The Annual Footy Franchise Reviewed

The Annual Footy Franchise Reviewed

The World’s Game is back and in the best form it has ever been in. Early on in the now dieing summer, the US Women’s Soccer Team and the minor miracles they pulled off in the 2011 World Cup did much to show the USA just how beautiful of a game soccer could be. Of course, the message was lost once they blew it in the title game and the sport was put on the back burner in America once again. But as Fall comes in and the European Football leagues hit their stride, FIFA is back to try to pick up where the US Women’s Team left off. Does this year’s game convey the beauty of footy more than its previous iterations? In a word: Yes.

At a glance, FIFA 12 looks like the standard sports game Roster and Graphics Update. The player models have received an upgrade, Most players are more than passable as versions of their real life counterparts with some (like Wayne Rooney) looking absolutely amazing. The pitch they run around on also looks better than ever, with varying field degradation and just a more realistic texture overall. The stadiums surrounding the field are also as gorgeous as ever, and some new arenas such as BC Place look spectacular. Now granted, these minor upgrades are all well and good, but no sports game is worth purchasing every year just for some more realistic faces. It’s what FIFA 12 changes in the gameplay department and under the hood that really makes it stand out from any other soccer game to date.

First off, a new Tactical Defense system has been implemented, much to the chagrin of many FIFA veterans used to the old, “Hold A and shoot off like a rocket” method of defense. Instead of one button dictating the defensive pace of the game, FIFA 12 now has players properly jostling for position on the field and deciding themselves when the time to make the tackle is. It’s a jarring change at first, as you are tasked to do a lot more on the defensive front than ever before. But once you start controlling the pitch like a field general, all reservations are gone. The Tactical Defense system makes that end of the game more challenging than ever before, but also provides a more realistic and chess like flow to the game, and an exceedingly more rewarding experience when you do it right. Don’t back to the Legacy Controls right away. Give the new method a try. You might be surprised.

Not to be outdone, the offensive side of the ball has a new trick up its sleeve as well. By holding the LB/L1 button (it’s also triggered automatically in some areas of the pitch), players can now enter Precision Dribbling Mode. Essentially, the footballer of your choice slows down the pace of the ball at their feet to allow you to make small cuts, turns, chops, and direction changes while keeping the ball as close to them as possible. This allows for much more control when within scoring areas, along the sidelines, and in any other place where losing the ball would be frustratingly easy in previous FIFA years. While not revolutionary, you can see how welcome an addition this is the moment you use it to add a half a yard of space between you and the defender, allowing you to unleash a cracker of a shot into the net. It’s certainly a nice minor touch amongst a slew of major changes.

But arguably the most important addition FIFA 12 introduces into the franchise is the new Player Impact Engine. Gone are the days of the same two or three canned animations occurring after hard tackles. Goodbye to head on collisions only ending in two players bouncing off one another. The new PIE gets rid of these gripes of yesteryear by carefully calculating the strength, momentum, and angle of every player on the pitch as they interact with each other. Full speed sliding tackles now result in players getting their legs cut out from under them, and hard challenges in the air often leave one or both competitors falling helplessly to the ground.

The beauty is that all of this is done in real time, and the lack of pre rendered animations make each and every interaction on the field look organic and rightfully brutal at times. It does make for some strange and hilarious glitches at times (Hint: Check Youtube), but those come much fewer and farther between than in the demo. The Player Impact Engine is a huge step towards making the perfect soccer sim, and EA Sports has taken it with much bravery and care. Hopefully they can continue to refine it in the upcoming years.

Off the pitch, the game’s various modes such as Manager mode made some welcome changes as well. The new Youth Academy allows managers to scout out unknown and randomly generated players around the world to add to their Youth team. Once there, these young upstarts well develop under the new and more realistic Player Development System, something which has been asked for by FIFA fanatics. Players develop at a much faster pace, and it is great to finally be able to develop home grown talent into superstars and not just cherry pick from other teams around the globe.

Been around the world and I, I, I.

A slightly altered Transfer System also makes being the Manager of a football club more strategic, as offers go back and forth between teams at a much more frantic pace. EA even went as far as to add a Transfer Deadline day which simulates the last 10 hours of the Transfer Window, allowing players to make and receive offers hour by hour until the deadline passes. It adds some nice nervous tension to the mode as you hope you make the right move to launch your team into the next level and not wind up stranded in relegation by the deadline.

On the Be a Pro side of things, not much has changed. Your player sees the same improvements to the progression system as displayed for CPU players in Manager mode, and that’s about it. Granted I don’t know how much more you can change Be a Pro, so I’ll give FIFA a pass this year in respect of all the changes they made elsewhere. Ultimate Team also returns to allow players to build their dream team strategically, and a new Online Season Mode tasks FIFA heads to play a 10 game set against others from around the globe to see if you can run the ladder to the championship.

Overall FIFA 12 provides the cavalcade of modes, licensed teams, presentation touches, and customization options that has set the FIFA franchise apart from its competitors for years now. But it also provides a trio of risky, but hugely successful changes that launch FIFA 12 into a rare realm that only few sports games reach. If you haven’t played a FIFA game in a few years, go out and pick this up now. If you have played FIFA in the last couple of years, go out and pick this up now, too. FIFA 12 is a game that even the most casual soccer fan and gamer should play. It is that damn good.

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