FIFA 12 Review
Imagine the pressure of creating a game based on the world's most popular sport. Year in and year out, EA Sports has tasked itself with creating the best possible soccer game that will appeal to the hordes of soccer fans around the globe. Last year, with FIFA 11, they pretty much succeeded. The challenge this year? Topping such a successful game and not only repeating the performance, but exceeding it. Expectations were high, but EA Sports delivery was higher.
That's right, EA Sports has delivered a gem in FIFA 12, highlighted by a series of risky changes. With a clear goal of improving gameplay, EA focused on defensive changes to the gameplay, most notably a new tactical defending system that emphasizes "containing" and jostling. Although these changes will feel weird at first, you should soon get used to them. I, for one, welcomed these changes, which took out a common tactic of holding down the two "pressing" button, which in the past sent two players in to close down the attackers and win the ball. Was it a smart tactic, gameplay wise? Yes. Did it require skill? Hardly.
Now, that tactic no longer works. Instead of rushing in to take the ball, you now play a more realistic style of defense. FIFA 12 now has a new "containing" method in which you track the attacker, remaining a few feet away, and keeping him held back. When the time is right, you can actively time when to tackle and rush in for the ball, or decide when to hold the player back. Time your button press badly and the attacker will easily pass you, or you'll commit a foul.
In the event that happens, which it probably will until you get used to the new system, you can take advantage of the new jostling system. Do everything you see them do on television to stop the attacker. Tug on their shirt, use your player's arm to hold them back. It's a more realistic style of defense that lets you take advantage of your player's entire body, rather than just their legs.
Of course, if you're an American like me who doesn't understand the strategy behind soccer, you'll go for the slide tackles. Call it a football mentality, but this year it plays an important role. With the auto-tackle button now disabled, you must perfectly time your slide to clear the ball. I'll admit, the learning curve was steep for me, especially against the more skilled AI teams.
Not all tweaks were on the defensive side of the ball. Offensive controls come in the form of dribbling, or controlling the ball more accurately when the pressure is on. No longer will your players be clumbsy and kick the ball out of bounds when you get near the touchline. Now, they'll automatically know when they are near the line and retain tighter control of the ball.
It is these changes in ball control and defense that make the gameplay experience in FIFA 12 so much more realistic than previous FIFA games. While I enjoyed the new changes, it is understandable that some fans will long for the old gameplay of past FIFA experiences. The good news is you can turn these new features off and use the older systems, but if you want to take part in online competition, you'll have to use the new system.
Unfortunately, one thing that fans can't really change--aside form difficulty--is the new scoring, which proved to be particularly hard. I'm not sure if it was just me, but goals are hard to come by. Then again, that's somewhat realistic given the rare goals in real life.
EA didn't just focus on gameplay changes this year; they improved the entire presentation. The new Impact Engine was one of the most hyped features EA introduced in FIFA 12, but upon seeing it playout, it was much more subtle then it EA made it out to be. The new feature adds a physics system that simulates the impact between two players during tackles or other forms of contact. Gone are the days of pre-rendered animations. You will hardly see the same animation twice, though you will see some comical rag-doll animations. Let's be honest, no game is without it's physics bugs. The overall result of the Impact Engine is a more realistic look and more fluid gameplay.
While playing against AI teams is fun, I think the real fun--as with most sports games--is playing against fellow humans. That element of human reaction to your moves makes it for a completely different experience. With that being said, EA has clearly focused on the competitive side of the game, offering brand new game modes including Head to Head Seasons and online Friendlies.
Head to Head Seasons puts you in a league and gives you 10 online games to try and earn enough points to get a promotion into a better league. The result: tougher online opponents. Meanhwile, FIFA 12's other mode, Online Friendlies, is a "competition" amongst friends. Each friend you play against creates a new 10 match season. As you play games you are awarded points for wins. The one with the most points earns a trophy. None of these modes are groundbreaking, but it's nice to see FIFA cater towards the online gaming community, even I got a little too good for the computer AI.
As with most other games, EA has also implemented a ton of new online social features. You now have your own rank to level by earning XP through playing the game. The motivation, of course, is bragging rights amongst players worldwide. The real fun online begins when you start to support your favorite real life team. When you support a team, your XP and accomplishments go toward them, giving your favorite real-life team an overall position on the global league tables. The league resets for fresh competition each week. Fans of smaller teams won't be discouraged from participating as the scores for each team are based on averages.
Presentation in sports games is everything, and EA has clearly stepped that up with FIFA 12. The menus, pre-game practice arena, team ontages, and crowds create a sense of realism that is only heightened by the new gameplay and physics changes. The animations are excellent, the lighting is impressive, and the new physics engine will have you rarely seeing a repeat.
EA Sports has managed to do the unthinkable. They have taken an already successful, well-designed franchise and improved it with FIFA 12.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]