EA’s FIFA series has long since eclipsed the competition. It’s become one of the premiere series under the EA Sports banner and was very well received on the consoles last year. The Vita port is very nearly as robust as the console version, lacking only the online-enabled Ultimate Team mode, but has the added advantage of some rather useful touch controls. These touch controls are all optional, but I actually found them quite useful, even the front screen touch controls.
As the game will inform you when you first fire it up, the rear touch screen is literally the opponent goal. If you want to take a shot in the upper right corner of the goal, simply tap the upper right corner of the pad. The longer you hold, the harder the shot. This takes just a little bit of getting used to — for the first several minutes I was holding the tap for about two seconds, resulting in a full power kick, which normally would go sailing over the goal. The aim is very intuitive though, and I was impressed with how little time it took to get very comfortable with it. Whether you’re trying to go just under the crossbar or send the ball into the net low, knowing where to touch the rear pad is second nature.
The front touch screen controls allow you to tap players to switch defenders, or tap in the field to send a through pass, or tap another player to pass directly to them. Sure, it does involve letting go of your face buttons (unless you have a large hand or take on an unusual grip of the Vita), and your hand does of course block the screen during this brief time. However, the accuracy and responsiveness of using touch-passing and switching is spot-on. It’s just that much more accessible for new players and mixes things up just a bit for veterans who use the sticks. I find myself switching controls schemes on the fly during the same game, at least as far as passing goes. For goal shooting, I have really taken to the rear touchpad and now use it exclusively. I should point out that all of these touch controls are optional and can be disabled.
I mentioned earlier that the Ultimate Team mode is gone, but it appears everything else has made the transition from the console versions which is really quite a feat. There is a tremendous amount of content here including Tournaments, Be A Pro, Career Mode, and head-to-head online play. Licensed stadiums, players, leagues, and teams are all included as well. No matter how you look at it, there is no shortage of quality content here.
While I’m not a FIFA expert, the gameplay, in terms of physics and AI, feels identical to the console counterpart I played a few months ago. When you first fire up FIFA, you are asked to choose your soccer game experience level, which presets a lot of the settings for you. Of course, players are able to tweak the settings to their content to give themselves the optimal experience. Fortunately, other than keeping the difficulty on Medium, I found the default settings perfectly acceptable. Ultimately I think I’m more of an arcade sports player, but that’s what FIFA Street, due out in March, is for.
In terms of presentation, the Vita port of FIFA Soccer does not disappoint. Load times are great, commentary is accurate, even if generic sometimes, and graphically it looks quite good. Animations are fluid and realistic and mimic the console version impressively. If you’re content with the size of the screen, I believe you will find no issues with the quality of the graphics.
I think what most impresses me about this game is that it got me excited about playing a soccer game again. I didn’t stick with the console version for long, but having a nearly perfect rendition of it on a handheld — with intuitive and functional touch controls — has hooked me more than I expected.
To the summary…