A lot of people weren't particularly impressed with the score we gave to FIFA 11. Was it lower than the average? Yes. Was it surprising? Yes. But was it accurate? Oh hell yes it was. You see, veterans of FIFA tend to approach each game from a very critical perspective; picking out all of the flaws and taking note of the improvements that should have been made. FIFA 12 doesn't fix everything but it goes a long, long way towards regaining our faith in the franchise. Because for the first time in about four years, they've made a change that not only improves the experience, they've made a change that revolutionises the way you play football. Electronic Arts has finally made a brave move that could have cost them dearly, but it has paid off unbelievably well because without a doubt, FIFA 12 is one of the best football games ever made.
The big change we're referring to is in how you defend. It's completely changed and it's extremely difficult for even the most hardened FIFA players to become familiar with. Essentially, nearly all of the automatic defensive controls have been removed. You can't hold a button and expect the player to magnetically attach himself to his rival and reclaim possession. FIFA 12 is all about positioning, timing, and physicality. Players will jostle for the ball before sticking a leg in to try and pinch it. The button layout is more or less the same (B for a standing tackle, X for a sliding tackle), but you'll need to be very careful and very sure of yourself before committing to a challenge. If you make a mess of things, you're probably giving away a free kick, or a penalty and you might even get sent off. FIFA 12 is brutally tough in the opening games, but your patience will be rewarded.
Unlike every other FIFA game (every other football game, really), you'll have to be more concerned with blocking passages of play, i.e. shutting down the attack by obstructing passes and making sure the attackers have no place to go. There's a greater emphasis on 'jockeying', a fancy term for following the attacker and making him think without any physical contact. This adds a whole new dimension to the tactical elements of FIFA, and if you thought you were well prepared after spending plenty of intimate alone time with FIFA 11, then you're greatly mistaken. We're not exaggerating, this one change to the gameplay could be the most important addition to the FIFA franchise ever; and it reflects a new attitude from EA, one that doesn't involve sitting on their arses for twelve months.
What makes the new defensive system even better is the amazing 'Player Impact Engine'. The animation in FIFA has always been top notch (even Battlefield uses their technology), but now it's more accurate and really, it's a bloody marvel. Honestly, we're not entirely certain how the engine operates or how in God's name EA managed to do it, but every limb and every tackle and every motion, pretty much every bit of science you can imagine will play some part in how the players move on the pitch. Momentum is of even greater significance than before, both in relation to how attackers pounce on the counter and how defenders move in for tackle. It's extraordinary stuff and it makes FIFA 12 the most realistic football game to date, even if that realism involves making a fool of yourself with catastrophic errors in front of goal.
We almost forgot about the other new gameplay addition - 'Precision Dribbling'. The most technically and skilfully gifted players like Messi, Iniesta, insert Barcelona squad member, and arguably Ronaldo if you want to include the arrogant fool, will be able to counter the new defensive style with some sweet moves. You've always been able to do this, but now you can hold off players and perform tricks at the same time. It's nowhere near as vital as the aforementioned improvements, it's more to level out the balancing. What all of this does, really, is make for a very natural footballing experience. It can be unpredictable, unrealistically so, but that only heightens the sense of drama and doubles the enjoyment. When you combine everything with almost impeccable presentation (apart from EA's stupid in-game advertising. SSX on every advertisement board? Please...), then you know you're playing something special.
So gameplay wise, it's practically flawless. The game runs silky smooth, the passing is greatly improved, the A.I. is mostly superb, the penalty system doesn't feel so harsh and all of these subtle changes will most definitely be appreciated by the loyal fans. There's also much less of a 'stop-start' flow to the gameplay seeing as you can now take throw-ins automatically without having a pause to slow things down. Although you will get dragged back in a different area (anyone who has looked at our recent EA Sports reviews will know exactly what's coming here), the menus! It takes a ridiculous amount of time to get into FIFA from the main screen. First of all it has to sign you in, then it checks for your online pass, then your hospitality settings, updates and so on. Anyone who knows EA will know how unreliable their servers are too, and we did experience a couple of occasions just after release day when we were suddenly disconnected for no apparent reason. And when FIFA is selling over three million copies in its opening week, it would be nice to see some of that cash redirected into maintaining a consistent online experience. The menus themselves have been improved though, with a brand new look and considerably less lag when moving through the modes.
