Good old annual franchise updates. Some might complain about them, but theyâ€™ll get bought anyway. So it is with FIFA - but unlike some sports games, the last few years itâ€™s actually been worthwhile upgrading. Ever since FIFA 09 (or thereabouts), the series has been on a roll, and thereâ€™s no sign of it slowing down with FIFA 12.
A quick note before I harp on about the new features: nothing I encountered in FIFA 12 is any worse than its predecessor. Regression is always a danger in games like these, but whatever you might personally think of the changes made here, be assured that â€” at the very least â€” youâ€™re buying a quality title with an impressive assortment of features.
So: new things! If youâ€™ve been following EAâ€™s hype machine, youâ€™ll be familiar with their phrases of choice for FIFA 12: the Player Impact Engine, Tactical Defending and Precision Dribbling. So letâ€™s break those down first, for all the people out there justifiably wondering if 12 will feel significantly better than 11â€¦
The Player Impact Engine is probably the most immediately noticeable. If you deliberately run one of your players into another, youâ€™ll see why â€” itâ€™s much easier now for colliding players to go down in a tangle of (sometimes hilarious) flailing limbs. Combined with the physics-heavy changes made in FIFA 11, the end result is a game that feels much more like a simulation than a series of pre-canned events.
Crucially, it all still feels tight, with any unforeseen or uncontrollable events managing to feel fair. The danger of making things more realistic is that you lose any feeling of fun, but that hasnâ€™t happened here.
Tactical Defending will definitely force veteran players to rethink their strategies, and itâ€™s something I admittedly took a while to warm to. Charging in with your defenders and attempting a slide tackle against an attacker has become less effective with each passing year, but here itâ€™s a recipe for disaster.
Instead, effective defending means mastering the containing and jockeying of those on the attack. You need to focus a lot on having your guys in good positions on the field, shutting down options, and shunting the opposition to inconvenient locations.
The net result? A lot more back and forth, a lot more free-flowing phases, and a much closer match to real games of football.
Precision Dribbling, meanwhile, is a lot simpler, but still welcome. Used sparingly and effectively, it can make it that much harder to steal the ball, playing nicely into the hands of the Tactical Defending systems.
How long it takes for you to notice the in-game changes depends on the kind of player you are. The hardcore FIFA fans out there will obviously notice every minute difference, but more casual players might not consciously see the differences for a while. Regardless, the improvements to the core engine result in every match feeling that much tighter, that much more interesting. It's very impressive stuff.
All the usual game modes are here, either largely untouched or pleasantly improved. As with previous iterations, you can lose yourself for a ridiculous number of hours as a manager, pro player, or both at the same time. Career mode is hugely customisable and involving, and improvements such as a scouting system and the ability to delay decisions on player buying / selling are most welcome. Of course, itâ€™s still presented in a fairly dry manner, as befits what is essentially a bunch of statistics. But for the footie geeks out there, itâ€™s like catnip.
The presentation, including everything from in-game graphics to menus to commentators to goal celebration shots, remains top of the class. It all feels like an evolutionary improvement, but when FIFA 11 was already a classy event, thatâ€™s not an insult. Almost every aspect of this package is silky smooth and a joy to navigate through.
Are you a hardcore FIFA fan? You probably already own this game, and with good reason. More of a casual footie lover, looking to kick back with a few friends? This is the game for you. As always, the more casual a fan you are of these games, the harder it becomes to recommend the latest iteration if you own the previous one. In this case, though, the improvements â€” while not always immediately in your face â€” add up into an extremely tight, polished gem. Very few people will regret buying FIFA 12.
And one more thing: I recently switched the commentary track so it played the Mexican Spanish commentators. I will never go back to English now. Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal!