Fifa 12 isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but it isn’t all that far off with its heightened focus on defence and precision dribbling. EA said, "it will require you to unlearn what you’ve learnt [in past Fifa games].” I passed that off as marketing dribble at the time, but it couldn’t be more right. On paper, Fifa 12 doesn’t do anything to drastically change the franchise, but in practice it evolves the series more than anything in the past five years. It’s unlike any Fifa game you’ve played before, and will require everyone to relearn how to play. The result: a more realistic simulation and the best Fifa game this generation.
What FIFA 12 Got Right
On the defensive - The big addition to Fifa 12 is the new focus on defensive gameplay. The first thing the game teaches you is how to jockey, tackle and generally put off your opponents in ways not previously seen in Fifa. There’s a substantial learning curve, especially for experienced Fifa players, leading to a more balanced game.
There should be no massive score blow outs or defensive loopholes to exploit, as has been the case with Fifa in the past, pending that you’re playing on an appropriate difficulty setting or against someone of a similar skill level. Instead of using unrelenting pressure as the only tactic to retake possession of the ball, the new “tactical” defending system requires just that: planned tactics. It necessitates planning, patience and skill, rather than mindlessly trying to regain possession as quickly as possible. If employed correctly, moves without the ball are just as important as those with it, as you contain opponents and restrict their movement and scoring opportunities. It’s far more reminiscent of actual soccer, and while it does make it harder, it’s a massive step forward for the series, which has still managed to retain its accessibility (on easy difficulties) while becoming closer to a realistic simulation.
More realistic - The focus on tactical defence creates more realistic passages of play. It feels like an actual game of pro soccer, condensed into five or ten minutes. This is further advanced by two key improvements: precision dribbling and a new collision system.
While you’re learning the defensive ropes Precision Dribbling is seemingly insignificant, but it opens up a mass of options when it enters your newfound tactical mindset. EA vastly improved passing in Fifa 11 to eliminate the ping pong effect and inject new life into the long running series. They’ve expanded that this year with the ability to control the ball with deftly precision in the tightest of spaces.
The new player Human Impact collusion system is super complex, or so we’re told, and has been two years in the making to bring unprecedented realism to virtual men falling into each other on some virtual grass. It doesn’t evolve the gameplay like the other key changes, but for the most part adds to the realism.
Online modes and Football Club - Head to Head Seasons is the new online league this year and splits players into 10 divisions. The results of each season, spanning 10 games, will determine if you are promoted or relegated to a lower level. It’s a great way to energise the online community, with each division also hosting its own cup tournament. It’s joined by the less competitive Online Friendlies, the current incarnation of unranked games, which tracks your results against a particular opponent over 10 matches before awarding the winner a trophy.
EA Sports Football Club is new in Fifa 12 and is fundamentally social networking, as every game needs that now, apparently. It works quite well utilising a basic RPG XP levelling up system. Points are earned for everything and used to position your nominated club on the ladder for that week. There are also numerous leaderboards and statistics so you can keep track on how awful your friends are, along with the promise of scenarios to play out based on events that happen this season.
Visual presentation - Fifa 12 delivers on the presentation front with fantastic player animations and slick menus, as well as improved commentary. The players move fluently and are uncanny replications of their real life counterparts – Wayne Rooney even has more fake hair.
Career is improving - The career mode still has a way to go, but it’s far better than last year’s effort and unrecognisable compared to Fifa 10. The Manager Mode, like the gameplay, is more realistic with a host of new features and better information. There’s a dramatic Deadline Day during tradeweek, when everything goes through, and managing players is more indicative of being in a manager’s shoes.
Customisation - The customisation options in Fifa 12 will slip under the radar for most, but they deserve to be lauded. You can change just about anything, from the soundtrack to reverting the gameplay to last year’s terrible defending system – it was good at the time, but once you go tactical, you won’t go back. The most useful of the all the tweaking options is how the A.I. respond. Fifa needs to cater for a vast range of skill levels to ensure a realistic experience, and not everyone can be accounted for with the predetermined difficulty increments. The option to edit exactly how the A.I. perform allows Fifa 12 to be modified to each player’s requirements.
What FIFA 12 Got Wrong
Impact Engine has some problems - The new collision system, the Impact Engine, generally works well in conjunction with the other updates, but has some noticeable deficiencies. Players tend to awkwardly fall over far too often for no reason and for all the incredible realism, there are horrible moments of utter failure. The complexity of the system also seems to cause the referees some distress as they frequently miss blindingly obvious decisions. Then again, perhaps this is all part of the focus on realism.
The learning curve - The key changes to Fifa 12 are for the better. However, there is a step, and frankly shocking, learning curve for experienced players who will need to relearn how to play the game. It’s downright annoying when newbies get the hang of it sooner as a result of falling into old habits, but once you break those you’ll wonder how you ever played before Fifa 12.
The Final Verdict
Fifa 12 continues the strong evolution of the series, and is the most realistic entry in the franchise to date. The new defensive tactics take time to acclimatise to, but the results speak for themselves. The new online features and XP system are a step forward, while the career is the best ever seen in a Fifa game and actually has some long-term substance. It’s always difficult to determine if it’s worth purchasing a new sports instalment every year, but after playing Fifa 12, I can’t imagine myself going back to a previous version.
By Ben Salter
A strong evolution for the Fifa series.