Other areas for improvement would have to be the graphics and the audio. The graphics, you say? But doesn't it look great? It certainly does kiddo, but it can look better (those screens are heavily polished). FIFA 09 is still a beautiful game to look at... and that was released in September of 2008. The focus has very much been turned towards animation, not a bad idea by any means, but FIFA could really benefit from a lick of paint. The players appear accurate (the ones you care about at least), and it has all of the official teams and stadiums, so it's definitely the most authentic football game available, but we'd truly love to see another new engine integrated next year to make FIFA look as good as it plays. We want more sexy. That and improved commentary would be nice. Andy Gray was dropped (this Scottish dude) and replaced with Alan Smith, a man who most ex-patriots should have heard before. Between himself and Martin Tyler, they provide acceptable analysis that's vastly superior to what Pro Evolution Soccer provides, but it's the other duo that fails to meet the high standards. Alternatively, you can have Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend to mix things up a bit, whether that's a positive or negative is up to you. But one thing is for certain, all of the commentators are better than the soundtrack. In typical EA fashion, the tunes are either abysmal or very mildly semi-enjoyable. The option to turn them off is a blessing in disguise.
If you bought FIFA 11, then you should know what to expect with the content on offer. The only difference this time around is that 'Ultimate Team' is already included on the disc. The remaining modes are relatively unchanged, receiving tweaks more than anything else, but they're streamlined really well into the new experience points system. Basically, you select your favourite club and from there, every action and almost every accomplishment or achievement will result in points for that club. It's a bit ridiculous in places (why do we get ten points every time we put in the disc?), but it works as a way of improving the competitive nature of football. You've got local leaderboards and global ones too and it's pretty addictive. However, the most important mode will always be your career, and it's the best one yet. There's too much to talk about and not enough space, but now you'll have control of more options and the transfer system is brilliant, if a tad frustrating when you can't lure a target.
The heart of FIFA is in how you play it online. Last year was a disaster before EA tidied up the servers, and while there are still problems this year, they're nowhere near as bad. One negative would have to be the lack of a party system when trying to get a bunch of friends into a 'Pro Ranked' match (where everybody controls their unique 'Virtual Pro'). Why not set up a Club? Because a lot of people who play in that mode are either cheats or machines. Trying to get two people into a ranked game can prove terribly annoying, especially when different NAT types are causing havoc and even if you do get into a game, it's likely that the rest of your team will be terrible. And when we say terrible, we mean acting like nob jockeys. Of course, that's a problem with the community of FIFA 12 rather than the game itself. Outside of that, you've got a new versus system which plays out as 'Head to Head Seasons'. It's a cyber league where you can get promoted and relegated depending on your form and results, but unfortunately you'll discover a huge amount of people using Barcelona. To compensate, the matchmaking is super fast and the new structure is ten times better than the skill ranks of before.
FIFA 12 the most complete and refined package since FIFA 09. In fact, it's so good that it nearly cancels out the horrible memories of FIFA 10 and the idiot who designed it... nearly. At last, EA has made some brilliant progress with the biggest sports franchise in the world and in case you hadn't figured it out by now, it's better than Pro Evolution Soccer 2012. Much, much better in every single conceivable way. If they can keep this up and continue the revolution into next year, then who knows what could happen. FIFA is bordering levels of sporting perfection but remains bound by several little problems and areas that could do with improvement. Overall, they're not enough to stop this being a beautiful representation of the beautiful game. FIFA 12 is a splendid outing and a genuinely worthwhile investment even for those who bought FIFA 11. Good work chaps, see you again in twelve months.