Last year FIFA 11 attained some of the gaming industry’s most prestigious awards such as the fastest selling sports game of all times (selling over 100 million copies). After this wealth of success we were left eagerly anticipating EA’s much hyped FIFA 12. With the promise of the 2012 instalment being the most interactive experience yet, through the all new virgin feature called EA Sports Football Club, our hopes were, to say the least, high. Thankfully EA has delivered their best football game yet.

FIFA 12 is rich in environmental beauty, realism and overall detail which gel the experience together and thus truly capture the nature of the beautiful game. With an array of new features and game play elements in my hands, I almost ran the whole way home. I couldn’t wait to stuff it into my disk tray and dive into the world of football once again.

Additions

With the goal of providing players with the most realistic experience yet, changes to the defending system were imminent. FIFA 12 introduces the all-new tactical defending system, which is essentially a more sophisticated way of defending that’s real, brutal and at times frustrating to the more experienced players. Defending in previous FIFA titles has traditionally consisted of simply holding down a couple of buttons to command your team to chase down the ball, attain it and then switch possession over to you. Sorry guys, those cheap tactics no longer work. Don’t worry, you’re still able to control your squad via the contain button, that results in either you or your team-mate to shepherd the opposition around and ultimately force them to pass, which can at times force loose balls and help you regain possession. Containment is a massive part in this game, it requires patience in order for you to pounce upon the ball at the right time with a perfectly timed tackle, if you dive in or jump in too late you’ll either find yourself giving away a foul, or watching the player in possession flee away from you towards the goal. Whilst this may not seem ideal for you guys who love to use the sheer pace of Ronaldo and drift by opponents, it makes the game play more open, ups the tempo and more importantly, allows the game to be more fluid due to your actions being so crucial. For the naysayers out there don’t be alarmed, EA allow you to switch back to the old, automatic system if you wish. It’s my obligation however, to tell you that once you really take in the new system and adapt to it, the old one will seem like the kind of child’s play that you would find in amateur difficulty, as there’s no real skill involved and eventually you’ll find each game to be more stagnant than before.

Another new and equally anticipated addition this year is the all new Player Impact Engine, which has been in the making for over two years according to EA. The system is designed to simulate the more physical side of football when player collide, tackle and move. Unfortunately the system came under much scrutiny early on from the die-hard FIFA fans, as it results in weaker players such as Messi now being unable to stand tall against colossus figures such as Terry. For the more open minded fans this is a great addition as aggressive slide tackles now result in some meaty clashes between some of the games heavy weight player, whilst on the other hand you’ll often find lesser players falling down like a pile of bricks and rolling around on the lush grass in apparent agony. Whilst that may all seem great, this ingenious system is fallible and overall mediocre at best. From personal experience I’ve witnessed, on multiple occasions, some player participating in some questionable embraces in the middle of the park and often falling down, when the ball isn’t even in play- more often than not it’s two of my own players! To add insult to injury there’s also what has been coined as ‘the rag doll effect’, which essentially consists of players being rag-dolled around by an invisible entity and thus being injured- Much to my disapproval. In addition to all this, the clashes also at times result in the referee misinterpreting the situation and calling penalties and free kicks for the most ridiculous, uncontrollable situations. While you may claim that this feature adds a whole new dimension of ambiguity to it all, a trait inherited from real life football, I must confess that when I’m paying £40 for a game, I expect near-perfection in such simple features and even more so in ones that have been two years in the making.

Career Mode

This year career mode has been given a revamp too, as it now features all the drama that you would experience in the real world, from the anticipation during deadline day to controversial statements from those prolific players with egos almost as big as their pay check. There’s been a massive emphasis on the transfer market this year, from the start of the transfer window you’ll have various clubs throwing offers down your throat constantly for your top players and once you reach the last day of the window, you’ll be greeted with a massive digital clock vibrating your controller as it violently ticks down, screaming: MAKE THAT SIGNING. Temptation certainly comes in abundance in moment like that. If you chose to play as your virtual pro you’ll have the ever taunting task of trying to improve your skill and ability in order to hopefully impress your manager and even get picked up by bigger and better clubs. On the other hand, if you chose to be a manger, you’ll find yourself struggling to impress as you try to build up your reputation by making key signings, talking to the press and adding to the clubs trophy cabinet. To hopefully help keep it all fresh, EA have added a scouting system and a youth academy so you can further improve your team. Unfortunately it’s all conveyed in a dull manor, in the form of a hallway of menus that don’t really showcase the features true potential, ultimately making it a pretty tasteless experience.

