Are You Ready for Some Football?
Games with locked-in annual release schedules are often the target of ire and criticism from gamers and journalists alike. With so much competition on the market this year coming from the likes of Bethesda, Naughty Dog, and Epic (not to mention Konami and their own competing soccer title) some may opt for sitting out EA Sports’ FIFA Soccer 12 this year. However even if you only like soccer a little bit, that would be a catastrophically bad idea. As it stands, FIFA 12 is one of the best sports games I’ve ever played.
For starters, the game sounds amazing. The first thing I noticed while playing through my first few exhibition matches is that the announcers appear to be watching the game as it’s happening rather than just reading lines from a script. And it doesn’t matter who’s announcing. Whether it’s Martin Tyler and Alan Smith or Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend, it’s always good. It took a few days of almost constant play before any of the dialogue started to sound rehearsed or repetitive. There are also French announcers, and Spanish speakers are in for a real treat as legendary announcers Enrique “Perro” Bermúdez and Ricardo Peláez.
While it would be accurate to say that this year’s game doesn’t look much better than 11, this is far from an insult. Visually, the athletes are accurate digital representations of their real-world counterparts, which is a real feat considering there are over 15,000 players and more than 500 teams in FIFA 12. Stadiums are also faithfully recreated, capturing what makes those locations memorable. And all this comes with a fairly steady frame rate.
EA Sports has made quite a few improvements to gameplay. This time around you’ll notice that the A.I. has been dramatically improved, as NPCs are now self-aware. In FIFA 12, the players all recognize their own abilities and play accordingly. This means that if AC Milan’s Ibrahimović is a goal-scoring machine on the field, he’ll be just as difficult to stop in the game. It doesn’t end there. Entire teams will act as a collective, changing their play-style based on the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents.
Previously, collisions between players were handled poorly, to say the least. In FIFA 12, EA Sports is boasting about the new Player Impact Engine. When two players collide, the engine takes into account lots of varying factors and animates the players accordingly. The result, EA says, is a much more realistic and dynamic way of demonstrating player interaction on the field. This model also determines when injuries should occur, calculating the speed at which players collided and how their bodies would be affected.
While the new Impact engine is a welcome change from the previous model, I feel there’s still a little room for improvement. There were times when things just didn’t look right. It’s probable the calculations behind certain collisions were correct, but visually things seemed a bit off. The animations were at times a bit wonky and had a tendency to break the illusion of watching an actual game. When everything clicked, though, it worked well enough.
All of these changes have a dramatic impact on defensive play this year. Timing a proper tackle or setting yourself up to receive an interception is all the more delicate now that the A.I. has been tweaked and players respond realistically to contact. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Virtual Pro mode.
In Virtual Pro Mode, you can create a Player, Manager, or Player Manager (sort of like an agent) and advance through each of their career paths. Playing as a Player is pretty self-explanatory—you pick your team, sign up, and progress through your career one game at a time, playing through championships and that sort of thing. As a Manager, your goal is to choose the direction you’d like the team to go, picking the strategy for each match and building a great team. It’s also your job to manage the drama that comes with having a bunch of well-paid athletes under your care, so be prepared. A Player Manager takes care of the players on the lineup, but isn’t confined to watching the game from the sidelines. He can also join in the game on key battles.
The way the key gameplay changes come to light here take place when you choose to play through the career controlling only your virtual pro on the field. All of the players on the field will act independently of you, while at the same time taking your actions into account, factoring in things like your position on the field, which direction you’re heading, and your abilities as a player. None of this is new—far from it—but the way it’s implemented shows off just how much progress EA Sports has made with the A.I. and other aspects of the game.
The online component of FIFA 12 is far from lacking this year as well. That has a lot to do with the fact that they took a close look at the feedback they received from the community and made the necessary adjustments. The server issues that kept gamers frustrated during Online Team Play have been resolved, better matchmaking solutions have been presented, and they’ve found out a way to stop people from cheating their way to the top of the leaderboards. So, should you decide to spend some time online in FIFA 12, you’ll most likely find it to be a better experience that previous entries.
There’s the EA Sports Football Club, which works a bit like Need for Speed’s Autolog, allowing friends to compete asynchronously and post news of their accomplishments to Facebook. Then there’s Support Your Club. At the beginning of the game you’ll be asked to pick your favorite soccer team. Everything you do in the game earns you XP points, and you level up to unlock gear and things like that. The XP you earn is also counted toward your favorite team, and scores are tallied at the end of each week to determine which club has the most active supporters. FIFA Ultimate Team, which works sort of like a fantasy football league, allows players to buy, sell, and trade players from within the community and then compete with their teams either online or offline.
There are a lot of “carrot and stick” gameplay elements like this that are meant keep the player motivated, and I’m delighted to say it’s all done tastefully. The game controls fine, though there’s a slight learning curve for timing things properly, but the controls are fully customizable.
When all is said and done, the fundamentals of the sport are extremely well represented, and as of this writing you’d be hard pressed to find a better soccer game.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Players look and act like their real-life counterparts. Animation can be a bit stiff at times. 4.0 Control
Controls are good, but come with a slight learning curve. They’re also fully customizable. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound is easily the most impressive I’ve heard in any FIFA title. The score was also enjoyable. 4.4 Play Value
There’s a lot to do here that will keep the most dedicated completionists busy for some time. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best