I remember when sports games were straightforward. There were exhibition games, tournaments, and season mode. The rosters that shipped on the disk were all you got, unless you wanted to move players around on your own, and playing against a human being meant you were trash-talking your friends on the couch.
Today, the best sports games are more than simulations; they are immersive, customizable and infinitely social. No game has elevated its sport to the level of “platform” better than EA’s FIFA Soccer 12. Unlike MLB, NHL and NFL games, which cover one league, FIFA is significantly broader, showcasing organizations from around the globe along with national teams.
When you load up the game for the first time, you’ll be treated to an introduction to EA’s new Football Club service. Football Club is the thread that connects all of your FIFA play to every other player around the world. For every game you play, and even other actions like using the creation tools and working on the practice field, you’ll earn XP that determines your “FIFA Level.” This is used both in matchups online and when comparing your progress with your friends.
EA is leading the pack with this type of social integration in retail games with Autolog, Battlelog and, now, Football Club. From anywhere in the menu, pressing one button will take you to the Football Club information screen, which is a slickly presented social hub. Football Club is also used to deliver frequently updated challenges based on real events and matches. You’ll also have the opportunity to “Support Your Club,” such that all of your XP goes toward your favorite team’s weekly standings. With FIFA’s huge number of leagues and clubs represented, your favorite team is almost surely represented. The leagues reset after every week and the winner is determined using an average XP such that clubs with fewer fans have a chance to compete. Remember, all of this is presented before you even press a single button. Before finally turning you loose, the game gauges your skill level based on FIFA 11 achievements and suggests a starting point for your time with FIFA 12.
If that’s all EA had done to improve FIFA this year, this iteration would simply be a huge step forward for how we play together. Thankfully, the game has also made huge strides in how we play on the pitch. Again, before you even have access to the menus, the game offers up a multi-stage tutorial on the new tactical defending feature. While you can certainly switch back to the old way of handling defense, tactical defending gives you greater control over the way you and your teammates mark and contain the ball carrier. Once you get used to the way game flows, you won’t want to switch back, especially as this year’s edition of FIFA deemphasizes slide tackles. In fact, the standing tackle and tug are far better options for putting pressure on attackers.
Of course, the change in defense wouldn’t be nearly as effective without the new Impact Engine. The collision detection has been elevated to an art, in and of itself. When players collide or bump, they react naturally depending on how they interact. This also plays into injuries, which are carried through a player’s career. Even after a player heals and is back in the game, that injury will impact the way the play and how vulnerable they are to reinjuring themselves. All of this makes for the most organic game of soccer ever represented in the digital format, and, if you don’t like certain aspects of the game like sprint speed, injury frequency and more, there are sliders for you and for the AI to tweak FIFA to your preference. You can even switch from the default commentary team of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith to Cilve Tyldesley and Andy Townsend
Beginning with the Football Club and the new gameplay at the core, EA has built the most complete soccer package ever seen with a nearly overwhelming number of features. I spent well over an hour looking through menus trying to wrap my head around the sheer volume of options available in this year’s offering. Certainly, most people won’t approach it like that, but it gives you an idea just how massive the game is.
Both the Be a Pro and Be a Goalkeeper modes return with the benefit of EA’s Gameface, which is getting easier and easier to use. I had no problem turning a front and profile picture into a good likeness of myself that was easy to import into my game. This year, the customization options are largely locked, and tied to accomplishments that can be achieved in many different modes. Different kits, celebrations and styles are regularly unlocked, giving you something to look forward to with every game you play using your Virtual Pro.
In Career Mode, you are offered three options, you can engage with the game strictly on the pitch, taking your team through each game in the season. You can also avoid getting your cleats dirty all together, sitting behind the big desk, managing budgets and handling player contracts. For the full experience, though, you’ll want to choose the “Player Manager” option. This puts you in control of the front office and allows you to play each game. I was pleased to see the difficulty options for the manager mode that allow players less comfortable with the nuances of running a club to succeed. Easier difficulties tone down the negotiating prowess of other managers and afford you more money to play with.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.