A new season, a new FIFA. As the follow up to what many deem to be not only the best FIFA ever but probably the best football game to date, FIFA 12 has a lot to live up to. Whilst the new incarnation has the usual spoils of a yearly update; a facelift, increased roster, better animations and the like, EA Sports, the developers, have taken an unusually brave step and decided to make fundamental changes to the engine, in particular the art of defending. Unfortunately, the results are decidedly mixed.
The idea behind the new defensive manoeuvres is admirable; by creating a system of jockeying, harrying, containing and pulling, they are attempting to add greater skill to what was previously simply colliding shirts to see who ended up with the ball in the fallout. This works fine against the computer, whose pre-designed runs into channels are perfect opportunities to jockey and then dispossess. Against a human, who has no intention of putting themselves into a contained position (i.e. everyone with an ounce of skill), it becomes immensely frustrating.
Players are used to the kick and rush style of play encouraged by practically every other football game ever, and thus the space which the new system requires you to leave an opponent is exploited to devastating effect. By making slides and block tackles more erratic, the game is effectively forcing you to play in this compromising and flawed way. An option to change the settings would have resulted in a far more even style of play; instead, players become frustrated quickly, and enjoyment of the game is greatly hindered.
Nor is that the end of the problems. Goalkeepers have a mind of their own, stumbling out of the box like Rene Higuita on hallucinogenic drugs. The new physics engine, though effective for crunching tackles, needed a month of extra development; players collide softly before cartwheeling grotesquely into the air as if the ball was a grenade. The crossing mechanics are slack and loose, with the ball often spinning harmlessly out for a goal kick whatever the ability of the deliverer. Referees now give penalties for a defender even approaching an attacker in the box, to unanimous frustration. Though not disastrous by themselves, together they are indicative of a hastily put together product, with far too many bugs, nuisances and poorly executed ideas to be wholly satisfactory.
That is not to say it is terrible though; far from it. It is still a wonderfully fluid game of football, way ahead of its nearest rival Pro Evolution Soccer 12. There is a more marked difference in top quality players; whereas before the best in the world were simply a little bit faster, now the difference between Darius Vassell and Lionel Messi is far more apparent, both in ability and vision. Talking of vision, passes are far more precise, with through-balls going where you want rather than where the computer thinks you want them. Players move with far more grace and purpose, leading to some exquisite dribbles and swashbuckling attacking endeavour. The new online modes are well handled, with some well thought out new ideas, and are more engrossing and balanced than ever before.
Make no mistake, FIFA 12 is still a brilliant game of football, and is worthy of any football fan’s investment. However, it just feels like a missed opportunity; the new features are flawed, some of the presentation is sloppy, and often the play is just downright glitchy. Despite all that was promised, it barely feels like a step-forward from last year; in-fact, in many ways it is a regression from the cultured FIFA 11. What should have been the best football game ever is not even the best in the FIFA series; a bitter pill to swallow.