Tuesday, October 18, 2011

FIFA 12 Review


It is ironic how Electronic Arts strongest gaming franchise is the only one which actually has a real competitor putting out an annual franchise to compete for the space as top soccer game. Unlike Madden, NHL and Tiger Wood's PGA Golf which basically glide through their annual iterations with updates and a base following which will buy every yearly update, FIFA must make large strides each and every year to stay one step ahead of the competition. While NBA 2K fans may disagree, FIFA has arguably been the best sport game on the market in terms of features, graphics and overall gameplay since FIFA 10. It looked hard for EA to come out and take the same kind of jump with FIFA 11, yet they managed to admirably improve the game. The same issue faced the development team with FIFA 12 and again they have taken the title up a notch and given the most realistic game yet, even if some of the changes may irritate long time fans in the beginning.

Presentation

The world wide game of soccer has always been excellently presented on consoles with lifelike player animations coming to the forefront, particularly in slow motion replays and in game scenes. During the game, the match has always been primarily presented from the television broadcast style with a birds eye view, which doesn't require the graphical finesse of a closer filmed game such as NFL or NBA. For this reason alone, it is vital that animations and player interaction is spot on as not as much time is needed to make the graphics as detailed as other titles. New to FIFA 12 is the advanced impact engine which seems to be based off other EA Sports titles and adds realistic animations that occur when two or more players collide with each other. The special thing about this is that a pre-recorded animation won't simply occur and the speed, force and angle of contact will realisitically determine how the collision unfolds. This looks spectacular during the game, but during replays you may experience the occasional glitch where a body part will move in unnatural positions and patterns. For the most part though the impact engine improves the gameplay as well as graphical realism.


The player impact engine is only a small part of what makes up FIFA 12. All the outstanding areas that are augmented together to create a television broadcast experience of FIFA 12 have been improved and tweaked for this years version. Player animations look excellent, the physics being the player and the ball are spot on and the different stadiums look stunning even if the crowd doesn't hold its own when close inspection is given. Special praise must be given to Be a Pro modes and the always fun loading screen where a 3rd person view of the game is given. Extra detail has been added to this mode to make it look as realistic as the broadcast view and some of the minimal graphical hitches I came across last year have been removed. Despite a few small hiccups that occur, there isn't much more I feel like FIFA can improve on in the presentation department on field until the next generation of consoles is released.

Until NBA 2K12 was released with its simple yet effective tile approach, I felt like FIFA had the best menu screens in the business. Nothing can beat having a good bit of one on one in the loading screens and is certainly a highlight of FIFA. While its a small addition, it sure topples watching a circle spin around for 30 seconds while pointless tips are shoved in your face. The menu does undertake a minimalist approach and appears at the bottom of the screen, allowing sub menus to be quickly seen while scrolling through. While I reckon next year they will need to step it up to somewhat match 2K, it is light years above the shambles which was NHL 12's menu screen.


Soccer is primarily an European game so we can't take any points off for having to listen to British commentators, but they are informative and provide a lot of valuable statistics and commentary about the game. The focus is more on the game at hand and commentating what is happening rather than historical stats and team information which seems to dominate American sports, but this isn't a bad thing. The enthusiasm and emotion put into the commentary is of a suitable quality with the excitement rising as a player scores or pulls off a good move. What is pleasing is that there commentary all flows really well and isn't static like some soccer games in the past where information isn't flowing together. For the first time ever however, two broadcast teams are featured and players can customize to their preferred commentators for any matches. This addition is really cool and having multiple teams is something that should be added to more game. The crowd, while only a small part of the experience as the commentary takes preference when I'm listening while playing, reacts perfectly to whats happening on the field and a home ground advantage to the scoring team will certainly result in a large cheer.

Gameplay

For consumers who wish to purchase a soccer game you have two distinct choices. There is either the arcade path with Pro Evolution Soccer and a game focused more on action or the simulation path with FIFA which tries to reiterate the skill and strategy that goes into an actual soccer match. The four major additions to this years title emphasise the simulation style of FIFA as it delivers real-world physicality in every interaction on the pitch. The Player Impact Engine is the new physics engine which presents an infinite number of outcomes for every contact in the game. It allows players to push and pull during the fight for possession and allows players to recover according to the force of the challenge presented. Pro Player Intelligence enables self-awareness and allows the CPU to make accuracte decisions based on their own strengths and weaknesses in the various areas of the game. These two major advancements really push the game to the blurred line between gaming and reality as matches are now more realistic than ever before. The time and effort gone into these two particular aspects of the game, don't change how its controlled but how stunning the overall package is on field.

Two large changes in particular to how the game is played are Precision Dribbling and Tactical Defending. Precision Dribbling allows even more control over the ball and lets you control the pace of the game. Utilizing close dribble moves while surrounded by opponents is an excellent skill to learn for pro players as it really advantages the offense. The other new, yet slightly controversial new feature of Tactical Defending completely changes how defense is used. In the past gamers used to hold down a button and a player was sent on a direct route to take the ball off the opponent. Now this re-designed defending mechanism changes the game by placing equal importance on positioning and the ability to intercept as the defense now will hang off and will merely attempt to push the offensive player into a difficult position where a tackle can then be made. Timing is crucial and those players who enjoy tackling aggressively and often will find themselves in trouble as the offense simply runs rings around them. For those who prefer the old method, it is still available although not in online play.


In terms of modes, FIFA 12 easily has enough content to keep you playing until FIFA 13 rolls by. Be a Pro is back and has been given no real enhancements over last years offering which brought goalkeeping to the mode for the first time. My Ultimate Team is back and is free in FIFA 12, bringing the hugely successful trading card experience to everyone right from day one. Career mode has been given a slight overhaul to make it more realistic to the real world of football. Factors such as player morale, on pitch form and league position will drive outcomes in the game. The user will face more decisions than ever before and the task of becoming a player/manager has never been as intense as this version. All of this, along with the standard online mode are all streamlined into a social experience known as EA Sports Football Club. Everything you do in the game earns you experience and achievements, which can then be shown off in EASFC. Friends and challenges can be tracked and real-world storylines drive the content gamers receive. This is a large step in making FIFA 12 look and feel like a real world season. As you play matches, experience you earn also goes to your favourite club as you fight for weekly leaderboards to make your team come out victorious. This adds extra incentive for those who want to see powerhouses such as Manchester United or Real Madrid toppled.

Conclusion

Even though we seem to be saying this every year, the improvements made to this years version of FIFA are substantial in improving the soccer experience for those who purchase the game. Everything from the amazingly realistic Player Impact Engine to the social aspect brought by EA Sports Football Club just adds to the already vast array of things you can play and love in FIFA. The sheer amount of content you can receive, coupled with the class and expert simulation of the biggest sport in the world show why this franchise is still loved by millions after 19 years. First time players are going to absolutely adore this game and returning veterans of the series are going to find new challenges presented to them when they take on the new tactical defending. This is one game not to miss for any soccer fan.

Graphics - 9.5/10
Sound - 9.5/10
Gameplay - 10/10
Overall - 9.5/10

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