FIFA ’12, a Review

Sports games have a pretty bad reputation in the gaming community at the moment. Gamers have been subjected to over a decade of rehashed titles. A roster update, some new uniforms, and if you’re lucky a thin control gimmick: this is the plight of the modern sports game. The chief perpetrators of this are EA Sports – a name viewed with a great deal of skepticism and disappointment.

But FIFA 12 is different.

The prime example of sports stagnation is the Madden series. Having recently played Madden 12, the graphics, animations, and overall feel of the control scheme is mostly on par with Madden 06. Sure there is a current-gen graphical sheen with nicer textures, but the models are painfully similar. If you pay full price, you’re only getting new rosters and uniforms. Why? The only answer I can come up with is competition. EA has a stranglehold on the NFL license. It’s been ages since we saw a 2K football game and the short-lived Backbreaker was a welcome sign of innovation but without NFL licensing, it was doomed to failure.

FIFA 12 does not have this luxury. EA has a very strong competitor in Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series. The PES games give FIFA a run for it’s money every year and they have an incredibly strong community of fans keeping the games strong. As a long time FIFA/PES player, it’s a struggle that I would usually favor PES in just for sheer fun game-play. However all that changed with FIFA 11 – and mercifully this year’s iteration only improves on what many have called the best sports game.

The first thing I noticed about the game is that it runs wonderfully out of the gate. I jumped right into an exhibition match of Dortmund v. Schalke and there was not a single hitch. As a PC gamer, I am very much used to tweaking settings and control schemes before starting the game proper – no such delay here. This is really indicative of the polish that has been applied to the game. The small additions really add up and viewed together the changes make the overall justification of selling this at full retail realistic.

During game-play, small stats will pop-up to indicate passing completion percentages or numbers of tackles. The player models have been drastically improved with both pre-made faces for star players, but also the generic random faces for everyone else. Transitions between the ball going out of bounds and the subsequent throw-in are now usually seamless and there is no awkward change of pace while you wait for the game to arrange it – the player simply runs over, picks up the ball, and throws it in.

The smoother transitions also appear for free kicks and other stoppages of play. This may not seem like much to the average reader, but sports gamers know (especially with football) that pacing is incredibly important. Unlike American football, there is no stop-start rhythm to a match. It is intended to be fluid and reflecting that in the game is a very subtle but crucial game-play device.

Touted most by the EA press machine is the new ‘inertia’ system. Even in last year’s game, and stretching back to when FIFA first made the jump to 3D, players have always complained about the awkward collision detection. They went against the smooth play of the game and the player models would get stuck in awkward animations causing the ball to often get bogged-down in midfield. FIFA 12 has a new collision system that feels almost like ragdoll physics when players collide and is fairly believable to watch. Most importantly it has reduced those unwieldy midfield possession changes dramatically. This again is a testament to the understanding that pacing is the most important aspect of football game-play. The dynamic nature of the inertia system has, predictably, produced some interesting glitches that you should definitely check out on YouTube – though they are rare.

Overall, what sets FIFA 12 apart from regular sports rehashes is it’s attention to detail and response to gamer critique. It is the same winning formula, but with lots of adjustments – some of it just bells and whistles, some of it excellent new features – plus the new collision system. They’ve improved on what was already a fantastic game but the changes will not be readily apparent to someone that hasn’t played any of the more recent FIFA games. If you’re a sports fan, you owe it to yourself to get a copy. If you’re just a gamer, you might want to check it out just to see what the rage is all about and to maybe restore some of your faith in sports games.

Shaun Watson

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