Originally Reviewed: 2011
There are few, if any, sports franchises that expand and improve their yearly updates quite as often and significantly as the FIFA series. Since 2009, the FIFA titles have, through both subtle gameplay tweaks and brilliant new modes, consistently improved on a formula that was selling bucket loads even before it was good. Now, with FIFA 12 containing the boldest and most significant alterations in years, the question for EA really has to be ‘where on earth do they go from here?’
When discussing the gameplay of FIFA 12 it’s pretty obvious that we need to deal firstly with the elephant in the room (or should that be on the pitch) that is the tactical defending. Sure to infuriate the impatient, the tactical defending is a very brave move by a development team who walked in to work on day one knowing they could make a worldwide hit without even trying.
The tactical defending does take some getting used to, but it’s a brilliant edition that really tests the concentration of players and ruthlessly punishes those foolhardy enough to come rushing out of defence with a big lumbering centre back. It’s all about timing and positioning, just like real defending, and it’s an addition that can be devastating in the right hands.
It’s tough in the early going and it’s with some sense of irony that a mechanic put in the game to improve defences can, during the intermediate period, cause many a player to get thrashed by 6 or 7. But with time it can feel extremely natural and defending well can become an art form.
On the other side, it also breeds more creative attacking play, especially against the more skilled players or even the CPU on a high difficulty. Defences become brick walls and that team bus can become annoyingly well parked extremely quickly. Attacking is about picking the right passes, making the right moves and biding your time. This seems like a negative point, but can ensure that goals feel much more significant and rewarding.
To counter the tactical defending is the numerous new ways to score goals. It’s now possible to score from many more positions than previously and long-range goals can become much more frequent events at the feet of those players skilled in the arts. The new precision dribbling is another impressive addition that allows much more intricate movement on the ball, which is needed to unlock those sturdier defences.
As well as the significant changes, EA has tweaked a lot of other smaller aspects of the gameplay. Lest we forget that the 3D football game has been on the go for arguably 15 years or more and these days it really is the little things that matter.
In FIFA 12 we have quick throw-ins (a mini-game in itself), which allow the chance for sneaky goals (don’t everyone rush to pick Stoke City at once). There are also better player animations, such as running backwards, and more realistic injuries that even go as far as having players pull up with various muscle strains. In this instance there’s a nice touch where the referee will blow for the play to stop for the injury before administering a drop-ball which is automatically punted back to the injured player’s keeper or out for a goal kick.
Graphically, the game is much the same as FIFA 11, but some of the close-up player likenesses are vastly improved over last year, although if you play in the lower leagues you’re unlikely to ever see any improvement at all. There’s also a bigger focus, much like this year’s Madden title (and much more successfully), on recreating the feel of big-match TV coverage. It’s a nice touch to see the Sky Sports-esque intros, but you’re unlikely to watch them more than a few times.
FIFA 12 is easily one of the most in-depth sports titles ever created. There are so many fantastic modes that’s it’s almost overwhelming when trying to decide which mode you actually want to play. There are improvements to the career mode, having greater interactions with players, managers and the media, although it’s still not quite the marriage of FIFA and Football Manager that we’re all pining for. It does, however, look very slick with its real-world pictures (although some are still from FIFA 10) and Sky Sports interface.
Ultimate Team is also improved from last year’s game and is supported this year by giving away free gold player packs with every special edition of the game. It’s a very neat marketing trick that will almost certainly suck players, both old and new, into one of the most addictive modes in all of gaming.
Dispelling a common misconception, the beauty of Ultimate Team is that you never have to pay to get the best out of it. The addition of offline tournaments this year allows players to win coins and trophies against CPU opponents before amassing their team of stars to take into the online arena. It’s a mode with such incredible depth and replay value that some players may never play anything else.
If they do choose to play anything else, there’s still all the same modes from last year as well as the brilliant new ‘EA Sports Football Club (EASFC)’ feature, which acts a social network of sorts and grants players XP for every action they do in FIFA 12. This allows for friends to compete and compare their actions and levels in leaderboards.
EASFC also lets players choose which team they want to earn their XP for. FIFA tallies up all the average XP awarded daily and creates a league table from the results. Each week counts as a season and there’s even promotions and relegations. Seeing as it’s based on average XP per supporter, not total XP, it’s not uncommon to see Accrington Stanley at the top of the Premier League. It’s a really excellent addition that gives players a reason to keep on playing.
If that wasn’t enough, EASFC also offers challenges based on real world events. These occur pretty often, are a great challenge and hark back to the days of the brilliant scenario modes on the old ISS games. It’s such an easy way to please gamers. Every time, it offers immense pressure and a huge sense of achievement that it’s a wonder it hasn’t been more prominent in this post-ISS era.
There’s so much to love about FIFA 12, but no game is perfect and there are still a few niggles that ensure that FIFA remains just shy of it, but they are niggles which should be eradicated in future. The menus are still terrible and take forever to load anything. This is not new to FIFA, but needs to change for the next version. It can take ages to even find the specific game mode you want and having to subsequently wait ages is no fun at all.
The impact engine is another of FIFA 12’s new features, but out of them all it is the one that is the least ready. It’s clearly an improvement over the previous physics engine, but is still too prone to glitches and ridiculous moments that have unfortunately made it the focus of silly YouTube compilation videos than universal praise. It’s a step in the right direction, though, and with more work it should be perfected for next year’s edition.
The biggest bugbear to have with FIFA 12 is the inexplicably poor performance of the live season. Player’s stats increase with each week based on their real-world performance and, having downloaded the latest update, players can check the team summary to see how their team’s squad has been affected. Until they try to play a match, that is.
In a match scenario, the individual stats for abilities are altered, but not the overall rating, at least it’s not visible if it is. So players will be seeing the default overall rating of a player, but this information will be false, as a player appearing to be, say, rated 82 is actually down to 61. It worked perfectly for the last two years and is now broken.
Hopefully it will be fixed soon but going to press in mid-October has not seen this issue sorted yet. Similarly, the overall rating of a player no longer goes down if they are played out of position. Put a winger in central midfield and you’re none the wiser as to their ability to adapt to their position. Very odd indeed.
FIFA 12 is the boldest football game ever to be released. Significant changes have been made by a development team who really knows their football and the franchise has subsequently been improved yet again. EA haven’t rested on their laurels for years now and long may it continue as they have once again created a masterpiece jam-packed with terrific content and superb, unrivalled gameplay quality. It’s not just the best football game of all time; it’s the greatest sports game of all time.