+ Player impact engine
+ Complex defending
+ More attacking options
- Robotic Artificial Intelligence
- Some physics glitches
Final score: 9.5 / 10
A working Xbox 360 home console
I must confess that my experience with the FIFA series has not been a particularly long or fruitful one. I remember endless nights spent with my brother playing the 04 installment, defeated by his superior tactical knowledge and nimbler fingers. It was at that point that I decided to switch to games which emphasized the manager aspect of football and have since rarely looked back, my resulting experience with FIFA 10 and 11 best characterized as limited.
I have seen FIFA 12 in action a few times before its official release and the game really surprised me, especially when played by the expert hands of the developers themselves, but creating a good experience in controlled conditions is pretty easy these days so I had to get my hands on it to see if the improvements touted by the team behind it were really that great.
When a series has existed for as long as FIFA does it's really hard to picture how it manages to continue to innovate and change for the better. But with this year's installment the developers at EA Sports have once again managed to deliver enough changes to keep players on their toes and introduce a bit of a learning curve while keeping the basis of the franchise familiar enough to quickly draw in those who played previous titles.
On the pitch the changes are clearly visible in attack and defense but the biggest new system is the Player Impact Engine, which eliminates all canned animations and allows physics to take control of all interactions between players, pitch and ball. The new system might have used a little more polish, especially when it comes to the tangles that often take place between goalkeeper and attacker, but it generally works and the matches are closer to real life than at any point in the history of the series.
The new defense mechanics will take most players some time to be internalized and effectively deployed. It's now much more important to stay close to the attacker who has the ball and constantly harass him while also using the press button to make sure that the rest of your team is interfering with the pass routes he has open. It takes two button presses on the controller to do well and I needed about four days of constant play before learning exactly how to use it but after a while it becomes natural (there's also the option to make the game use the FIFA 11 system instead).
On the attack the biggest it seems that crosses and a little bit of tiki taka are the best offensive methods, while runs down the middle of the field followed by powerful shots at goal rarely result in goals scored. The Artificial Intelligence is pretty good at defending and is not afraid to thumb balls out of touch as soon as they pick them up and to foul to stop a promising opportunity.
Speaking of how the computer controlled players handle themselves it must be mentioned that they are a bit shy when it comes to the offensive and often fail to exploit the sides of the pitch for quick attacking runs. They are much better on the defense and manage to quickly respond to events on the pitch.
I found that the A.I. is very, very hard to defeat on the World Class difficulty, which supposedly good FIFA players always use, and moving down to Semi-Pro eliminated any challenge from the game so I settled on using the Proffesional setting for my Liverpool season and I found that my performance was pretty close to that of the real life team at the beginning of the season, winning at Arsenal and getting thrashed 4 – 0 by the likes of Bolton.
I played the game both on the PC and the Xbox 360 and it seems that the console version has a little less power to devote to the Artificial Intelligence, which makes them a little more predictable on the offense and less able to contain through pass when the human player is attacking.
FIFA 12 offers pretty much the same game modes as its predecessors and there are some small improvements here and there. The Season mode allows for more options when choosing to create a player in your likeness and the transfer deadline has been made much more exciting (although I would suggest a move to at least Football Manager for those who really want to be coach, executive and transfer master).
Be a Pro mode also makes an appearance and the Live Season concept seems interesting but players need to be warned that Live Seasons must be bought from the EA Store, with prices varying depending on the quality of the league???.
Ultimate Team is again offered for players as a sort of palate cleanser, an experience that can take them away from the pitch for a little while, giving their minds something new to grapple with while they blow off steam from a series of defeats of enjoy winning the Spanish Liga with Albacete (after winning promotion, of course). EA Sports will certainly release more packs of players and tactics cards in order to get some more revenue from those who become too closely interested in Ultimate Team.
EA Sports has also worked hard to make the FIFA experience more social, which has resulted in the Football Club, a system that allows players to gain experience and compare themselves with friends. The developers also plan to deliver specific real life based challenges through it and players can also choose to support a club and watch it rise in the EA Sports maintained leaderboards.
Graphics and audio
FIFA 12 on the PC, played at 1080p and with full 4X antialiasing is a sight to behold. The game moves smooth at all times and there's a level of detail when it comes to player faces, bodies and animations that is very, very close to photo realism. As always the crowds in the stadiums are still a blurred mess but rarely will a player's eye wander towards them, considering the beauty of all that EA Sports has created on the pitch.
The presentation is also much improved. Electronic Arts might lack the license for the Champions League but the visual presentation is very close to what a football fan will see when watching the top European competition. It all looks very accomplished and manages to really draw one in to that head space where everything that matters is the movement of the players and the ball.
FIFA 12 now has two commentary teams, depending on the competition in which the player is engaged, and it seems that there's some more variety to the lines delivered and that the two voices in the booth have a new algorithm, allowing them to react quicker to the various happenings on the pitch.
A major improvement has been made to the on the pitch sound and the various chants delivered by the galleries of the better known teams. The developers might have managed to place their microphones somewhat closer to the pitch or they have discovered a much better way of mixing everything together, but the atmosphere is much closer to that I have experienced on a real life major team stadium.
The best way to enjoy FIFA 12 is playing with another real life human being, preferably with two controllers attached to the same console or with a keyboard when on the PC. There's nothing like standing in comfortable chairs and trash talking each other as wild tackles fly around and shoats at goal get saved by the tip of a goalkeepers fingers.
Playing multiplayer eliminates the robotic superior ability of the A.I. and makes it much more fun to break out of formulaic tactics in order to try out some more outrageous moves. It's a great idea to allow players to drop into matches played in the Season mode, although that means no presence on the leaderboards.
FIFA 12 also includes support for online play and the Ultimate Team mode is a competitive experience, which means that there are plenty of options on offer for those who get bored of the way the Artificial Intelligence plays.
EA Sports has delivered yet another complex, smart, quick and engaging football simulation with FIFA 12 and seeing the level of quality on show here again prompts the question: What will the developers do for next year's edition, which is undoubtedly worked on already?
Sure, the management side of the game could be expanded, the options for formations and tactics could get a little more love and there are still some issues with the Player Impact Engine (which make for wonderful blooper reels on YouTube) but considering the size and the complexity of the game these are just minor annoyances that should not keep any football loving gamer away from FIFA 12.