FIFA Soccer 12 Review (Xbox 360)
Slow and patient have never been words associated with the FIFA series. Slow and patient have never been words associated with the FIFA series. In fact, in previous releases the pace of gameplay was so helter-skelter they resembled sprint meets more than the sport of football itself. Well, no more. The nature of play in FIFA 12 has gone through an extensive overhaul, and the results, while far from perfect, are impressive.
There’s a saying in football: "Possession is king." You better take that to heart when playing FIFA 12. This year the game has continued its quest for realism. And while it still falls short in several aspects, it's still the closest the game has ever been in replicating the sport.
With the introduction of Tactical Defending, players finally have to put their heads to work in order to win possession. Gone are the days of holding down one button and winning the ball back. Now, it’s about containing and jockeying until the right moment, before committing yourself to a challenge. In short, it forces you to think like a real life defender and weigh the risk and rewards of your actions. If you get reckless, you get punished. Tactical defending is one of those brilliant concepts where, after it has been implemented in the game, you think to yourself why it took them so bloody long to implement it. And also like real life, the CPU is smart enough to pick you apart when you commit mistakes. If your defender rashly vacates his supposed position, there will be attackers running into that space, which in turn will cause a world of problems. But if you successfully hold your defensive shape, you will force the CPU into using a much more varied attack -- long shots, back passes and one-twos -- than anything you've ever seen in other FIFA games.
On offense, the same rule of patience applies. With the defensive emphasis now on holding team shape, you have to be just as patient and crafty when attacking. If not, you give the ball away and want to wait a while to win it back. Again, it’s a world of difference from previous FIFAs. Practice is a lot more entertaining and realistic to build up an attack by moving the ball around and spotting a moment of defensive lapse.
While there have been many sightings of funny collisions in the demo version from the new Impact Engine, the FIFA team has really toned them down for the final release. The longer I play the game, the fewer instances I’ve seen of them, which means that the Impact Engine is a solid plus in the overall scheme of things. Now we get treated to some realistic tussles and niggles in the crowded areas of the park.
During my initial gameplay impressions, I was blown away by all this revamped play. Whether that was just because it was so night and day compared toFIFA 11, I don’t know. But after spending some more substantial time with FIFA 12, my view has tempered somewhat. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay still wows me during certain moments, but some cracks are starting to show.
While the concept of Tactical Defending is flawless, the execution isn’t. Your AI teammates are just too timid to offer good resistance when in the tough areas. They tend to back off attackers — even inside the 18-yard box — unless you manually control them either by switching or by using the teammate pressure button.
On offense, the AI teammate movement needs some work too. While it has definitely been improved, it’s still not quite there yet. Players do indeed make more runs, and the channels this year are a lot more open than years past. It’s now possible, and very satisfying, to thread a player bursting down the channel, whereas in previous years the unrealistic defender pressure would have nullified any instance of that. What ultimately holds the gameplay back is that AI teammates’ still lack contextual awareness during certain moments of the game. It’s tough to put a finger on, but when they are not making a run, they become too static. The AI does that rather than move a yard or two around to be in a good position to receive a pass. As well, AI players take a few seconds too long to realize that a pass isn’t on before they decide to check their run and drop back. Basically, AI teammates seem a little too individual than part of a team. What I mean is that a good majority of player runs are made with the intention of getting a pass to their feet, but rarely have I seen attackers work together to create opportunities, like making decoy runs to drag defenders out of position.
Another flaw that becomes more apparent the longer you play the game is that the CPU doesn't have too many styles of playing. First of all, fouls are a rarity. The opposition doesn't dive in enough. When they do, they’re too successful. Second, I’ve yet to see them adjusting their tactics in relation to the score. While they do press higher when going for a goal in the dying minutes, the differences in urgency is nowhere near as pronounced as they should be. In short, sometimes you can feel like you’re playing a “one-size-fits-all” CPU.
These issues, while they won’t make the game unplayable by any stretch of the imagination, do impact the spontaneity of gameplay. After a bit of playing, sometimes you can feel as though you can foresee every run that’s about to trigger, or that games are starting to feel one note.
So, how does the overall gameplay in FIFA 12 fare? Very well. It is definitely a huge improvement over previous FIFAs in the realism department, with possession now having a much higher priority than its predecessors. The necessity in working the ball around patiently gives the series a level of depth that we haven’t seen before. However, it does come back to earth because of that old FIFA flaw: that after a while, no matter what opposition team, some games will have the element of déjà vu.
We generally don’t have a specific section on customization in our reviews, but I feel that it impacts the game so much this merits its own category. These customization options can mitigate many, though definitely not all, of the gameplay issues I have mentioned. For example, you can manually tweak how tight your teammates mark opponents, which can offset the timid AI defending to a certain extent. The CPU also passes much too accurately on default-- there’s also a slider for that. It might take a lot of time, but you will find that, when playing with the right set of sliders, it improves the game leaps and bounds. Custom tactics also make its return to the team management menu. This will help with the variety of playing style between teams, as out of the box they do seem to be too similar.
