FIFA games are like X-Factor winners. We get a new one every year, they’re almost indiscernible from last year’s and they hog the top of the charts for weeks. At least, that’s what plenty of the franchise’s detractors would have you believe. Fans of the yearly football game either fight their point on the myriad of minute changes made each time a FIFA game gets a new number or they’ll gleefully agree and say the roster updates are worth the price of admission anyway.
English Premier League teams are very well presented.
Of course, we still have the huge selection of leagues and teams. There are still thousands of players, correctly named and at their correct real-life clubs. There are still more options than most will ever know what to do with and the licensed clubs, players, commentators and music all keep the presentation to unparalleled standards. The menu system has been updated to be more responsive than the laggy menus we’ve suffered for the past few years and although there is still room for improvement, it makes navigating the front end a much less frustrating experience.
Little touches make all the difference to the user interface. For example, your career mode now has a “continue” option rather than forcing you to drill into your saves list and manually select your last played game. When changing your team there is now a button to press that quickly lets you scroll through alternative players for that position, saving you from searching down the squad list. All tiny concessions to usability that add up to make a much more pleasant administration experience which now matches the excellent on-pitch feel of FIFA.
The top players have had their usual visual upgrade and the lighting seems to be improved too but it’s not a huge step up. If you’re just glancing at FIFA 12, it could easily be mistaken for FIFA 11 but if you’re playing it, there are big differences.
Sprint speeds are slightly slower than last year and everything generally feels a bit heavier. Coupled with the default camera position being slightly lower and closer to the action this year, FIFA seems to want to emphasise the tactical aspects of the beautiful game a little more.
The match engine has been updated with the much lauded new physics-based collision detection system – the Impact Engine – and it makes a very noticeable difference. Much more emphasis is put on the physicality of exchanges, meaning that you no longer have to solely think about thrusting tackles and sliding defenders, you have to consider shoulder-to-shoulder collisions, pushing and pulling.
Ultimate Team makes a return, if that's your thing.
There still seems to be a number of canned animations at certain points but, for the most part, the players react to the force and direction of collisions with realistic momentum. Sliding tackles have become much more difficult to pull off without conceding a foul, making whole-team defending a necessity for all.
This brings us to FIFA’s biggest and most contentious change for the year: the new defending system. Previously, FIFA allowed you to cover your defending duties by holding a face button to make your controlled player apply pressure to the man in possession. If you held another face button, you could call your nearest team mate to apply similar pressure. When the opportunity arose, the defender would automatically stick a leg out and tackle for the ball. FIFA 12 switched this off by default, although it can be reactivated via the menus.
In FIFA 12, defending is much more involved and tactical. You have a face button to “contain” the attacking player, staying around five yards away from them but making your presence felt. There is also a shoulder button which causes your defender to “jockey” the attacker. Using the left stick, you can move further from – or closer to – the player you’re trying to win the ball from and when you’re within range, another face button performs a standing tackle (or a push/pull if you’re in the right position). Finally, there’s a face button to perform a sliding tackle, which is almost always best avoided. Timing your tackles is now more vital than ever as a misplaced lunge can leave an advancing forward in yards of space.
For many years now, FIFA has excelled in its fluid attacking game. FIFA 12 doesn’t disappoint in this regard either. It still offers moments of unmatched joy as you string together a sequence of fifteen passes that ends with a through ball and an attacker performing step-overs to baffle a panicked goalkeeper.
In terms of game modes, all the usual suspects are present and correct. The career mode has had an overhaul, with the ability to play as a player, player-manager or just a manager all the way through your career. The few tweaks to presentation make for a much more informative interface with the added bonus that you can now interact with the media before big league matches and players have more ways to interact with you. It’s not in the same league as proper management sims like Football Manager, of course, but it’s an accessible, light sprinkling of management that adds to the experience.
The new transfer system also adds an extra dimension to the career mode, especially when it comes to the deadline-day countdown. You move through the last ten hours of deadline day in one-hour increments, making deals as you go. The game shows a climbing tally of the total deadline day spend like a Sky Sports News report too, which is a nice touch.
The Virtual Pro mode is something of a slow burner, you will need patience as you improve your stats before the game gets really interesting but plenty of game time results in a steady improvement which makes the game mode more entertaining. If you have the patience, it gets rewarding but it will take time to reach its full potential as a game type and there are other, more immediately gratifying ways to play FIFA 12.
EA Sports is trying to make FIFA 12 even more competitive in more ways than ever before. Of course, they will continue to run the Interactive World Cup and there are the usual multiplayer modes, both local and online but there is also the addition of the Support Your Team mechanic which asks you to declare the club you love before you start playing. You will then earn experience points for that club which are uploaded and count towards a kind of persistent online league system that uses the average scores for each club to move them up or down leagues each week.
- Usual visual improvements.
- Better user interface and menus don’t lag as much.
- Great, free-flowing FIFA we know and love.
- New defending system makes that side of the game as intricate as attacking.
- New Impact Engine makes a real difference.
- Refereeing is still inconsistent at times.
- Commentary as dull as ever.
FIFA 12 represents the biggest step forward for the franchise since ’09 invented the fast, free-flowing FIFA we know and love. It still has all of the fluidity and slick presentation that is the trademark of the series but it has added an extra layer of tactical know-how that will require some learning for all FIFA players, no matter how experienced. The new defensive system can be switched off completely but making the effort to learn how to use it will ultimately make for a much more rewarding game of football.
It’s a big, bold step to change something so fundamentally ingrained in the way every FIFA player approaches the game but it is an improvement on the technical, tactical side of the game that makes the whole experience much more realistic. FIFA 12 is a significant improvement on FIFA 11 and still offers the best football game that money can currently buy.