s sporadic lunacy is there to be tuned, but FIFA 12 launches to the very top of the sports game table thanks to its numerous improvements in both core gameplay and mode selection.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360/ PC/ Wii Release Date: 30/09/2011
Disclosure: Freelance writer Mike Mason played a retail copy of FIFA 12 for review purposes. The title was reviewed on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.