Head to Head Seasons

This year also sees the introduction of the head to head season mode, which is an online league split into ten gruelling divisions. You’ll start off at rock bottom against ten other teams, over the course of the season you’ll earn the standard amount of point for wins, draws and losses and once all ten games have been played the top dog will be promoted into the next division and the number of points needed to climb the ranks will subsequently increase. For those of you who don’t quite reach first place there’s also cup tournaments to play in every two weeks, from the EA shield in the bottom division, to the Premier cup for the elite few who battle it out in the top division – there’s always silverware to be won. EA have also allocated a tracking system that allows you to compare yourself to your friends and indeed the community worldwide, this feature adds a whole new element of competitiveness and helps drive you to be the best- you don’t want to be last on your friend list do you?

Ultimate Team

The most critically acclaimed FIFA feature: Ultimate Team makes a return this year, on disk for the first time ever since it’s conception in FIFA 10. For those of you who’re first timers to the FIFA series, Ultimate Team is essentially an interactive dream team feature that allows you to buy, sell and trade players with other gamers around the globe, you can either purchase card packs via the store with in-game coins, or for you big spender, you can use Microsoft Points. Other than a slight facelift and some annoying pop-up tutorials the feature has been mostly unchanged, of course they don’t exactly need to change it at all, as they would still make a killing from the masses who spend thousands of pounds on their teams through Microsoft Points. Whilst it may seem absurd that people actually spend real life money on a virtual team, it happens, last year EA and Microsoft raked in record amounts of points through the FIFA Ultimate Team application alone. Sadly this feature has allowed us to see the ugly side of competiveness however, as a plethora of players buy illegal accounts pre-loaded with stolen Microsoft Points in order to buy the best team out there, whilst EA and Microsoft have stated they’re trying to clamp down on this, it’s still happening and it’s making the feature unfair for the honest gamers out there.

Visuals

Moving on to visuals, the game is presented elegantly and in the best fashion ever to grace the sports game genre. The top-notch graphics are accompanied with an all new camera angle that allows everything to seem smooth, refined and captured correctly. The first main feature of the all improved graphics that I noticed was the attention to detail in players faces; top players like Manchester City’s Dzeko are perfect right down to the last freckle, whilst on the other end of the scale, player from smaller, less known clubs also look exactly as they should. The use of lighting has also drastically improved this time around, in stadiums such as Manchester United’s Old Trafford, the sunlight booms down over the well-cut pitch, casting articulate shadows of the stadiums breathtaking architecture over your screen, providing us with a more definitive and immaculate environment. Unfortunately I must point out some of the flaws in the graphics, whilst there aren’t many; the main one that bugged me was the crowd. Whilst they may all look pretty decent from a-far, once the camera zooms in close to them you’ll notice some pretty unusual features, or should I say no features at all, as they don’t have any faces! Either there was an unfortunate event locally leaving the fans faceless, or EA decided to slack off and leave them like that. Although this is a notable flaw, I can’t pull their arm for not manually adding faces to upwards of 75 thousand fans, but even one face for all of them would have been thoughtful.

EA Sports Football Club

What really steals the spotlight this year is the all new social experience and progress tracker: EA Sports Football Club. This brand new system introduces experience points (XP) to FIFA for the first time ever, allowing you to level up through various tasks and then compare your stats against others around the globe. It’s only once you dive in deeper that you discover even more sensational features, the most interesting being that you’re able to join a club with thousands of other fans and battle it out in a league. How EA Sports Football Club works is simple enough, once you choose your team, all your XP, stats and achievements are contributed to that club, and the club with the best overall XP will be found at the top of the table- regardless of which team you play in game, it’ll still go towards the club of your choosing. Thankfully EA noticed that unfair advantages would rise since larger clubs such as Chelsea are going to have more fans than Stoke City and thus cripple them on the leader boards, so to combat this EA made it so the XP needed to gain the top position is an average from your team, and not accumulated. I think this feature is an excellent addition and may very well bridge the gap between football fans worldwide whilst they battle it out against other clubs for world dominance. If that’s not enough for you, EA Sports Football Club also allows you to play in challenges torn from the back page of the national news paper each week, for example, the maiden weeks challenge was to come back from a 3-1 deficit against Man United, while you play as Chelsea. Each week you’ll find a new challenge round the corner to always keep the game fresh and in-tune with the real world.

Conclusion

Thankfully FIFA 12 is not a generic roster update that we have grown custom to over the years, it’s now fun, social and interactive for everyone. Whatever mood you’re in, you’ll always find yourself treated to a banquet of game modes, pristine graphics and revolutionary tactics to keep your football apatite growling for more of the games authentic feel and smooth player handling. Of course I’ve only skimmed the surface of this game; it’s not a masterpiece by any means, but it has paved the way for sports games to be more social and realistic, it’s a must try for any sports fan. See you on the pitch!

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