Over the years, the FIFA series has undergone what one might call organic evolution – adding in/changing things that feel organic without shaking up the game play too much. FIFA 12 is the exception. Not only are there a number of minor changes, the inclusion of a new engine (The Impact Engine) revolutionizes the gameplay. What do I mean by this? If you are familiar with previous FIFA titles, you will be returning back to the drawing board in FIFA 12.
The impact engine, the first of the major changes to FIFA 12, improves upon collision variety, accuracy and momentum preservation – not only affecting those on the ball but those off it too. Although this does serve up the occasional oddity in gameplay that will leave you scratching your head, it improves on the realism greatly. Running into a player off the ball at full speed might knock one or both players over, for example.
Opposing players jostle and push their opposition on the ball and while this isn’t new to the series, the realism and impact of this is improved on. Tackles are also more satisfying as you send players bundling over with over the top slide tackles, to players going down just a little bit too easy (He’s dived, referee!) with minimal contact. In my experience at least, penalties seem to be awarded more frequently as a result than in FIFA 11 – I’ve been given more penalties in several weeks of gameplay against the CPU than in a year of playing FIFA 11. It makes the game feel less synthetic overall. The impact engine also directly affects player injuries while playing – running while your stamina bar is empty can cause you to pull a muscle .
While the impact engine is a fairly big change, the feature that really changes the way the game is played is the tactical defending system. This changes the approach to put equal importance on positioning, intercepting passes and tackling. Not only is the emphasis changed but the controls are too. At first, this feels complicated and I found it to be incredibly frustrating for a while trying to get a hang of it. I’ll be honest, it made me hate the game, it made me want to put it down and never play it again.
But I persevered and boy am I glad that I did. It is no longer wise to rush in for the tackle like in previous versions – you’ll more likely get punished – instead your aim should be to contain or block the progress of the opposition, either forcing them into making a mistake or getting into a position where a tackle is favourable. And this is how the game is exactly played in real life. Now, the defensive side of the game isn’t the only part to receive attention either. Both passing and dribbling have been tuned.
First and foremost, you’re probably going to be passing the ball around a lot more in FIFA 12. If you’re not, then you probably should be anyway (in my opinion, of course). Perhaps the most significant change is that players are more susceptible to making mistakes when passing the ball – the better the player, the more accurate he’ll be and potentially have different methods of passing the ball available to him also. On the flip side, this doesn’t seem to affect the AI much, if at all; at least on the harder difficulties (world class and upward). This can be frustrating when you are playing as say for example Manchester United up against minnows (and my beloved) Gold Coast United, who pass the ball around like they are Barcelona. And they do this consistently, when really, they have no business doing so.
Dribbling has also been refined and perhaps more notably so than passing. The Precision Dribbling feature allows players to still be able to dribble while shielding, where as previously they were unable to. You can also slow the dribble right down to an almost walking pace, which causes the player to exert more control over the ball, by taking closer and more frequent touches than when he is moving faster. This makes it harder for defending players to come in and knick the ball off your player, if used properly. Finally, players are more aware of their surroundings while on the ball now, for example; being in possession near the touch-line, the player on the ball will attempt to keep tighter control of it, so the ball doesn’t run out of play.
There’s not a real lot I can say about the graphics in FIFA 12, especially as it applies to regular players of the series. The graphics are good and there has, like always, been gradual refinement to them in the FIFA series but nothing major or really eye-catching bar one exception. Professional player faces are still a little disappointing, in that few resemble the player in a life-like manner – most only bare a passing resemblance. The user interface, specifically the menu, though is quite the improvement on last year’s rendition.
The main menu is now on a horizontal plane, with items under menu options expanding vertically from the main options. Notably also, as you navigate the main menu, your virtual pro (the player that you create to represent yourself) or your favourite professional player, will appear and perform brief animations before freezing. This adds a rather personal touch to the menu as well as improving its aesthetic qualities.
FIFA 12’s game modes do not depart much from its predecessor, not that this is a bad thing, in that most of the game modes that you could play in FIFA 11 are present in one form or another in FIFA 12. Career Mode has received a fair bit of attention, with more dynamic news items – the game reacts to things that happen in your games, essentially. If you opt to play the Manager portion of Career Mode, you’ll get the ability to talk to the press. Scouting for youth talent also makes a welcome return to that particular game mode. Things like player happiness and form add to the challenge and can affect gameplay (Not too dissimilar from UEFA 2008).
As a part of Career Mode, you’ll also have the option to play as a Pro (either your virtual pro or one of your choosing from your favourite team) and a Player Manager. There also exists the possibility to move between those three modes of play. For example; you start a Player Career Mode game, once you reach a certain age, you can become a player manager or retire to a managerial position with no on-field responsibilities. One of the more disappointing things I found with Career Mode, was that specifically when you are a Player Manager, you cannot transfer to another team and remain as a Player Manager. That option is removed from you entirely, meaning that if you wish to manage another team it can only be done as an actual manager.
Since it’s introduction in 2009, FIFA Ultimate Team has proved somewhat of a popular game mode. In FIFA 12 the game mode, in what I can only describe as traditional FIFA game play meets collectible card games, returns and is on the disc. I have never been a big fan of Ultimate Team, but it being on the disc from launch is a plus, given its popularity with the broader FIFA community. As is with the theme of yearly releases, there have been a few refinements and improvements to the mode but not departing at all from the formula players love.
EA Sports Football Club is one of the bigger changes worth nothing; in a manner of speaking, it is a social network tied into the game. Provided you are connected to the internet, whenever you play a game, you’ll earn XP. This XP goes toward several things. Firstly, it contributes to your EA Sports Football Club level. And secondly, this XP contributes to the team you chose to support in EA Sports Football Club. The amount of XP earned is totalled up for each club and averaged between the amount of supporters it has, in order to determine it’s position in the virtual league every season (a week). Teams are then relegated or promoted as required. What I’ve seen so far is that the best supported clubs (such as Manchester United) have slipped way down the rankings and are no longer in their respective top division (where relegation applies) as far as EA Sports Football club is concerned – giving rise to the smaller clubs of that nation.
Regular ranked matches have been overhauled and replaced with a game mode called Head to Head seasons. The aim with this mode is to progress through the 10 divisions, playing “seasons” that are 10 games long. Chalking up wins and draws will give you points and you can be relegated and promoted based on a points target. Inevitably the better players will find themselves in the higher up divisions, playing against opponents that are on their level, while less skilled players will likely be placed accordingly. Make no mistake in that this is still a rank game system like previously, though it is to me as a football fan, a welcome and thematic improvement from FIFA 11. Every weeks, there is also a cup tournament in Head to Head seasons, providing a bit of extra motivation for players to get stuck in.
The matchmaking aspect of multiplayer has been improved as well and for the better. You are now presented with a number of options before being matched with an opponent (such as your team, control preferences and percentage of games not finished – for those wanting to avoid distasteful rage quitters), which the system takes into account when searching for an opponent, so that ultimately you get someone with similar preferences.
All in all, I think that FIFA 12 is perhaps the best game of the series yet, though I am sure people will disagree with that. As I mentioned near the start of this review, the game play is a fairly significant departure from FIFA 11 and is somewhat frustrating at first – so you have to ask yourself whether or not you are prepared to put up with the frustrations that come with a new style of play when you are a regular of a series or not. If the answer is no, then FIFA 12 is probably not going to be the game for you (though you can turn most of the new control settings off, if you aren’t a big online player). If you are, then FIFA 12 is a must have as far as football titles go.