I had planned to write this review without mentioning Pro Evolution Soccer, so now that's out of the way, let me begin. FIFA 12 is excellent. It is not only one of the best examples of football on a console, but it is also testament to what can be done when you don't sit back and simply accept that you're the best. Going up against the common accusation that yearly sports releases are merely squad updates, FIFA 12 took what was already a successful formula and overhauled it, creating in the process, a new and better way to play the game. Beginning with the biggest change which is that of defending. How many times in the past have we heard about, 'New ways to dribble, New pass-and-move, New Rooney hair implants'? Very rarely have we heard, 'New ways to contain the oncoming attacker and jockey it out for a throw-in' Exciting eh? Actually yes it is, and when used correctly it is a highly satisfying way to make the game more realistic. I used the jockey button regularly in FIFA 11 and it helped immeasurably, but the new ability to call teammates over to either cover or jostle the opponent is the best example of real-life defending in a game. Especially as it goes someway to eliminating AI imperfections, putting you in control of stupid full-backs. This new defending not only aids the defender, but aids the experience of the attacking team. Retaining possession is the key here, by keeping the ball the defence will need to be on their toes for when to contain or apply pressure, when to double-team or man-mark, thus solving one of FIFA's long-standing problems of 'cheat-ways' to score as the choices made by the defence affect your decisions instantly, creating a more fluid game in the process. It does have its faults however. Veterans of the series will need to learn how to defend all over again and it's not easy. Trial and Error is the key here, I found that calling a teammate over works better when closing down wingers, anywhere in the middle and you'll find your centre-half partner jogging over to give you a hand, thus leaving Fernando Torres all alone with enough time to work out whether he's going to be great Fernando or hopeless Fernando. But closing down players such as Bale and Nani is greatly helped with the aid of a midfielder (again, sometimes it'll think bringing the centre-half over to help is a good idea... It isn't). And no matter how good it is at cancelling out regimented FIFA goals, I still find the number of 1 on 1's astounding. Especially as it's so abundant in multiplayer, compared to almost never in single player. This is highlighted further as players try to get used to the new defensive system. Overall the new system was a risk worth taking and EA Sports should be commended. So definitely take time to learn it, it'll make you better whilst making the game much more rewarding in the long run. The single player game has improved thanks to the new defensive system, but also, I'm convinced, a bigger pitch. I found FIFA 11 to be pretty dull in the single player modes thanks largely due to the claustrophobic nature of midfield play and the almost impenetrable defences. This has been rectified by numerous factors - the bigger pitch, a more life-like roll of the ball, the all-new 'Impact Engine' that has great (and sometimes hilarious) collision detection, and the overall graphical representation of players and stadia alike. The bernabeu at night in particular looks fantastic. But... The single player fails to capture the excitement of the multiplayer game. Obviously a computer generated player cannot replicate the mistakes of a human player, but the lack of variety in players abilities makes games seem quite formal. Although precision control allows for tighter more skillful play, the special players abilities don't seem to be highlighted enough. There is little difference in the top level players which kind of makes sense as they're all top level for a reason. But when applied to a computer controlled player, these high stats make them almost robotic in their processes. Mistakes are rare, even a lack of pace is over-compensated in their ability to read the game. This leaves the whole career mode feeling like a slog every time you take the field. I get the feeling this has been looked at as often my players will off-set a pass for no apparent reason, but when the computer seems faultless it gets a little frustrating when my passing inexplicably goes awry. On another note, career mode has been touched up to include more news and player interaction. But the ridiculous transfer system has once again made the career mode a non-starter for me. Last year I had no problem signing the odious Busquets when the club I was managing really should have had a problem signing a Champions League winner. This year seems no different, outrageous transfer fees, ease of negotiations or irritating negotiations all add-up to a missed opportunity. Especially as the game itself is designed with realism in mind, the career mode is pure fantasy. However any issues I have with the game are only there because I am passionate about the sport. The game as a whole is one the best sports titles, period. And this all comes down to the multiplayer, the addition of another human player turns FIFA 12 into something great. The online element of Head-to Head seasons is what will no doubt keep me coming back for more. By choosing your team it will put you up against similarly ranked players and teams to play in your own season with a set number number of games to achieve the points necessary for promotion or to avoid relegation. The competition obviously becoming more difficult the higher you progress. It's a great way to make online matches fair and relevant. It also breaks down seasons for friendlies; say you have a regular opponent you enjoy beating regularly, you can have yourself a 2-man season to prove it. Win that season, and a new one begins. The Ultimate team returns for those who would prefer to build a team, but having spent actual money on that in the past I feel Head-to-Head seasons is better not only for entertainment, but also for limiting pocket money expenditure (cue the removal of this feature should their Ultimate Team income take a hit cynicism). Final Thoughts Take away the new defensive system and FIFA 12 would still be a huge improvement over 11. The presentation, the graphics, the impact engine, the ball-physics, the online upgrades and the overall fluidity have all been highly upgraded. But with the defensive controls on top of that, EA have made a game that replicates football better than any other game previously. Take a bow son.
Fifa 12 is available to buy now on all formats.