Wayne Rooney is psyched about this game -- should you be? Let's take to the pitch and see what FIFA Soccer 12 has to offer.
Even though I have not played a modern soccer game in several years, I knew what to expect with FIFA Soccer 12 (FIFA) from a content standpoint: it's loaded. Not unlike the other EA Sports offerings, passionate fans who enjoy FIFA will find numerous modes of play and customization options that could eat up hundreds of hours of time. True, no one will probably every see half of the over 500 available teams licensed from dozens of leagues from dozens of countries, but I think you would agree it's nice to have the option.
That said, with any annual sports title, the big question from year to year is "what's new?" Answering that question isn't always easy -- many changes are subtle if not undocumented, and the 'feel' of sports games can vary drastically not only from year to year, but from gamer to gamer. What I might find to be a fast paced soccer title could be the perfect pacing for another gamer, and so on. Other changes are more concrete and tangible. For FIFA 12, these changes include, but are not strictly limited to, the Player Impact Engine, Tactical Defending, Precision Dribbling, EA Sports Football Club, and Support Your Club.
The Player Impact Engine is designed to make player on player interactions more realistic. This means that standing tackles and ball containment are more believable and lifelike than before. I can't say for sure how big of a difference there is to previous FIFA games in this regard, but from a relative newcomer, and returning gamer to the series, the player interactions seemed realistic to me. That's not to say the AI is watertight, more on that later, but as far as realistic outcomes to physical interaction between players, this Player Impact Engine seemed to do the trick.
With Tactical Defending, your positioning and timing versus CPU or real players becomes both more important and, in a way, easier. Defenders can jockey offensive players by holding L2, which acts as a lock-on mechanism and makes staying in front of the attacker easier. The Circle button is used for quick grabs and pulls, which can lead to fouls depending on how it's used, but done properly it can make a big difference in being able to chase down an attacker. Of course there are standing and slide tackles, the latter of which is every bit as committing as before, i.e., a bad slide tackle readily results in a foul or blown defensive play.
The EA Sports Football Club (EAS FC) and Support Your Club are two online components that gamers with FIFA buddies are going to enjoy. Whether online or offline, just about everything you do in FIFA earns you XP. This XP can be used to Support Your Club. By supporting your club, you can see its rank in the global leaderboards -- the more people that support a certain team, the higher rank it earns. Each week the leaderboard is scrubbed, giving other teams the chance to be number one.
Achieving ranks in FIFA takes time, but it's a nice supplement in addition to Achievements and Trophies in that it gives you measurable value for the time you have put into FIFA. The EAS FC is also a hub for checking in on friends and how they are doing in their own games. The ability to share highlights and read snippets about a big victory is cool, but won't be useful to anyone without some friends to share the experience with online.
Several other features within FIFA 12 are more subtle, if not passive. Precision Dribbling is meant to enable players to have better, more reliable control of the ball while under pressure or tight-roping the out of bounds line, for example. The FIFA Ultimate Team is back too; here, you try to build the best soccer team you can by trading players and items within the online community. Player injuries are tweaked, and go hand in hand with the new Player Impact Engine. These are all changes that could go unnoticed, or would be just "assumed" features, but FIFA 12 has either added or improved upon these elements.
All that said, how does the game play? As a fan of soccer, both in you know, actually playing it, and watching my share of FSC and GolTV, FIFA out of the box feels pretty good. You can tweak a variety of settings to zero in on that feel you're looking for, although if you're looking for an arcade game this obviously isn't for you. Next year's FIFA Street might be, though. Oh, you can actually use Random refs or choose between over a dozen referees with varying degrees of strictness on fouls, which I found surprising, but pretty cool.
Anyway, player movement, accuracy, and tackling, feels fine by default, but the AI on both sides of the ball may surprise you at times. During one game, my goalie made a bizarre goof that you likely wouldn't see in a real game, or only extremely rarely. Using FC Dallas from the MLS, an initial attempt on goal was stopped, but bounced slowly towards the goal. Had my goalie just taken a couple of steps and snatched it, the goal could have been prevented, but instead he did this really awkward, really short, jump and didn't get to the ball in time. Watching the replay left me confused at his reaction; I suppose if I hit Select quickly enough I could have taken control of the goalie myself, but I had trusted the AI.
Still, I have not logged enough hours in FIFA 12 to give a final verdict on the AI, but in the several hours I have played, mostly against the CPU but also in local play and online, the AI is competent overall but just a little under-whelming. Features like pressing R1 to call for AI help works really well though, and can mask some of the oversights you may run into, and it's also important to keep in mind the players' skill ratings, too.
In terms of presentation, for the first time, EA is offering two commentary duos that you can switch between within the options. The commentary is performed by Martin Tyler with Alan Smith and Clive Tyldesley with Andy Townsend. You can't go wrong either way, although I do wish the commentators were able to say the names of all of the clubs. During one Friendly match where I played an obscure team from Belgium, Martin seemed only be able to refer to them as the 'winning club.' Again, with as vast as this game is, I have not played it enough to know if the commentary does indeed say all the club names, but early indications are that they do not.
Visually, FIFA looks very good, but I struggle to outright call it great. Some of the animations, like characters leaping or headers, look stiff, but running, tackles, and kicks (the majority of the action) looks great. Framerates stay smooth and textures are pretty well detailed, but, I don't know, for not having played the series in a few years, I expected more from 12 in the visual acuity and detail department. Lastly, FIFA does include a soundtrack, which was largely forgettable for me, but you are able to use your own tracks instead.
With that, let's get to the summary...