Review: FIFA 12 (PS3)

Title: FIFA 12
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (5.8 GB)
Release Date: September 27, 2011 (US), September 30, 2011 (EU)
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Vancouver
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB: E
FIFA 12 is also available on PS Vita, PlayStation 2, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, PC, Mac OS X, iOS and Android.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

It’s that time of year again, the age-old battle between FIFA and PES. EA’s title is first out the blocks and with a slew of changes, it was sure to be an interesting iteration. But with FIFA 11 seemingly being as damn close to the pinnacle as we could get, could the Canadian studio really improve it? Time for kick-off…

Gameplay:
The primary additions to this year’s game were the Player Impact Engine, Tactical Defending and Precision Dribbling. The 3 are noticeable as soon as you begin your first match and it feels a bit alien at first, although you soon get used to how it works. Before I talk about each individually, I should say that the new defending and dribbling mechanics have made the attacking side of play extremely easy and when you’re defending against the better sides, all I can say is good luck to you my friend.

The P.I.E. is pretty cool, a welcome addition that makes one of the most realistic sports titles even more realistic. The majority of tackles and collisions result in accurate outcomes – people don’t just fall over anymore. Key word is majority though, because sometimes the physics won’t add up and you’ll get body parts bending all sorts of ways they shouldn’t (oh, behave).

Generally though, the collisions look great and you’ll actually get some injuries that feasibly could’ve resulted from the challenge. The game now calculates how the player will react by taking into account the speed they were running at, the force the opponent came in with, the angles they came in from, the height and weight of the players and much, much more. Clever stuff.

Don’t get me wrong though – you’re not going to see bones being broken in slow motion. Some have tried to hype it up as something really brutal, almost like a sporting version of Burnout. What you do get, is that no two challenges are the same. Random canned animations are a thing of the past – from now on you’ll visibly see the difference between a brushing of shoulders and a leg-breaking tackle.

On to the Tactical Defending – this is an alteration I could definitely have done without. Maybe it’s because I’ve been playing FIFA constantly since the PS1’s heyday that I’m somewhat stuck in my ways; if this is your first time playing FIFA it may feel natural because it’s how you learned to play. The general consensus is though, that it makes the defensive side of the game much more difficult.

In this year’s iteration, you can no longer hold down X to ‘home-in’ on the attacker, if you will. Now you ‘jockey’ a few yards away from them before manually performing a sliding or standing tackle. Sounds good in theory, but in practice it’s horrible.

There’s now a feeling of the opposition having some sort of invisible force-field as you can’t get near to them. This results in some online games especially ending up a complete farce, with you just sticking out a leg at random times, praying that you’ll get a touch on the ball as the striker sprints past. It’s one of those things that is really hard to explain in words – play the demo and you’ll see how broken the system is.

Some will say the old system was too easy but personally, I say it depends on the player. Slide tackles where you won the ball in a dangerous situation were unbelievably satisfying, just like real life. Now, it seems there are very few tackles in the game; almost no meaningful defensive play whatsoever. In one match, I actually went round just trying to take players out, going in two-footed from behind, right next to the player, and yet not one tackle made contact. Absolutely ludicrous.

Even so, I think it will grow on me as I play it more and it’ll eventually become normal. The whole ‘jockey’ thing is definitely not for me so fully manual is the way to go. I guess the benefit is, each tackle you do nail will feel that much more of an achievement. Also, I should note that the classic control scheme is listed in the options menu if you really want it (click ‘Legacy Defending’). I wouldn’t recommend it though, seen as though you can’t use it online and it would be more beneficial to practice for that.

The final major change, Precision Dribbling, is brilliant. However, when you combine it with the complaints listed above, it makes a defender’s job nigh-on impossible. If you view it in isolation though, it’s an excellent mechanic and one that feels amazing. In FIFA 10, EA abolished the old 8-way directional movements that sports games had and introduced 360 degree movement. This is an improvement to that, now making the slightest movement of your stick have an accurate impact.

As you’d expect, the better players have the ball glued to their feet and can shimmy their way past centre-halves with ease. It makes those mazy runs even more satisfying when you actually feel that each minute movement of the analog stick is making a huge difference. On occasion it can almost seem like a miniature slalom as you weave in and out of the defence.

That’s pretty much that for the major on-field changes. As you may have noticed, of late there seems to be a 2 year-cycle for FIFA games. It’s like the even numbered years lay down the groundwork and the following iteration is the refinement. It looks to be the same way this time around – I expect the issues with these tweaks to be ironed out by next year.

