Before we get to how great Fifa 12 is (and it is), here’s an open request to any EA Sports representatives who happen to be reading this. Please, for the love of god, start thinking about how to mitigate sore losers and vainglorious pricks in multiplayer. It’s kind of astonishing that a player who feels like dragging a game out can still allow every single replay/cut-scene to play in full, in the hopes of winning some meta-war of attrition and making his opponent forfeit in frustration. Come on chaps, fix it up for Fifa 13.
One of the myriad of reasons this is so annoying is because the multiplayer experience (when you can avoid periodic lag) is so good. Head to head seasons (featuring ten seasons of ten games apiece with other Fifa 12 junkies) are a fine addition, giving a sense of momentum and progression to your play that doesn’t really exist in one-off ranked matches. Sure, you’ll still run into the problem of players who suckle on the teat of five-star Barcelona like it’s dispensing sweet, sweet victory-milk, but that’s going to be an issue no matter what kind of game mode EA comes up with.
While Fifa 12 still doesn’t exactly feel like real football (and nor should it, it’s a videogame), it’s uncanny how a combination of skill and psychology will bring success in both. It’s tempting, I know, to slip into the feeling that the game is somehow rigged against you when an opponent sneaks a couple of goals in the final moments, but the truth is you probably defeated yourself. Honing your basic skills is important, of course; but what’s going on in your head can make a tremendous difference to your learned abilities.
Analysing your own pattern of play and being able to switch it up to something else is absolutely crucial in multiplayer encounters. Just slowing things down a little, holding on to possession in midfield and mixing in some unorthodox passes can goad the rasher players into flinging their players all over the field attempting to get the ball back. As soon as you see this happening, you’re more than halfway towards winning. Once you become proficient in spotting these changes in mood it’s fascinating to watch them play out, and to exploit them to your advantage.
Fifa 12’s new approach to defending makes concentration for the full 90 minutes even more important, because being out of possession is just as mentally taxing as holding the ball. In earlier Fifa titles, defending was mostly a case of holding a couple of buttons down and sticking near to a guy. Now, you have to think about cutting off lines of passing, not diving in too early or too rashly, and complicated stuff like covering angles. I’ll readily admit I’m not entirely used to it yet, and I’m sure further releases will improve upon the concept even further.
How happy you feel about this fundamental change probably depends upon your reaction to
An interesting indicator of Fifa’s growth is just how many different ways there are to play it in 12. Single player can offer basic matches, a career mode and ‘be a pro’ (which is still decent, but perhaps the mode that’s been most neglected in this release), while multiplayer now offers head to head seasons, Ultimate Team (I’ve barely touched this, but plenty of people seem obsessed by it) and (if you can grab enough players) co-op multiplayer too.
On top of this, EA added a kind of meta-game where ‘experience points’ are awarded for completing various tasks, which then go towards propelling your real-life team of choice up a make-believe table. It’s utterly frivolous and yet strangely compelling at the same time (rather like football, you could say).
The sheer range of gameplay modes on offer means you should find something to throw hours of your life at. For me, that’s the career mode. It reminds me of the combination of light management and playable games that Sensible World of Soccer offered in the 90s, where you feel you have enough control over the club to bring in new players and mess about with formations, but don’t have to really worry about the price of meat pies and complex contract negotiations. Naturally, there’s also an associated thrill with taking your team of no-hopers about as far as they can.
It’s true that the much-hyped ‘impact engine’ turned out to be more comical than crucial, and I sympathise with people who feel this series gives too much attention to new features and not enough to fixing niggling, persistent bugs; but Fifa 12 really does play a better game of football than ever before. If you don’t click with the ‘feel’ of the engine, then you may never appreciate its charms. If you do, it remains the best football title out there.