It’s the year 2001. I’m sat in my apartment at uni with a few mates and we’re engrossed in a tight, free-flowing game of football on the Playstation. It’s the last few minutes of extra time, and it’s all tied up at 2-2. Suddenly, a lightning quick counter attack fires up from a poor corner and it’s 3 on 2, as a shot from 20 yards thumps the post and ends up in the back of the net. It’s an amazing feeling, a joy not felt in any game outside the Pro Evolution Soccer series, not even the license-laden FIFA can get close.
Fast forward 10 years, and the story couldn’t be any more different. While Konami are losing fans left, right and centre (even a work colleague of mine, a self-confessed PES fanboy has jumped ship) the FIFA train rumbles on, each year honing its skills with the aim to become the finest football game on the market. Not long ago it was an overly-animated, sluggish game which was only followed for its official team names and fancy presentation but after a couple of hours with FIFA 12 it’s clear that this isn’t just a great football title, this is one of the best sport games money can buy.
Most of you reading this will already know what FIFA is all about. Huge numbers of officially licensed teams, leagues and competitions, Sky Sports style presentation and more game modes than you can shake a stick at. For the last 3 or 4 years EA have worked their nuts off to increase the playability, and with each new version something else gets tweaked, added or improved on. And yet each year the same thing comes out of reviews: is it really enough to warrant buying again if you picked it up last year? As ever, the answer to that is a very helpful and definitive “it depends”.
Let’s start with one definite. If you’re a football fan and haven’t got a football game in your collection, then going out and buying FIFA 12 is a no-brainer. The last FIFA game I owned was FIFA 09 and the difference between that and this year’s version is mind-blowing. In that time the graphical polish, quality of animations and sheer number of game modes on offer has been upped considerably, it’s almost like playing a different game. A much better one. I still end up changing the control setup to match those I used a decade ago on PES, but at least the option is still there to assign the controls in any way you want them.
But what of the smaller changes, the little changes that push this above FIFA11 and make fans of the series drop another wad of cash in EA’s back pocket? Well there’s the new focus on defending, taking away your ability to send a team-mate charging full speed towards the man on the ball as if they were carrying that photo of Scarlett Johansson, and instead forces you into a more measured defensive strategy. You can jockey attackers and try to move them into less useful area of the pitch, stick close to them to make running with the ball a bit tougher, or just throw yourself into a crunching tackle. It not only makes defending a far more realistic experience, but also gives you different attacking conundrums. Finding that crucial pass or pulling off the tricky step-over to find a spare couple of yards is tougher than ever, but feels so satisfying when it works that you keep plugging away just to do it again. This is far more successful when playing with another human player, although with this being a sports game you’d expect the multiplayer aspect to be the stronger side of the game.
Those crunching tackles I mentioned are great too thanks to the new impact engine, sending players in realistic directions after contact. Whether two players just knock into each other or go into a solid sliding tackle, they react more realistically than you’ll ever have seen in a football game, and players will even get occasional injuries away from the ball such as pulled hamstrings and the like. This is no more vital than in one of the season-based game modes, including the impressively deep career mode, giving you the chance to get involved in the managerial duties as well as playing through the seasons yourself. You can even include your Be a Pro character too if you like in order to develop them even further. It’s a more detailed outing to last time round, with media involvements keeping you up to date with goings on in the league and giving you interview opportunities. Football Manager 12 it isn’t, but it gives you an impressive amount of control over the club.
Another nice new touch is the way head to head games against friends are tracked, giving you points for each match which go towards a short mini-season between the two of you. Commentary in the matches refer to this too, which is a nice touch. Similarly cool is the head to head season mode, which drops you in a low league and acts as a sort of online levelling system, but much cooler and pretty nicely balanced to make sure you play tougher opponents as you progress through the leagues.
There are a few issues still plaguing the series though, which is a massive shame. Crossing is still largely pointless, with a disproportionate number of decent looking crosses being easily hacked away by the defence; it takes something special to even create a half-chance, never mind an actual goal. In addition to this, playing in solo modes can get a little frustrating when the computer controlled players hammer inch-perfect long balls out of defence and produce a series of almost unstoppable counter attacks. But as I said before, this was always going to be a multiplayer game at heart.
So should you pick up FIFA12? Well it’s the king of footy games, that’s for sure. If you haven’t bought one for a couple of years (or ever) then you really should go and get yourself a copy, and you won’t regret it for an instant. But those of you who have FIFA11 have the tougher choice. If you play it to death and can’t get enough, then updating is a wise move, however the occasional player might not see the differences quite so much and will have a harder time justifying it.
But the main thing is this: FIFA12 is a fantastic title. Get a few mates with it and you’ve got something to throw the next 12 months of your life into.
Reviewed on PS3