More than any other sports series available, FIFA has been the pinnacle of consistency. To not falter from this in an industry with yearly installments of sports games is almost unseen. FIFA, without question, has always pulled it off — somehow staying consistent in polish, realism, innovation, and delivery.
FIFA 12 is no different than its predecessors in this regard. However, many are skeptical of the latest gameplay changes and the impact they will have on the balance and realism of the game. Thankfully, there is nothing to be worried about.
One of the most noticeable improvements this year is precision dribbling. The control this gives you is much more substantial than one would think. In the past, one would resort to special moves to make way around an opponent when the player’s speed was outmatched. Now, precision dribbling (which is utilized by holding L1/LB and using the right analog stick) provides the close, controlled movements that are necessary at times to either give that edge to make your way up field or provide a safer way to wait until the field opens up before making a move.
Precision dribbling brings with it yet another sense of risk/reward — an element that has always been sprinkled throughout the game. The defensive AI plays safe when making these more controlled movements which, in turn, opens up the field. Precision dribbling coupled with special moves or a smart pass provides that seamless one-two punch which will quickly become a part of any player’s arsenal. That alone makes this one of the greatest changes in FIFA 12.
The next substantial change to gameplay is tactical defending. In the past, defensive strategy boiled down to a pressure system that was ultimately unrealistic and, quite honestly, extremely cheap at times. Now, defending has become much more strategic and, thankfully, less automatic.
By initiating your defensive-men to contain, the AI will shadow and close in on the opponent. The distance at which this contain occurs is entirely controlled by you and allows for a more realistic, tactical approach at defense. This change truly turns the defense of FIFA‘s past on its head as instead of the all-out pressure approach, it is now a more patient, wait to strike approach.
Waiting to strike becomes the key in tactical defending as auto-tackle is now a thing of the past. Instead, tackling is initiated by you and must be timed appropriately. The tension this provides on the other side of the ball becomes extremely refreshing and makes one of the most important parts of football an absolute blast to engage in.
While utilizing the new tactical defense, you will also notice more realistic player collisions. Through the use of the Player Impact Engine, collisions are now almost exactly what you would see on the field. While not without its occasional hitches, it is safe to say that the physics shown off through this are unparalleled in sports games today.
Outside of gameplay mechanics, EA has introduced something called the EA Sports Football Club. For those familiar with the NCAA Football franchise, this is very similar to Season Showdown. The idea here is that your progress throughout any aspect of the game is rewarded through experience. This experience is then applied to the club that you choose to support. Teams are then ranked against eachother based on everyone’s contribution. In addition, there are friend leaderboards and challenges that mimic real-life events that have occurred throughout the year.
While the Football Club will surely not turn many heads, the additions to career mode certainly will. When first brought into the most feature rich mode in the game, you will notice the much needed changes to the front-end. These changes make information such as news and the calendar much more accessible. While this may seem insubstantial, I can assure you this was a much needed addition over years past.
Other additions to the career mode are in the area of scouting. Scouts can be hired and sent around the world to find potential prospects. The better the scout, the more expensive the salary, but the better chances at snagging that primetime player. Once prospects are acquired, they are placed in the Youth Academy where you can watch their progress and eventually bring them up to the main squad. This is easily my favorite addition as, with any sports sim, I find myself becoming very meticulous with the control I have over my team’s needs and future.
The final and most intriguing element added to career mode is, well, drama. Coaches and players will interact with the media and become very open with their opinions on the current state of your club. Players will also approach the coach and voice these opinions as well. The plethora of information provided by the players not only creates that drama that most sports games lack but also provides a realistic way of gleaning information in order to keep form and morale at its best.
Online has also seen some additions as well through Online Friendlies and Head-to-Head seasons. Online Friendlies is a more contained version of Head-to-Head seasons where players can challenge their friends and play through 10-game seasons. Head-to-Head seasons is similar but is instead on a much grander scale as you will face off against divisions of players and work your way up the ranks to better divisions playing in season games as well as tournaments. For me, most of my time online in past FIFA titles was taken up by FIFA Ultimate Team — which is of course still around — but I have now found my new online mode of choice for the foreseeable future.
FIFA 12 takes realism to an all-time high in sports games. The innovative changes in gameplay mechanics, much needed changes to career mode, and additional online modes makes this one of the most complete FIFA packages to date. If you’re a true football fan, you’d be remiss to pass up FIFA 12 — even if you own FIFA 11.