In terms of game modes, it’s what you’d expect from FIFA – your usual array of exhibition, career modes, one off leagues or cups; EA has always catered well from this aspect. The career mode is the same set up as last year: you can either choose player (basically the ‘Be A Pro’ mode), manager (the traditional Manager mode) or player-manager (traditional Manager mode, but for each match you can choose to control the whole team or only your Pro).

The problem is, even after all these years, they still haven’t fixed it. The manager mode of a football game is your bread and butter; it’s what you’ll spend the majority of your time on. So why is it still pointless on FIFA?

The transfer system is still pretty broken, even though they’ve added ‘deadline day’ or as UK fans will know it ‘Sky Sports News Jim White in his element day’. It’s ok, but nothing spectacular – the addition is mainly for cosmetic purposes rather than of substance. The transfers are a little improved over last year – things like fees and wages are what you’d expect (for example, Messi is valued at well over £100m, Ronaldo around £70m, top players such as the Van Persie’s and Ribery’s of this world range from between £30-50m).

The problem is, you’ll still get players going to clubs they never would in real life. Also, an added frustration this year is other teams constantly making offers for players you have no interest in selling. This clogs up the already extremely clogged up menus even further. Which links in to the simulation of each day, a huge pain in the backside. Why on earth does it take so long?

All in all, the career mode is only really worth playing if you select a lower side (rated 3* at the max) and crank up all of the settings (not game settings, the actual career settings) to the hardest difficulty, before trying to pull off a few great deals, balancing the wage bill and eventually growing the team and winning trophies. To play with a top club, there is simply no joy and no point to the mode.

Visuals:
Polished. That pretty much sums up the animations, the presentation, the stadiums, the players, the overall graphical side of the game is super polished. Since the complete re-imagination of the series that started in 07, the graphics have improved year on year and they’ve now got to a point where it can very easily be mistaken for watching a real game.

A couple years back, it was quite evident that 360 was the lead platform – the visuals were so much worse on the PS3. Now though, both versions are equal with the PS3 version being just as sharp and finally being able to show off the full graphical prowess of FIFA. Just on that subject though, load times are still significantly longer on the PlayStation, although that may be more of a hardware issue. I personally don’t know which is to blame.

The animations of the players are fantastic, the way they run and control the ball is ultra-realistic. The different weather conditions are great, while the surface of the pitches and fans inside the stadium also look brilliant – there really is nothing on the presentation side of things you couldn’t use a superlative for. The pre-match sequence has been spruced up a little, which is welcome.

Licences are a big draw for many and of course FIFA still has all the real teams, kits, leagues and players. They haven’t increased the number of leagues and competitions for a couple of years, but the counter-argument would be “well we had so damn many in the first place!” which is true.

Finally, we come on to the menus, which have seen an overhaul this year. Now, you scroll across the game modes on a bar at the bottom of the screen, while your chosen arena player takes up the majority of the screen. This will be a looped sequence of animations that pauses until you click something. It could be jumping for a header, going in for a tackle, doing a piece of skill etc.

Audio:
The commentary is of the same high standard you’d now have come to expect from a FIFA game. There’s plenty of variety and the duo will talk about issues related to the teams, it’s all very fluid and natural the way they veer off into these conversations rather than just saying each player’s name when he touches the ball.

Just like his position on TV, Andy Gray has been booted off for his part in the whole sexism scandal earlier this year, so Alan Smith fills his role. The legendary Martin Tyler retains his place and because the two work together regularly for Sky, the commentary really does sound amazingly realistic.

A nice feature is that the game remembers things you’ve done in the past. For example, you could get a conversation like “Team X had a poor pre-season, but have made some encouraging progress since the beginning of the campaign, winning 7 of the last 8 in the league” “Yeah, I think that’s mainly down to the prolific form of Player Y – he’s been on fire since they signed him last month, notching 4 goals already.” As you can probably tell, this kind of conversation on a regular basis continues to impress – sometimes you just wonder how many days, if not weeks, it would take to record all of this.

Other aspects of the audio include the sounds of the match, which are very good, along with complete customisation of not only menu music, but chants the supporters sing, if you want any sort of entrance music for when the teams walk out and more. These of course are specific to each team/stadium, so it’s possibly to garner an even more unique atmosphere from game-to-game.

Online/Multiplayer:
I think it’s safe to say that multiplayer is a huge part of any sports game and the experience you get with FIFA is an amazing one. After the countless number of online modes from the last few years, they’ve somehow found a way to add even more – this comes in the form of ‘Head To Head Seasons’.

