Patience is something that few players, managers and teams are often afforded in football. Yet this is what FIFA 12 requires of you. This year’s instalment features one of the most significant changes to the series and reconciling it with your style of play is at first jarring. Stick with it and like many clubs that are patient, you’ll be rewarded.
In short, FIFA 12 forces you to re-learn how to defend. In previous games, you might rush out of defence or chase down an opponent before holding the ‘A’ button. This would negotiate a standing tackle and as long as you had a reasonably good defender, you’d win the ball back.
This year, ‘tactical defending’ has replaced that concept. In FIFA 12, you first channel opposition players into disadvantageous positions and then if necessary, initiate a tackle. The crucial detail is that you now have to time each tackle manually. This changes the entire dynamic of the game and when you first try it, you’ll feel like you’ve been thrown in the deep end.
No longer can you squander possession, knowing that you can easily win it back. This year, efficiency and economy dictate the gameplay. Crossing becomes much less attractive, since you’re less likely to retain the ball afterwards, while passing it around like Barça is a more prudent tactic.
This change comes in the context of a dribbling system that allows more accurate player movement. You can now turn on the spot, beating opponents in ways that you would never be able to in previous games. Coupled with the new defending model, it at first feels like the advantage has been swung firmly in the attacking team’s favour. Eventually you’ll adapt your game and appreciate the satisfaction of a successfully timed tackle or a fine piece of close control, but not before a series of humbling defeats.
The last few years have seen FIFA strive to become more realistic, as if chasing past criticisms. As a result, the gameplay now sits on the cusp of becoming too accurate, threatening to become less enjoyable and more frustrating. This year’s instalment has the steepest learning curve of any FIFA in some time, but the reward is that each game feels more on edge, just like a real match. Previously, a two goal lead was often insurmountable, but now you’re even more vulnerable if your concentration lapses.
There are more game modes than you’re likely to explore, but one that’s clearly been a focus for EA in recent years is the Career Mode. Players now have morale and form, encouraging you to rotate your squad for reasons other than fatigue. Some will expect to play and if you leave them on the bench, they’ll eventually demand a transfer. There are improvements to the transfer system – deadline days are now a separate, drawn-out event – and the layout of the main screen means that you no longer have to repeatedly visit the calendar to check when your next games are.
Player development is another area where changes are most obvious. A new scouting system allows you to send scouts round the world and sign youngsters for your academy, before promoting them to the senior squad. Players also improve quicker than before, a welcome adjustment from FIFA 11.
There are the usual bugs and gripes in the Career Mode, although these are noticeably fewer than before. Other clubs don’t seem willing to take your youth players on loan, making their development difficult as they languish in your reserves. There’s also too much transfer activity and a number of strange moves in the market; in my first season, Nani was sold to Sunderland and Mata to Newcastle.
The user interface is flawed in some areas, as it was last year. Every time you launch the game, it still asks which language you’d like to use and forces you to acknowledge that it autosaves. It’s hard to think of a justification for these needless barriers; maybe EA think that their customers are bi-lingual and extremely forgetful? The initial startup process is also confusing as usual, featuring this laughably poor screen:
At least the gameplay looks fantastic. The key change this year is the physics engine, which now accurately maps collisions, removing the previously awkward interactions between players. Now a trailing leg can cause a player to trip and a poorly-timed tackle will send an opponent flying. It increases the realism of matches and combines well with the new defending mechanic, although there are a few instances where a clumsy tackle will not result in a foul.
The game’s scope makes it easy to find fault in FIFA 12, but it’s equally easy to appreciate the attention to detail given to many areas of the game. EA’s desire to refine every aspect of the experience is clear, even if there are rough edges. To say that ‘this is the best FIFA’ yet’ has become a cliché, but again it’s undeniable. The series’ momentum continues and there’s no doubt that EA have yet again outdone themselves.