Is it better than FIFA 11?
To fans of the FIFA series, that question holds no importance. By the time this review is published, they’d have already purchased FIFA 12 and sunken several hours into it. However, this is a question that many gamers who aren’t fanatical about FIFA tend to ask, and most years, that question is easy to answer. This year, not so much.
EA claims that FIFA 12 is a revolutionary step for the series and football games, and there are a couple of big headlining features using which they aim to achieve this. To anyone worried about this being simply FIFA 11 with a new name – it’s not. FIFA 12 plays drastically differently than FIFA 11 did in a way that even the most ardent FIFA fans wouldn’t expect. FIFA’s rival – Pro Evolution Soccer, has been famous for making fans relearn each new game, while FIFA’s changes have traditionally been gradual and incremental. Not this year though. You’re going to have to learn how to play FIFA 12. But while EA has been bold enough to make a few sweeping changes, do those changes actually make FIFA 12 a better game?
EA’s unwavering dedication toward making FIFA a realistic simulation is instantly seen in the game’s slower pace. FIFA gets technical this year; it’s not just about making a pass, but how and when you make it and what position you and your intended target are in when it’s made. The most impactful new feature in FIFA 12 is also the most controversial. While a lot has been done to advance attacking, dribbling and goal scoring in past games, this time, EA has paid a heap of attention to defending. With the infusion of tactical defending, stemming attacks and dispossessing the opponent requires as much concentration, skill and planning as an attack on goal. Covering open spaces is the key and going in for rash, mistimed tackles will leave you exposed.
Be prepared for embarrassment as the AI will make your defensive line look silly on a regular basis on the higher difficulties, but once you’ve learned the nuances of the new system and the effective use of jockeying and standing tackles, FIFA 12 reveals itself as a more tactical game all over the park. The downside to tactical defending is that while defending is harder now, attacking is pretty much the same, so you still have all the fancy tricks up your sleeve. It’s a bit of an imbalance in favor of the attackers, but again, once you get the hang of tactical defending, matches in FIFA 12 can turn into some tense games of cat and mouse.
The other big feature in this year’s game is the Player Impact Engine, which is designed to make the game more fluid and realistic, but its implementation is far from perfect, leading to some embarrassing scenarios. The physics based engine is designed to use on-the-fly calculations to deliver more realistic collisions. On paper, this means that collisions and their effects will vary depending on the direction and severity of impact, and the strength and momentum of the players in question. So a slight nudge would impede a player moving at high speed differently than if he was running slowly. In practice, however, the engine throws up way too many bizarre collisions and awkward player animations, which achieves the exact opposite of what EA was going for – realism. Worse, your own players will trip over one another, and when it happens in your own goal mouth, it can be infuriating. Still, you will see glimpses of how this engine can make the game feel more dynamic, but its debut in FIFA 12 isn’t convincing at all.
In terms of offline game modes, FIFA 12 is largely unchanged. The Career Mode, which was first introduced last year, has seen a few tweaks here and there – an easier transfer system, for example, but by and large, it’s the same set-up, which allows you to embark upon a career as either a manager (full team control), player (Virtual Pro), or player manager (a mix of both). I’m still not a fan of the calendar system that needlessly simulates each day between matches. It breaks the flow when you have to stare at the screen between matches and read fabricated news stories that reuse the same limited templates. There’s room for improvement, particularly in the UI and activities between matches, but on the whole, the Career Mode will provide hours of entertainment.
Online is where the fun really lies though. Aside from friendly (or otherwise) competition online, the Football Club feature encompasses everything you do in FIFA 12 – offline and online, solo and multiplayer - and rewards you with XP. This XP is then uploaded to the servers and into the kitty of your club of allegiance, which will help it climb up the overall league, where other clubs are also represented by the XP earned by their fans from around the world. It’s a great cohesion of the achievements of every FIFA 12 player from around the world, and even if you’re just playing a short insignificant friendly to kill time, it’s great to know that even that is contributing towards your club’s Football Club ranking.
Balls to the sky
Online matches and modes are pretty much the same as FIFA 11; not much needed to be changed anyway. In addition to the core ranked and unranked matches, Head to Head Seasons allows you to compete in ten matches across ten seasons, where each win moves you up across online leagues. The scenario mode will be familiar to those who played the last FIFA World Cup game. Here, real world occurrences from the world’s top leagues are presented to you within the game, allowing you to create your own outcome to a recently concluded real world match.
FIFA has always excelled in the presentation department, but somehow, FIFA 12 seems to have taken a step back. Goal celebrations look awkward and the strange collisions mar an otherwise great looking game. There’s been a change of commentary too, with Alan Smith replacing Andy Gray. In addition, you also have the World Cup commentary duo of Tyldesley-Townsend in case you get tired of the default pairing. Crowd chants, stadium atmosphere, and the soundtrack are great as always.
Almost... got... it
It’s no revolution, but FIFA 12 is the boldest installment in the series since FIFA 08. While the Player Impact Engine is a little iffy in its implementation and the new defence controls have a steep learning curve, play it long enough and you’ll find a technically sound and ultimately rewarding football simulation experience. It’s hard to say if it’s better than FIFA 11, but once you do play it, you won’t want to go back.
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