When EA originally showcased their all-new defensive system in FIFA 12, I couldn’t see any problem with the act of stopping an opponent dribbling towards me. A tap of *circle* sticks a leg out to prod the ball away instead of the player doing it automatically. Simple. Even though they removed traditional 2nd Player Press – where an AI team-mate would sprint in to tackle for the ball like a heat-seeking missile – it still felt easy enough to defend. In hindsight, there was one thing clouding my positive assessment of the new defending – the human factor.
Every game I played previous to writing this review was against another person. A fallible human being like myself that was finding their feet with the game at the same pace I was. Playing FIFA 12 against the AI on anything higher than semi-pro difficulty setting is a real slog for seasoned players, let alone newcomers. And as a result this is the first FIFA in memory where it isn’t instantly a pick up ‘n’ play classic.
Above: The animations and player likenesses are bloody brilliant this season
Defending is now a web of multiple button presses to track, fast track,
poke tackle, slide and ask another player to help out. Even with the
initial tutorial, it still feels slightly over-complicated and as the AI
attacks with ruthless efficiency, one missed button press will see the
opposition glide through your defence as if they’re not there and slot a
goal home. I find this out with Man United as I’m thumped 4-0 by West
Because the game knows exactly what move you’re going to make in a nanosecond, it uses this knowledge to dance through your side with ease. It wouldn’t be so bad if, you know, you could do the same when dribbling but, hey look, the defenders know exactly where you’re going before you’ve had chance to touch the left stick.
Above: The new Player Impact Engine means tussles on the ball are more realistic
The evolutionary tweaks are necessary to keep FIFA on top of its game and for that I applaud EA’s efforts. After all, you don’t just want a yearly update of something that could be delivered via DLC, right? Right. But in their quest to introduce a new system the AI balancing to accommodate the defensive innovations has been left in the changing rooms.
To make matters worse, if you drop the difficulty to semi-pro or below you’re unable to post your statistics to the online leaderboards, which creates an elitism amongst FIFA 12 players, which goes against the grain of the ‘everyone in’ mantra that the game is known for. Oh, and semi-pro is too easy. It sounds like I’m being difficult but as a man who has put an embarrassing amount of hours into football games, this is the first time I’ve been stumped. The remedy is to simply train like a youth team player until you’re used to the on-field action. Or switch off the new defensive system altogether. Wait, what?
Yup, that’s right; FIFA 12 has an option to switch back to FIFA 11’s defensive system, which reintroduces said heat-seeking missile players. It can make playing against the computer slightly easier but the point of new tweaks is to learn and master them so that you evolve as the game does. Plus, these new features should be universal to all FIFA 12's modes - online and offline - but they're not. This so-called legacy defending can't be taken into the online multiplayer side of things, so if there's little point falling back on the old school defending offline as you'll eventually have to learn it online. Argh! Although there is a very logical reason for this.
As a way to combat those FIFA players that play the game like relentless, goal scoring terminators, FIFA 12’s online helpings require you to use this new defending gubbins. And do you know what? It makes the online experience far more enjoyable.
Indeed, I’ve spent most of this review complaining about FIFA 12 but online is where it really hits its stride. The changes feel organic here and it creates a level playing field for the time being, well before folk find exploits again.
Best of the new features is the head-to-head league system. You start in the bottom division and have ten games to play against opponents of a similar ability/star rating (you start with a half star rating). Win enough points and you’ll be promoted to the league above, but fail to do so the following season and you could be relegated. It gives your online play more purpose and taps into that deep-seated competitive streak that will see you plugging away for weeks in a quest to reach the top.
Above: Crosses into the box are even deadlier than last year
Another much needed tweak in FIFA 12 is the ability to change formation, tactics and players of your chosen team before you even connect to your opponent. This sees an end to the 35 second panics and inevitably leaving your best player on the bench by accident.
Offline multiplayer is still the business, and reigns supreme at lunchtimes here at GR Towers. It’s all about that human factor and the mistakes people can make that creates such a perfect multiplayer experience and more importantly translates superbly from what you’d see in the Premier League each week.
From long range pile drivers from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo that bring you out of your seat to last ditch murder tackles that are an insta-red but maybe preserve your fragile 1-0 lead because your opposition can’t take free-kicks properly, it’s all here. And with the precision dribbling coming into play, you can now have some real fun jinking past your players with the likes of Messi and Nani. If I were rating it solely on multiplayer it would be a 10, no doubts. But I’m not, and unfortunately there are still faults hungover from past FIFAs.
Back to the solo play, and the career mode has had a cosmetic overhaul. You now have news stories about transfers and injuries that pop up in the main career hub. Players will now come to you with problems like not getting enough game time or that they’re thinking of retiring (*Sniff* goodbye, Giggsy) and there’s a greater emphasis on rotating your squad due to multiple injuries, including off the ball sprains, so it feels a bit more like being a manager. There’s even a Transfer Deadline Day bit where a running total is present on screen of how much has been spent in panic buys. Sadly, it’s lacking depth.
Above: Oddly enough, David Silva, arguably City's best player, always ends up leaving
The news stories quickly become repetitive and the infamous Inbox of dull e-mails still exists to let you know about such things as fixture changes and injuries. The hub is less than inspiring and lacks the excitement of say Madden, NHL or even NBA 2K. It’s just a series of menus to flick through and although the loading times have been taken down a jot, simulating the days to the next match is still lumbering. I found myself checking real-life e-mails and playing iPhone games in-between these bits.
Pro tip: You can only enter negotiations with a potential signing a few times each transfer window. This little 'gem' only came to light after I tried to sign Sneijder for United for slightly less than the asking fee only to be told by the game that I couldn't try for him again yet. He signed for Man City two minutes later.
I’m constantly surprised by the lack of fan service in the career mode from FIFA. I know I’ve been spoilt by Football Manager’s unparalleled depths, but if Sports Interactive can make spreadsheets seem fun then surely EA can. Surely, it must be priority #1 for FIFA 13.
One last bad point and I swear I’ll end on a positive. Promise. The passing has been given an overhaul to eliminate the ping-pong passing that plagued online games and made EA sad as it didn’t represent a real game of football. But I fancy they’ve gone too far in the opposite direction.
Playing as Barca – the pass masters of world football – I found that I could keep the ball with passes for a certain amount of time, but then the game would inexplicably make a short pass go wrong, thus conceding possession needlessly. Like the ball literally going in a different direction to where the intended recipient is waiting. I understand the need for fallibility in the players to make it feel real but this seems like cheating at times.
Above: The new precision dribbling allows you to exploit gaps like a boss
The on-field action is slicker than ever and really allows you stamp your own personal brand of football onto proceedings, so you can lump it to a big man like Bolton Wanderers or steadily build up passing pressure with Arsenal. And the player likeness have been given an upgrade too, so it's no longer a close approximation of Man United's Little Pea as this video shows...
The Be A Pro mode is still brilliant as you work your player from zero to goal scoring hero and the variety of match types, which includes the return of Ultimate Team, will give you more than enough hours of fun.
With a lean towards creating the most thrilling multiplayer sports title to date, FIFA 12 has overlooked those looking to escape into the world of football on their own. The game still looks amazing and it still provides an authentic footballing experience but the bells and whistles that should be present in the single player experience are severely lacking.
You’ll instantly forget about all of this when you go head to head either online or offline, mind, but with the engine requiring less attention now, I’m hoping for these cosmetic features to be addressed next time out to really fulfill FIFA’s amazing potential.