Free flowing TV quality football has been the aspiration for game developers for years, after blocky beginnings with games like International Soccer and micro sprite based classics like SWOS, the time is now.
I have been in and out of love with the FIFA franchise over the years, my first experience was on a SNES with an isometric view of the pitch and a few fairly wooden sprites. After that I dabbled with that alternate soccer series, until FIFA09 turned things around. After that I never looked back, we were soul-mates again, the serious simulation style controls had gone and playability had returned. The subsequent years have certainly offered more than spit and polish updates, they they have all added something new. FIFA12 is no exception.
The game looks fantastic, the quality of the animation and player models are top notch, the stadiums look great, although the crowd is still more wooden than a Rebel Alliance celebration gathering. Not only do the essential components look great, but it is the production values that set the game aside, from the moment you are into the pre-match animations it feels like a Sky TV game and doesn’t let up until the final whistle. Swooshing menus, team rosters, stats and replays – if it wasn’t for the handy radar at the bottom of the screen I’d just sit back and crack open a beer. Well known players are instantly recognisable, even Rooney looks less like a troll this time round and by default I would imagine the lesser known players fit in quite nicely too.
While we are talking graphics, let us also discuss the sound or more importantly the commentary. Recent years have seen the commentary and camaraderie between Martin Tyler and Andy Gray develop into an entertaining, if a little repetitive backdrop. There have been many times that their inane football-isms have left me laughing the face of what was actually happening on the pitch. This year the commentary team has been given a face-lift, four commentators inclusive of Andy Townsend another ex-Aston Villain, but no more Andy Gray. This I believe is an oversight, the man’s warm Scottish burr was the perfect foil to Tyler, where Alan Smith is just plain dull.
As for content, there is more than you can shake a stick at. The Arena returns, a wonderfully simple way of losing plenty of hours just messing about and practicing, it might not be as obviously positioned as FIFA11, but is still a great place to practice those skills and improve your Virtual Pro. All the standard game modes are available, one off matches, customizable tournaments, the Virtual Pro and my favourite mode ‘Be a Pro’. There is something sublime about playing a match in a single position and it gets even more satisfying when you play matches online that way, the feeling of responsibility when a ball comes your way makes the game something worth investing in.
The Career mode has also had a hefty overhaul, the front end dashboard for the game is delivered very much like a typical Manager game interface. Offering a wealth of information, the screen is very much like a website will the ability to jump in and control every aspect of the career in hand, whether playing as a Manager, Player Manager or trying to climb from the team to the top job as a Player. There is something addictive about seeing those pipe dreams come to fruition, and that’s from a recovering Championship Manager addict.
Then there is the much touted Impact Engine offering a more physical game, it takes a little getting used to when your players start falling in a heap, but makes much more sense and for every youtube video of otherworldy physics bouncing players around there are thousands of satisfying and crunching tackles to be had. Couple to the Impact Engine is the potential to add more realistic injuries and outcomes on the pitch, this should make you think twice about forcing a limping player onto the pitch, but is probably a lesson best learnt the hard way. Speaking of lessons learnt hard, the game has been given a tweak in the area of defending, the new buzz is for Tactical Defending, which focuses more on the positioning of players and is the undoing of a typical FIFA player as they tend to throw players into reckless challenges. Such behaviour will soon leave you wide open at the back and watching yet another one-on-one with your Goalkeeper. Time to bring some patience and strategy to the match, if not you can opt for the soft option and switch the mode off, but surely that’s like a driving game in automatic is it not?
Something that struck me as a potential oversight is the lack of any Kinect interactivity, football is a passionate game and for a rusty player that has had a six month hiatus even the simplest goal gets me fist pumping and shouting something like ‘you little beauty!’. Surely there is potential for Kinect to grab my own goal celebrations and put them into the game onto my player? How hard could it be, like Forza it could quite easily be a nice addition to the game rather than bolting on full on Kinect features that do not get used. Even encouraging some vice commands would be interesting, calling out ‘man on’ to a player in possession or calling for the ball in ‘Be A Pro’. The possibilities could be endless and could well be the icing on the cake.
The game is benefiting from the rise of Social Connectivity that was first seen in Hot Pursuit’s Autolog, the game is always pointing out relevant stats from your friends list – goading you to score more points, score faster goals and longer free kicks. It makes sense and adds much more, this new dimension of ‘offline-online competitiveness’ actually encourages players to go online, find matches and join clubs. Another new and popular feature is the EA Sports Football Club, another function that tracks your performance where your own scores are added to global leaderboards that support your own team in pseudo competitions, there are also regular challenges posted which offer real world scenarios for the player to play out and win.
Overall, there is so much in this package – FIFA12 offers all the good stuff from previous years along with some valuable additions. Like any decent sports sim, the game is accessible, but takes a little time to master and every achievement or simple tap-in will feel like a cup winner. I know I’ll get destroyed online more often than not, but that’s where ‘Be A Pro’ offers should excellent gameplay, you really can play your part without getting humiliated by 30 yard screamers.
The new technology invested in player intelligence, defending and the weight of the Impact Engine can only get better and next year’s update will be exciting indeed. FIFA12 is getting ahead of it’s genre and for now there really is only one soccer franchise worth investing time and money in. A well rounded package that delivers excellent playability and just about everything else it really ever needs.
The beautiful game never went anywhere, but it certainly got some spit and polish.