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FIFA 12 Hands-On

For a series that sticks rigidly to an annual release schedule, FIFA 12 does a decent job of packing in enough fresh tweaks and features to have a real impact on the game and its gameplay. Since FIFA 09 (some may argue FIFA 08), it’s the series’ ability to present us these worthwhile improvements that has resulted in the regaining of its football game crown from Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer; a franchise that, in comparison, has become somewhat stale.
This year’s big alterations and inclusions come in the form of a more in-depth career mode, a new ‘impact engine’ and a fresh set of RPG-lite features.

Our recent hands-on session was packed full of new info regarding career mode, so we’ll start with that. In the words of FIFA 12’s producer, David Rutter, “the popularity of career mode rests in the manager side of things,” and it’s clear that it’s the management elements that have taken up the majority of career mode’s development schedule.
Yes, there’s still the option to start a career as a player (or player-manager) but to do so is to miss out on interacting with nearly everything that’s new.
The most obvious change comes in the form of career mode’s presentation; a mini-calendar and greatly improved news story display make upcoming events and important pieces of info much more easily noted and absorbed. Unlike the rather impotent edition seen in FIFA 11, the news feed displays all kinds of information – including completed signings, transfer listed players, rumours, injuries and players trying to get out of their contract and actively seeking a new club. It’s nice to have things of importance on the main screen, preventing the tiresome trek into sub-menu after sub-menu we had to go through before.
Some of these items can be ‘pushed’ to your Facebook page, great for those that want to show off the fact that they’ve got Portsmouth back into the Premier League or won it with Liverpool. Less good for those that abhors the social network’s attempted intrusion into almost every aspect of our lives.

Supposedly, transfer logic has also been upgraded. The likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid will now set out to one up each other by only signing the very finest players available. Conversely, smaller clubs will do their best to sign the best youngsters in their price range and older ‘has-beens’ as well as be much more aggressive in securing upcoming talent on loan from bigger clubs.
The way Rutter explains it is that clubs are assigned ‘philosophies’ but, in a bid to prevent things becoming too predictable, it’s up to the A.I. to decide what to do within that outlook. Just how well this works will not be known until we’ve spent a hefty amount of time in career mode but the idea is there at least.
There’s also a dedicated ‘transfer deadline day’ where the pace of the game slows down to allow the kinds of last minute deals we’re used to seeing from the real-life circus. Progressing the game in this instance moves things forwards in hours rather days, giving you a chance to negotiate contracts and react to other club’s actions. As someone who unashamedly gets caught up in the rumour-fed excitement of transfer deadlines here in reality, I wholeheartedly welcome the addition and wonder way it’s only just being added now.
FIFA 12’s manager elements are not quite up there with Football Manager just yet. But, they’re getting a little closer. It’s likely that some of you will see that as a good thing, some will see it as bad.

In terms of gameplay, the most immediate change come in the manner in which player’s physically interact with one another. Gone are the canned, repeated animations that plague the majority or sports games and in is the new ‘impact engine.’
Essentially, the impact engine processes a bunch of physics based data (speed, weight, direction) in an attempt to make jostling, tackling, shooting etc look and feel more realistic. The effect is two-fold; things are much more varied and everything feels much ‘smoother.’ Its effect on gameplay is that things are less predictable – a player will slide further during an aggressive tackle if they’re running more quickly, players will accidently clip ankles and trip over one another, a small player can floor a larger player depending on their relative velocities upon contact and what not. 
This element of unpredictability is great for those who want their sports games as realistic as possible but, I suspect, ‘pure gamers’ may be less impressed. As is the nature of unpredictability, there are times when events feel out of your control (especially when it comes to players tripping over each other off the ball). Those looking to be able to control of every moment with pinpoint accuracy will not be able to do so and may find the new system frustrating and imprecise.
However, in recent iterations FIFA has set out to become the most realistic interpretation of the sport available… a football game wouldn’t be all that realistic if all of your inputs were carried out exactly as ordered. Not even real-life players can do everything they’d like to.
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Defence seems slightly more difficult than it has been (although our goal-stopping troubles may be down to the fact we’ve yet to properly learn the new system). Gone is the ‘press’ defence button that would cause an A.I. teammate to go after the opposition ball carrier while you stayed back to cover another player. (Rutter referred to this as the “homing missile” button.)
Things are now much more about playing as a unit and retaining a solid formation – get too aggressive with a centre back and you’re asking for trouble through the middle from forwards eager to back runs into the box, go charging with a full back and you’ll be punished by the wingers. The game’s we’ve played so far were made easier by making good use of a defensive midfielder, someone who can get stuck in without worrying about leaving the rest of the team exposed.

The dribbling system has also changed; there are now four speeds to choose from. Joining sprint, ‘regular’ speed (i.e. analogue stick only) and close control is a new option that provides extremely close control. While this means you can make opponents look the fool with some fancy footwork, it makes your player move incredibly slowly (read: walking speed). Therefore, it’s crucial to use it only at the right time if you don’t want to give the other team time to get back into formation.
Also new is the ability to perform fancy passes and shots. Players with a high enough skill rating can pull off 360-degree spin passes, back heels and overheads kicks much more readily with a simple press of the left trigger (L2 on the PS3’s default control scheme). While this is great for the highlight reel, it still feels as though it needs some work… I’ve never seen Jamie Carragher attempt (let alone execute) a 360-spin pass and I have serious doubts that I ever will.
In-game loading is also much faster;  things like throw-ins and corners now have zero loading whatsoever , the player in question simply running over to perform their task without any camera cutaway.
There’s also a new XP system that sees you increase in rank with every act that you perform, be it win the league, play a match, win a match, play an online game etc. According to Rutter the amount of XP you earn will be weighted depending on how difficult the task is you achieve, so expect to level up faster by winning cups and leagues than by playing exhibition matches. More info on the XP system can be found in our interview with David Rutter.

As of now, things are looking very good in the FIFA 12 camp. The career mode is more robust, gameplay is more realistic and there’s generally more to get stuck into. However, there were still a few niggles that have been carried over from past games.
Corners, for example, can still be abused by crossing the ball into the box at three-quarter power and curling it away from goal for an easy header from your attacker. Hand-balls are still not implemented well enough to be set to on by default and there’s still no official branding for the Champion’s League and Europa Cup (instead they go by the Copa Europe and Euro League monikers).
European cup licensing thing may only be a small detail but, due to the fact that FIFA has come to agreements with almost every other club/cup/league included in the game, its exclusion stands out as obviously as Rooney’s bald spot spots.
The fact of the matter is that, no matter of its quality, FIFA 12 is going to sell quicker than a pair of David Beckham’s underpants in an auction room of daydreaming housewives – that’s just the way things go nowadays. What’s good about that is that, unlike many other franchises, the series doesn’t seem to be resting on its laurels just yet – the team are clearly dedicated to improving the product and listen to what the true fans want.
Roll on the new season. Roll on me taking Liverpool back to the Champions League. Sorry, I mean the Copa Europe.

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