Overall, the customization options in FIFA 12 are a godsend, as they have the ability to minimize certain gameplay flaws while accentuating its strengths. Sliders, in particular, are another addition where now that they’re in the game, it’s hard to fathom a FIFA without them.
FIFA 12 is a very good looking game, but not much of an upgrade from last year's title. From the menus to the in game action, everything looks sleek and polished. This is the most realistic looking footy game to date. Off the field, it boasts a host of licenses from around the world, with accurate kits and logos. On the field, player movements are fluid and realistic. In fact, if you watch the game playing from a fair distance away, it really, really, looks like the real thing.
On audio, Martin Tyler and Alan Smith call the domestic games, while Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend man the cup games. There’s a fair amount of lines being recycled, but there are some nice touches too. The commentators have an anecdote or two for many players, and in manager mode, they will mention it if you’ve made any specific comments about the game with the “talk to press” feature. The bottom line is that they don’t in any way detract from the overall experience, and very rarely will they jar you from the game world.
Manager mode is quite fun this year. There isn’t anything revolutionary about it, but the FIFA team did eradicate last year’s annoying progression bug. And they have added some nice touches that give the mode a much needed sense of immersion.
This year you will feel more like a manager and less like a pure player trader. Players come to you with a variety of requests/demands, and how you respond affects their morale and form. This will test your squad rotation skills, as not only do you have to juggle your squad depending on each player's fatigue levels, but you also have to allow for some playing time for bench players too. The return of scouts in this year's game allows you the opportunity to build scouting networks across the globe to unearth that next gem. All in all, these are good additions to the manager mode, but as I mentioned in mycareer mode impressions, these additions are mostly the “click and wait for the results” variety, meaning that you still don’t feel like you have an active enough role in team affairs.
Player Mode, on the other hand, is not very fun. It’s the same mode that it has been, ever since its introduction a few years ago. While the revamped on-field play means that you can have a good experience playing in more positions, there has been nothing done to it to make it a viable alternative to manager mode. There are no off field interactions with your teammates or managers, so essentially you’re playing manager mode with player lock on.
With the new emphasis on keeping the ball, you can just see the exploits coming, can’t you? It used to be the insane team press on FIFA 11, now this year it’s backpassing. Yes, there are some players who, once they have taken the lead, will pass you to death and take advantage of this year's lack of pressure button. Technically, you can counter this by tweaking your own tactics to just as extreme levels, but by then no part of the game will resemble a real football match anymore.
Now allow me to get on my soapbox for just a moment: short of playing football in real life, there will always be idiots who exploit the game for the sake of wins no matter how it plays. We’re nowhere near the point where we can have a totally exploit-proof engine. And if we do, I don’t know how much it will look like the sport itself. Basically, if you avoid these idiots, online play in FIFA 12 is more fun than ever because of the increased depth and slower pace of matches. You will really get to match wits with your opponents, crafting attacks from all areas of the pitch.
The increasingly popular Ultimate Team also makes its return. No noticeable changes have been made to the mode except some cosmetic ones. At its heart the mode still revolves player packs, trading, and of course, playing the game with your fantasy squad. Again, with the exception of scammers and those with thirty-three multiple accounts, it’s a really impressive feature that gives the game some more longevity.
Hands up if you thought, when initially reading that EA was introducing two completely new features in Tactical Defending and Impact Engine, they were going to screw this one up royally. While my feet weren’t firmly in that camp, I must admit I had a sneaky feeling that it was possible. Thankfully, FIFA 12is nothing like that. Both features are great additions to the game and bring FIFA 12 to a new level of depth and realism. It is leaps and bounds better than its predecessors.
Now hands up if you thought they were going to get it perfect on the first try. That’s right, they don’t either. The game is still some ways away from being perfect. Certain AI behaviors are less than bright, and the feeling of spontaneity wears away just a tad too quickly.
But don’t let those things detract you. While it’s apparent that FIFA 12 hasn't yet captured the true heart and soul of the beautiful game, it really feels like it's getting there. Besides, the things the game gets right more than compensate for these shortcomings, and makes FIFA 12 still an incredibly fun play.
Learning Curve: Steep, but a good steep. Tactical Defending will require hours to master, but plays more like the real thing than ever before.
Control Scheme: Tactical Defending on defense and Precision Dribbling on attack will make your fingers do some dances, but they’re ultimately effective.
Visuals: Save for a few hiccups, very good looking.
Audio: The commentators do well to add to the in-game atmosphere. Above average.
Value: Ultimate Team and Manager Mode will keep you occupied for many hours, as will this year’s significantly deeper gameplay.