FIFA 12 Review
Since making an inauspicious debut on 360 in 2005 with FIFA 06: Road To The World Cup, the FIFA series has gone from strength to strength. In the six years that have passed, it has surpassed Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series in almost every department and kept things fresh by combining clever-yet-minor yearly gameplay upgrades with the usual team updates and increasingly slick production values.
And FIFA 12 is no different. Although EA has said that it’s getting harder to improve the gameplay – this the sixth iteration of the main series to appear on the 360 – there have still been enough notable updates to keep the gameplay interesting.
On the pitch, the most significant changes have been made to the defending. Although it’s been a part of FIFA titles for a few years now, the ‘second player press’ has been revamped to a more precise system.
A more timing-based push/pull mechanic has been introduced instead, which focuses more on pressuring the attacker into making a mistake than nicking the ball away from him, rather than stopping him outright.
This is backed up by a ‘containing’ mechanic mapped to the triggers, which emphasises correct defensive positioning to slow attackers down and, again, force them into a rash pass or mis-control.
These systems certainly take a while to get used to, but once you’re familiar with the more tactical and precise nature of them you’ll find defending a whole lot more satisfying than in the game’s previous installments.
But if you’re not into all this tactical nonsense, then slide tackling is still a perfectly valid way to defend – and it’s here that FIFA 12 best showcases another of its most notable features: the Impact Engine.
This greatly improves player-on-player collision physics, resulting in more varied challenges, more off-the-ball collisions, and more realistic injuries.
We found no greater demonstration of the latter than in the returning (and very similar to 11’s) Career Mode, while playing as our Virtual Pro. After being injured by a late challenge, our rather fatigued Pro got up gingerly, gestured to the bench, then managed to run it off. But, moments later, after being poleaxed by a crunching tackle, he collapsed to the ground and was out for three months. Hmph.
You can’t see it here, but the Impact Engine is quietly ticking over.
While it’s not as revolutionary as EA might say, the Impact Engine does add a layer of realism, variety and unpredictability sorely missing from some of the canned FIFA animations of the past. And, if nothing else, it makes it even more fun to take out a speedy winger with your centre-back and watch him tumble like a sack of spuds.
We also noticed that players with more flamboyant flair tended to make more exaggerated dives when being tackled, as so often happens in a real game.
But that’s not to say that these attackers are helpless against the defence-heavy additions to the FIFA series – 12’s most notable offensive change is Precision Dribbling.
Rather than get crowded out by the containing defenders, with a simple tap of the left bumper you can gain more control over the ball at your feet and hold off any challenging defenders while still moving towards goal.
However, we found Precision Dribbling to be the least effective of FIFA 12’s major gameplay changes, as our attempted dribbles would often be trumped by the more powerful tactical defending and we realised a well-placed pass is still the easiest way to bisect defences.
While these and a few more minor changes do a great job in freshening the gameplay, there are a number of small cosmetic and presentational improvements that help make FIFA 12 a more immediate and organic experience.
Gone are the incredibly annoying stadium shots before a substitution is made, and throw-ins and corners can now be taken quickly if a player is nearby.
Series newbie Alan Smith does a decent job as Martin Tyler’s co-commentator, and although Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend’s (whose appearance seems limited to cup games and random Exhibition matches) commentary isn’t as good as the others’, the variety is still welcome.
Okay, so perhaps we could have got more interesting screenshots than this…
Off the pitch, the EA Sports interface is as slick as ever, although there are slight concerns over a lack of new content for offline players. While EA Canada is right to recognise that there are now fewer and fewer offline players, pretty much all new modes and non-gameplay features are meant for those online.
The Career mode introduced in FIFA 11 is still great fun, but those reticent to connect to Xbox Live will miss out on a lot. Including the innovative ‘Support Your Club’ system, where real-life teams’ positions in a weekly league are determined by how good their supporters are at FIFA 12.
Alongside this is a much-needed Scenario Challenge mode where players must complete certain real-life challenges, similar to what has been seen in other EA Sports titles; and a revamped XP system that promises to deliver much more than the rather half-baked attempts in previous FIFAs. And that’s not to mention the returning online features, which include the strangely addictive Ultimate Team.
But all of these new modes would mean nothing if the FIFA gameplay didn’t continue to evolve as it has done in this generation for six games now.
And thanks to the game’s emphasis on realism and precision, we feel that it has. EA Canada’s combination of new, tactical improvements with a familiar feel makes FIFA 12 outstanding and sends 11 spiralling into obsolescence, something we know is likely to happen to this year’s outing in 12 months’ time. But, for now, this is the finest football game we’ve played in a long time.