james debate
james debate

Saturday 22 October 2011

Developed by EA Canada
Published by Electronic Arts
Genre Sports
Platform Xbox 360, PS3, PC, OSX, Wii

fifa 12

After a few years of doing this, the annual FIFA updates inevitably seem to start blending together. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it allows me to half-ass my reviews and get back to more important things. However, this year EA Sports have decided to delight millions of fans, and mildly inconvenience me, by bringing about the biggest revolution that FIFA games have seen in a generation.

I speak, of course, of tactical defending. It's no secret that defending has always been the weakest area in FIFA; the timing is imprecise, the AI is terrible, and close friendships have ended over arguing who has to sit back and defend. But this year's update looks to change all that.

Positioning is now the key element to defending in this game, and much of the process involves applying pressure to defenders and then making the correctly timed tackle, process which seems much smoother this year than it has in the past. This new mechanic is buoyed by the all new physical collision engine which aims to add yet further realism to the art of defending. When it works, it works very well, and yet I can't help but feel as though EA are barking up the wrong tree.

You see, it doesn't work all the time. Even aside from the steep learning curve, the fact remains that by far the biggest issue with defending in the past has been the dreadful AI, and this has been the case for a number of years. So for their big defensive revolution to leave this aspect completely untouched is bizarre to say the least, and if anything the more cerebral defending in this game only serves to highlight these inadequacies.

As for the shiny new physics engine, don't get me started. People laughed at me for being skeptical when it was first announced, but anyone who has played FIFA and seen the general patchiness of EA Sports' recent attempts at animation and "realism" should have seen this coming, or this. You see, EA Sports has a habit for trying to be far too clever and overdoing it, which is why they took the concept of referees getting decisions occasionally wrong out of the game. The sad thing is that these comedy issues are not the rare glitch, they are incredibly common, I would be surprised if you can get through more than one or two matches without seeing a few slapstick moments like this.

However, it is a valiant, if misguided attempt at fixing the defensive side of the game, and aside from these issues, the gameplay is pretty damn good. In almost every other way the football on offer here has been honed and improved from last year's iteration and the attacking play feels incredibly satisfying and versatile. In the old days it would often be the case that all goals would end up being scored in the same way, but now it really is a more varied affair, and passing the ball through the defense, putting crosses in, shooting from range are all perfectly viable solutions.

The biggest issue with the game for me is more a case of design. Once upon a time there was a game called FIFA 98, which incredibly included all the domestic football content, the whole world cup from qualification to final, and a series of scenarios or "challenges" which could be played through to keep things from getting stale. Since then, however, it seems that the actual content of the game decreases more and more every year.

In FIFA 12, the challenges from previous iterations are gone, replaced with a periodic online challenge which can be played if and when the developers come up with one, so on the day of purchase there was only one challenge I could play, as opposed to literally dozens that came with the old FIFA.

Of greater concern, however, is the new career mode. EA Sports seems to have bizarrely decided that it would be best to combine the regular career and the be-a-pro mode into one single feature. The effect of this is that be-a-pro career mode has essentially been removed from the game. In FIFA 11 this gameplay mode would start you off as a youngster in the reserves, and then let you play your way into the first team and even the national side. Well in this year's edition none of that is true, there is no 'narrative' so to speak, you just start in the senior team and there is no career progression and no international call ups. Basically, the be-a-pro career mode is now exactly the same as the regular mode, except you control one player instead of an entire team. A big step backwards then.

So we find ourselves in a familiar position here. FIFA is undoubtedly the strongest football game on the market right now, but it is still so riddled with gaping flaws and astonishingly amateurish design choices that one really wishes Pro-Evo would step up their game a bit to apply greater pressure on EA.

Defending is... slightly better
Attacking side of the game still a delight
Looks beautiful

Overcooked physics engine (but funny)
Dire lack of be-a-pro gameplay features

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