FIFA 2012
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Go and look at another review of Fifa 12. I can just about guarantee it will open with a paragraph referring to “the greatest battle in sports gaming” and talk about how Fifa overtook the once-unsurpassable Pro Evo somewhere around Fifa 09, and since then the two have been locked in an eternal struggle.

But, in my opinion, it’s pointless to draw comparisons between this year’s version of Pro Evo and Fifa 12. Konami simply haven’t learned, and have ironically failed to evolve with the times. No, the best way to judge whether Fifa 12 is worth your money, is by drawing comparisons between the other football game on the market worth your time and money - last year’s Fifa 11. If there is a greatest battle in football gaming, it is between these two.

Fifa 11 is a game that has absorbed the lives of gamers, football fans and football-fan-gamers alike. It smoothed out the rough edges of the excellent Fifa 10, and emerged as the finest football simulation ever created. Fifa 12 attempts to build upon its perfect older brother, to stand on its shoulders and offer gamers something more than perfection. Does it succeed? Yes... and no.

Fifa games have come on leaps and bounds year on year due to the changes brought in with each instalment. It’s ironic then that the two major changes made to this year’s edition are what hold it back from being able to be branded a clear improvement on last year, and sadly doesn’t make the forward steps EA will have hoped.

The most notable change is the introduction of the new defensive control system – Tactical Defending. Instead of the previous two-button pressure system, EA have adopted a more comprehensive, subtle method which brings in the right shoulder button as a third option to pressure the player with the ball. ‘A’ now pressures with your player, and ‘X’ has your player execute a risky but strong standing tackle.

This system works in theory, but at times you’ll find you’re holding down three buttons at once, which feels neither comfortable nor intuitive. The system feels rather under-cooked, and the fact that the game gives you the option to revert back to the old-style ‘legacy’ defending indicates that EA weren’t as confident of the system as they would have you believe.

The other major update is the introduction of real collision detection. Whilst the changes to the defending didn’t seem necessary, the collision is something that the developers were right to try to improve. To their credit, EA have created an engine which has players colliding in a fashion that suggests actual physical contact, rather than the unconvincing, jittery pre-determined animations of previous games.

However, the problem here is that where the defensive update seemed undercooked, in this case the collision/momentum of the players feels over-applied. Players will trip over at the slightest touch, often resulting in a comical pile-up of players, usually in and around the box. Whilst entertaining for the first half-dozen times, this soon becomes irritating and can genuinely disrupt matches.

As questionable as these updates are, I’m keen to stress that they are by no means game-breakers. The very fact that these criticisms are so technical is testament to the fact that EA have produced a game of extremely high quality. The gameplay is incredibly varied and tight, with the balance between skill and random luck perfectly weighted, ensuring the more you play the better you become, and though a seasoned veteran will have a strong chance of beating a newbie, the game maintains that FA Cup underdog spirit – there’s a chance anything can happen! So even if you fancy your chances don’t go reaching for the ‘Fifa apologies’ handbook right away.

Graphically, Fifa 12 raises the bar yet again, and sees an improvement on Fifa 11 across the board. Fifa has always excelled in this department, but happily Fifa 12 sees the players lose the plastic sheen EA seem to have had trouble ridding, and details like the player’s facial animations and hair look better than ever.

Player likenesses in some cases are quite incredible, and although facial expressions have been tweaked for realism, real improvement has gone into the players’ body language, movements, and the way they strike the ball. This is something that can be appreciated from a distance whilst playing, from Messi’s low centre of gravity to Ronaldo’s unique bullet-shot technique, all the major player’s likenesses and mannerisms are top drawer.

A special mention should go to the audio. Fifa 12 finally delivers on a par with its EA American sports siblings, which until this year have for some reason always been blessed with superior sound. For the first time the game sees two pairings of commentators, with Sky Sports’ Martin Tyler and Alan Smith alongside ITV’s slightly inferior but charming Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend. It’s a nice touch, and shows the developers have put thought into the sound – hearing Martin Tyler say that he’s “expecting fireworks” whilst I played on 5th November brought a smile to my face - as so much of football is all about atmosphere, they were right to pay the audio so much attention.

In terms of game modes, the Fifa franchise has never been lightweight, and this year is no exception. The acclaimed “Be A Pro” mode returns with more features than ever, and for the patient player offers an extremely satisfying experience. EA have wisely attempted to streamline online play, with the option to go for a quick, unranked friendly match or to play in the excellent new Head-to-Head seasons mode, which introduces a clever division mechanism, with promotion and relegation determined by how many games won or lost over an 8 game span.

The only major disappointment with Fifa 12 reflects the gaming industry’s increasing abandonment of the local multiplayer side of gaming, in favour of online play. Inexplicably absent is the mighty Lounge Mode – an ever-present feature in the previous three games, and so gone too is the delicious ability to track and compare your record against friends. The majority of casual players enjoy Fifa at a local level, and there’s nothing better than beating a friend in the same room. Let’s hope this doesn’t mark the first nail in the coffin for local multiplayer from EA.

Though the updates on this occasion give the impression that EA has almost run out of ideas for improvement, this can hardly be held against them. If asked to improve upon Fifa 11, I would struggle. Despite the questionable updates, EA have managed to produce the ultimate football game in Fifa 12, and a must for fans of football and fans of multiplayer fun in general. But this comes with a disclaimer: if you’re stuck with Fifa 11 for whatever reason, you shouldn’t feel too hard done by.