Ah, its football season once again and that means EA's yearly release of FIFA is upon us. Thankfully in recent years this has been something to genuinely look forward to, from FIFA 09 onwards the series has been genuinely excellent and has truly shown up its competitor PES. EA has this year made alot of noise about certain aspects of their new release, so is it more of the same with minor tweaks (as some perceived FIFA 11 to be) or has it genuinely changed?
Well to be honest, there's only so much you can do with a game like FIFA, much like racing games or any other sports title, theres certain restrictions in place, so really its very hard to make a game within a genre such as one FIFA 12 finds itself in and make it totally different, different enough to be worth spending £45 of your hard earned cash on thats for sure. But all impressions EA have managed to really seperate the really rather attack dominated play of FIFA 11 and focus instead on an intelligent pressing game thats not going to be to everybodies liking but is genuinely tactical and requiring of skill to play properly.
As mentioned, this time round EA has put an effort on pressing play and defensive interaction. Gone is the ability to just hold down A and B (on the XBox controller) and walk away with the ball, now its all about containing the threat from the opposition and skillful and intelligent timing when defending, and then opening up spaces quickly whilst attacking. An element of patience is certainly required resulting in probably the most intelligent game of football thats ever been released on consoles. It takes a fair bit of practice to get right, but is richly rewarding when you do and have learnt the system efficiently. For those who lack that patience or just cannot get on with it, you can switch back to the FIFA 11 method of defending but that kind of devoids spending so much money on this years release. It would also mean you can't really play online properly as to balance things out, everyone has to use FIFA 12's defensive mechanics.
Online is certainly where EA want you to spend the chunk of your time with the game this year, this has always probably been the case, but its even more apparent this time round. With the staple Be A Pro and Ranked matches being included but also the inclusion on disc of Ultimate Team, plus a ranking system that see's you competing in a Seasonal play scheme where you build up your own reputation on the game and rise up the leagues season by season (which is generally speaking 10 online matches) or drop down them according to how succesful you are within that 10 game span. There are also challenges based on real world matches that are updated frequently giving everyone a choice of different ways to play the same game.
Rather brilliantly, EA has seen fit to bring back club allegiances, I'm not sure why they did away with this before, but essentially when you first boot the game up you can pick your favourite team to represent and then every single match that you play (regardless of the club you're playing as at the time) you contribute points to your favourite club in the games worldwide rankings which are then averaged out by how many fans that club has worldwide and are organised into leagues on a leaderboard. It gives the game a stronger community feel than previous iterations and is most certainly a positive inclusion to the series that could lead to some interesting developments if EA decide to keep it for future iterations.
With all of these new features, FIFA 12 feels much more experimental than last years release, which felt a little safe. Its certainly not without its problems, menu's are often very slow to respond, the AI is far too often too reliant on you when playing the Career mode as a player or player/manager meaning unless you play upfront and literally drag your team through every game matches end up at 0-0 far far too often, with the ball trapped in the middle of the park with very tedious midfield "battles" that are ultimately just the AI controlled players losing possession with rather sloppy passing and no desire to push forward. There's also a few bugs that really need ironing out, one in particular that pretty much cripples Ultimate Team and see's players not receiving coins for playing matches be they online or offline. Somebody more cynical could see this as a move to make players buy card packs using micro-transactions rather than in-game cash but I'm of the opinion its a bit of coding thats gone awry.
The question is then, is this years version worth getting if you have 11? Personally speaking, I prefer it, I felt the defensive side of 11 was severely lacking, both in the way you interacted with it and in the way attacking teams could easily exploit it and 12 goes someway to repairing that, and if you play online theres so much here that could keep any football fan busy for a long long while its ridiculous. It's hard to call a game thats "updated" yearly good value for money, but with FIFA 12 EA Sports have really made an effort to make their product exactly that, good value for money.