Armchair footballers have been eagerly awaiting the release of FIFA Soccer 12, the latest entry in EA Sports‘ formidable and beloved footy franchise. Now available on store shelves, this year’s entry brings forth a ton of gameplay options which are sure to keep fans of the beautiful game busy for a long time to come. Couple that with authentic and stylish gameplay, mixed with some limited time use speed boost abilities and you’ve got a quality sports game which offers a lot of bang for your gaming dollars. Though, there are a couple of fouls which keep the release from being a perfect bicycle kick goal. Let’s get on the pitch and discuss tactics, shall we?
Like the rest of Electronic Arts‘ sporting line-up, FIFA Soccer 12 is a polished affair both on and off of the pitch. Its development team did a good job of crafting a methodical experience, which is accessible for newcomers yet incredibly complex for those who have a taste for the spectacular. It’s easy to just jump into action, even if you don’t know the controls or game mechanics verbatim. The ever-important line between accessibility and complexity is straddled quite well, which shows both on and off of the field.
Running out of the gate and onto the pitch for the first time, you’ll notice that the included motion capture animations are stunning. Players act and move like they would in a real-life game being shown on television as it unfolds inside of an international stadium. The dribbling mechanics and their adjoining animations are fast and fluid, with some smooth moves and awe-inspiring dekes available for attempt. What is most impressive however, is that the little details were accounted for. Players will bump into each other realistically, sometimes falling over one another in the process. Custom goal celebrations also continue to impress, becoming more organic looking than they’ve ever been in any other sports game I’ve played.
Using a dynamic contact and physics engine, these animations occur organically. This means that you’re not going to see the same scripted sequence over and over again. When players tumble, it looks as if it happened in real-life. Slide tackles, dribbles and goals all have the same air around them. Real-life soccer is unpredictable, which is why it’s so fun to watch and play. That aspect is captured here with the dynamic animations system, providing the lack of predictability we all hoped for.
A noticeable feature was how much the elements played havoc with the on-field action, with snow allowing for lengthier slides and a more active ball. Rain, on the other hand, would deaden the round soccer ball quickly, making clearing attempts more difficult and passing a tad cumbersome. In the case of the weather, the rain certainly became a highlight, while the snow effects were quite good. Though, I’d recommend perhaps making the snow more active and debilitating – not in an overly arcade way, but by making conditions a bit more slippery for players’ cleats.
Upon completion of its inaugural loading sequence, FIFA Soccer 12 throws returning faces and newcomers into a tutorial, which teachers its new type of defence. Now, defenders can spotlight attackers through the use of the left-trigger and some additional button alterations. This means that you can essentially play like a basketball guard, shadowing the movements the opposing player makes, with the chance to call in teammate assistance. Use a speed boost and keep getting closer for a hopeful steal or box him out until he gives up and passes it away. It helps out a lot when utilized, offering one additional opportunity to defend, though this next one happens to be a bit unsportsmanlike. If your target is running ahead, within arm’s reach, then why not tug on his jersey a bit with B? The referee may not catch it.
Running from one end of the field to the other, dribbling through defenders never gets old, no matter what soccer game is being played. FIFA Soccer 12 does a quality job of creating a fun experience for those who like to try to go the distance, though its tougher artificial intelligence difficulties will do a good job of stopping your one man army rampages in their tracks. You’ll get an A for effort, but in your mind only, considering this will usually lead to a turnover and a potential scoring opportunity. The dribbling mechanics are sound, their animations are fluid and it feels great. Though, precision sometimes becomes a bit of an issue, which is an aspect which could be refined in next year’s outing.
An issue which crept up during my review time spent with Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 is also noticeable in FIFA Soccer 12. It’s located in the shooting department, where things feel a bit too touchy. It’d be nice if a noticeable indicator would pop up to say how hard your shot is. Powerful attacks resulted from pressing in the B button a little bit more than what I would refer to as lightly. On the other hand, a very light press equates to a ground-based kick with limited stamina. Sometimes this would become an issue, with well-aimed shots careening off of the iron a bit too often, especially at times where I thought that the effort would be impossible to stop.
Continuing the discussion relating to FIFA Soccer 12 and its shooting mechanics, I also noticed that the overly-sensitive controls issue affected its penalty kick mini-game. Similar to what is found in some other sports games, particularly in golf and other precision-based affairs, a slider is utilized. The icon moves from left to right, going from a large red exterior area into a small green middle tab, and then to another red exterior boundary. As is always the case, red is bad and green is good. The whole gist is that your player must calm his nerves and release a precise attack on goal. It’s pretty easy to hit in the green (except for when it’s the final attempt and your heart is pounding – which is a nice touch,) though it’s far too difficult to aim properly. Trying to aim with the left joystick by using slight movements would almost always result in an out-of-bounds strike.
During exhibition matches, the option to choose your match referee is a great idea. You can pick from a roster of many different real-life disciplinarians, with each feeling differently about penalties and fouls. If you want an action-packed game with a loose leash, then pick one who rarely calls minor interferences. Though, some may wish for the opposite or something in-between, all of which is on offer. Some referees are strict in one category and mild in another, which gives you something to work with. I quite liked this minor selling point, which is actually a game changer.