This mode has replaced the traditional ranked match, now making each game mean something rather than just a random match, which will be followed by another random match. It works by awarding you points after each game – by points I don’t mean the ‘performance points’ or whatever you’d usually get in FIFA, I mean the points you’d expect at the end match; 3 for a win, 1 for a draw.

Every season consists of 10 games, and if you have a certain number of points after those games, you are promoted to the next division. It works very well, an example of a very uncomplicated but hugely effective change. Furthermore, what would have been unranked matches before also use the same format – these matches called ‘Online Friendlies’.

Ultimate Team is a game mode that most EA Sports fans should be familiar with by now. Begining life on Champions League 2006/07, before making its way to the main FIFA series in 09’s iteration, UT has now even appeared on NHL & Madden. The premise is identical to last year so you’ll be right at home and the added bonus this time is that it’s on the disc, not as DLC. It’s UT, it’s excellent and you’ll want to spend a ton of time on it to get a decent squad together.

The final key addition is EA Sports Football Club. EASFC sees you earn XP for everything you do; winning matches, signing players in career mode, even just for booting up the game. The big XP though, comes from the constantly changing challenges – these take real life matches that are either upcoming or have just taken place and give you a scenario which you must complete.

For example, a recent one was NY Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy; a match that finished 2-0 in real life. For the challenge, you had to take control of the Galaxy right after the second Red Bulls goal went in; the challenge being to make it 2-2, with bonus XP if you could actually go on to win the game. It’s a great concept and because it’s always contemporary, it’s always interesting. Of course, you don’t have to do every one, so if a challenge involves controlling a team you hate and don’t want to play as, you can simply choose a different one.

Your XP quickly accumulates and eventually you go up in level. It’s sort of an RPG element to a football game, a very fun one indeed. In the EASFC hub, you can then check leaderboards against your friends – the higher your level/XP, the higher you are in the league. It’s also in this hub that you can compare a slew of stats such as fastest goal in the arena, or furthest goal scored in a match on Legendary difficulty. All of the XP you earn then goes toward the team you support in real life, so if you, along with other fans of your team, are good, your club will go up in this virtual table.

I’m afraid this section will have to end on a bit of a downer though. One major gripe with FIFA, one that if you are passionate about UT could be a potential game-breaker, is the EA servers. I find it astonishing that a publisher as affluent as EA, with so many online titles in their portfolio, has the infuriating inability of being connected to their servers for a prolonged period of time. Well, I say prolonged, but sometimes it can literally chuck you out every five minutes.

It’s not like this is a new problem; it’s been happening for years. I find it unfathomable how they could not have fixed these issues. The problem is because it’s so random, I can’t advise a call either way. Some people may go months without it occurring, some people may be thrown out of ten consecutive matches. Unpredictable to say the least.

Conclusion:
The EA servers, combined with the utterly useless manager mode prevent this from being an improvement over last year. Basically, EA took a risk – a risk that will probably pay off next time round (or for the inevitable Euro game next summer). FIFA 11 was excellent, a football title I finally found worthy of usurping PES 5. The guys in Vancouver could’ve played it safe by making the career worthwhile and fixing the server issues, maybe iron out some problems such as online quitters. If that had happened, I can guarantee you’d be seeing an A+ at the bottom of this page. Instead, they’ve almost gone for an overhaul.

Don’t let that completely put you off though, this is still well worth the money and a soccer sim that both complete beginners and masters of the series will be more than comfortable with. I guess it’s almost a case of them being a victim of their own success; they’ve set such high standards and the hype is so great, that when you finally have the game in your hands, you expect perfection.

As you can probably tell just from this conclusion, it’s a predicament trying to grade this game. It’s FIFA, it’s the game I look forward to all year and the only game that gets a day one purchase every time, guaranteed. But it seems too easy, the new gameplay elements need polishing and there are some maddening problems that the devs refuse to correct. Even after all that though, FIFA 12 is still a great game. When you’re playing against your buddies online or on the couch, the experience you have reinforces the fact that for fans of the sport, this is a game you cannot live without.

Score:
8.5

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  • Anonymous

    No mention of the goalkeeper exploit online?  Personally I think tactial defending is a step up form just holding circle and letting the computer ‘homing missile’ the ball of your opponent.  Overall though decent review. 

    • Raj S.M.

      I haven’t personally encountered the exploit, but was aware of it. However, they released a patch a few days ago which fixed the issue, so I removed that part from the review.

      As for the defending, I think it’s just something that comes down to personal preference. Some will love it, some will hate it. I’ll probably get used to it after I’ve played it for a few months – it’s just at the moment, attacking seems way too easy.

      Thanks for the feedback 🙂

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