Having played most versions of FIFA over the past 10 years or so, I was expecting EA to pretty much deliver the same game with a few minor enhancements — graphics, gameplay, and an update to squads after player movements at the end of the previous season. Not so in FIFA 12! EA have radically improved the series with a version that may well convert the Pro Evo half of the world over, and into, the FIFA fold.
The biggest enhancement has to be the new tactical defending. Defending in FIFA has previously been something necessary to win the ball back and get on with the attacking which required little or no skill. Everything you previously knew about defending has changed and instead of merely harassing a player until you get the ball from him, you must now use a combination of tracking, jockeying and timing to take the ball. This advancement adds a new dimension to the how you play the game.
It also means that a well-timed slide tackle, a feature I would normally only use to add a little fun into the game, can be a necessary skill in defence. Where you would once upon a time hold down a key to track and tackle an attacker, you now have improved contain and jockey features allowing you to defend more realistically. If you get the timing wrong when tackling you are likely to find that you either lose the player or foul him. If you do lose the player, you can chase after him whilst holding down the B button. This is called a push pull and uses the player’s strength to either tug at the shirt or a swift elbow when close. Be careful when using this tactic though as it is often severely punished by the referee. The new tactical defending feature can be turned off if you like but if you want to play online you’ll need to learn to use it.
The other major change for this release is EA’s new player impact engine. This has improved animation by making the interaction between players, the way they move the ball, and player collisions far more realistic and believable than in any previous version. It’s not 100% perfect though and can result in some fairly weird movements from players when they hit the ground or another player.
Attacking seems harder in FIFA 12 and where you could once rely on scoring in a given position, you find that depending on the quality of your striker or the opposition, it’s not an absolute certainty. This just makes the elation of scoring all the more exciting when you do manage to put the ball in the back of the net.
Other improvements for online multiplayer include “Head to Head” seasons and online friendlies. The first puts you in a short league season and the aim is to get promoted out of that division and onto bigger and better opponents online. The online friendlies feature allows you to do similar against your friends.
I was more of a fan of Head to Head as it can get very competitive very quickly; if you do well in the 10 games you play in your division (you start in Division 10), you get promoted to the next. Whilst fun, it was a tad confusing at times; you don’t see who you’re playing until you’ve locked everything in. You could end up playing as the same team (and jersey colour) against one another, or worse yet as a poorly ranked team up against all-stars.
In my opinion the commentary in this version has improved as it seems more varied and more exciting and has probably benefited from the removal of Andy Gray! It’s not without its faults though and can sometimes, as with previous versions, provide comical analysis of the play.
Overall FIFA 12 has gone through a fairly big change in this release and it was a gamble worth taking. The tactical defending has added a new dimension to the game play and the improved animation gives the game a virtually realistic feel.
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