As any EA Sports video game veteran can attest to, one of the developer’s specialties is interesting modes. There are so many options to choose from in FIFA Soccer 12, that it’s almost overwhelming. Choose an exhibition match, create your own league, or enter into one of many available ones (including Major League Soccer, which is where my hometown club, Toronto FC, resides). Unfortunately, roster moves are unavailable during season play, but at least the option to enter into a race for your favourite championship is available. Live seasons are available for purchase, using real-life player performances to create fluctuating statistics in-game.
Be a pro and its player creation aspects return, as you take a budding superstar from the beginning of his professional friendly career to what will hopefully be great heights. This potential superstar can also be taken online with others’ creations, with online club options (where you play against like-minded communities) and in one-off games with human players slotting into every position. It’s fun to create your spitting digital image and use him in professional sports action, tying in to the sports video game genre’s greatest asset. That would be being able to allow fans to interact with their favourite leagues and players, digitally, in order to do something they’ve dreamed about but have never been able to do in real-life.
There’s an option to be a player manager in career mode as well, acting as your peers’ voice off the field, while helping out in dizzying fashion when the club takes to the pitch in competition. Though, the main draw in this gameplay mode could be the ability to become a manager, considering how popular games like Football Manager are overseas. Pick your favourite team and run its operations as a general manager and club skipper, buying and selling players, keeping your roster options happy and setting up your squad’s look and formation for each game. You’re a jack of all trades, even having the ability to jump onto the field using the roster you’ve assembled, which is quite a bit of fun. There’s a ton of gameplay to be found in just this one mode and all three of its character type options.
If team building through card collecting is more your style, then sign yourself up as an owner in ultimate team. The popular mode returns, allowing gamers to assemble a team of superstars through hard work and careful deliberation. You start off with a free introductory card pack of basic players and must play one-off games, online matches and tournaments (single player and online) to earn money for more. The trick is to be patient, because lots of time spent playing with good results can equate to lots of money. The best card packs, featuring lots of rare cards, are very expensive, though basic packs aren’t that costly. Special packs occasionally become available, promoting players whose stats have fluctuated based on their real-life performances.
Essentially, you’re the manager of the club. It’s your duty to not only play every game, but to also form your squad and its planned attack formations. Each card comes with a certain amount of career games available, as well as individual contract statuses. Once a player’s contract runs out, you must use a consumable contract extension card to keep him on the squad. Though, when a player’s career games number runs out, he’s done for good. You can trade for new cards, sell ones you don’t want and also collect utilized jerseys, stadiums and performance boost cards. It’s quite a robust system and a card collector’s dream.
Rounding out your plethora of gameplay options is full online play, including head-to-head seasons played against other users and friendlies played against your friends list pals. These options add even more depth to what is a complete and fully-featured soccer game. One which has the nice added option of allowing you to practice in an arena, where it’s just you and the goalie, in a one-on-one scenario. Available for selection at all times, it also comes up during loading screens.
We’ve already discussed the slick and fluid animations, with their commendable motion capture work. The other major aspect of the visual offering here is how the players look. I can’t say that I know what every single soccer player looks like in real-life, but I was quite impressed with how each character model looked in the game. There’s a ton of detail to be found in the digital representations of superstars and their professional teammates, with attention paid to every aspect of their appearances. Quite a few of the more recognizable names look almost lifelike, which is no small feat. The core game itself is quite shiny and full of quality visual work both on and off of the field.
FIFA Soccer 12 boasts two separate commentary teams, using Alan Smith and Martin Tyler as its main duo. They’re joined by Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend, who use their pipes to call tournament matches. Both teams of two do a good job calling games, adding personal insight and quality dialogue into the mix. I liked the passion shown, as well as the overall quality of their performances, adding in over ten thousand new lines to what was previously recorded for the series. You can tell that they’re enthused about the sport and it translates well into digital space, making the game feel like a television broadcast, especially with the inclusion of neat intro videos that show players from each team.
EA Sports Trax provides an interesting and eclectic soundtrack once again, featuring acts such as Crystal Castles Featuring Robert Smith, Kasabian, The Hives and The Ting Tings. Its soundtrack provides great menu music and the odd tune during downtime. Though, the sounds you’ll hear the most are the roar and chants of the crowd, mixed in with tackles, shots and ringing posts. All of it sounds good with no no complaints on my end. Every aspect of the audio offerings found inside of FIFA Soccer 12 is top-notch and polished.
Needless to say, there’s a ton of content to be found here, which is sure to keep any soccer fan happy for a long time. All of it is complemented by a quality game on the field, though there are some hiccups, with noted areas needing minor tweaks and improvements. If you’re in the market for a full-featured soccer game with over twenty leagues, then you certainly cannot go wrong with FIFA Soccer 12. It’s a high-quality game which excels in a lot of areas.
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.