FIFA 12 Xbox 360 review

FIFA 12 takes a few gambles with the format, and Andrew's been finding out if they pay off. Here's his review...

Best get this clear from the start. Here, I’m going to review gameplay, mainly, rather than the various iterations of the game (Be-a-Pro, Xbox Live play, etc), in order to concentrate on what is new in this edition of the ever-popular football simulator.

You know the drill anyway: at times it looks like you’re watching highlights, the impressively accurate commentary is as tedious and banal as the real thing (indeed, sometimes it feels as though the metaphors are being mangled ad hoc, as opposed to pre-loaded banter). Andy Gray isn’t there anymore, with his voice like a smug brick to the temples. Alan Smith is there. He’s quiet and studious, like a moth with dreams of academia, and easy to ignore.

The menus all woosh past as Kaka does overhead kicks, looks about twelve, and generally behaves more like the abstract concept of Kaka than the man himself. This is the British edition however, so we have a cover of Wayne Rooney’s eyes filled with desolate eternity, his mouth a cruel portal to a millionaire granny-nobber’s happiness, filled with a tongue that resembles an uncooked beefburger.

Jack Wilshere, the future of English football, pulls a drummer’s face alongside him. Everything is as it should be, including layouts, menu selection, and the myriad possibilities of game styles. Should you wish, you can create your own avatar and play with friends in a team of eleven, each controlling an individual player who looks like a more svelte version of themselves.

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Only the brave will choose to play at the back. For, if I were asked, which I haven’t been and in any case I’m going to render future askings superfluous, to summarise this review in a word, that word would be ‘Defending’.

Once you’ve mastered the new defensive system, FIFA 12 straddles the boundaries between realism and fun perfectly. However, I’ve played it until my eyes bleed and I’m still conceding goals to lower league teams. It’s not something you can just pick up and master, or at least it’s not a game I can pick up and master. But it is still a game you can pick up and enjoy.

Rather than, as I preferred, hassling and putting pressure on by running up to an opponent and jabbing the ‘A’ button, you have to concentrate, jockey, and try not to dive in and leave spaces in behind you. Then, if you get the ball back, mount a counter attack. This requires concentration and a combination of buttons to desperately mash/skillfully manipulate.

You can’t get as close to an opponent as before without considerable co-ordination. Defending is now much harder, more tactical. While you still have to get the ball off the other team, you’re also now blocking their running, passing and shooting options along the way.

In other words, while you are learning this game, for heaven’s sake go for a good team. I’m a St Johnstone fan. I know Steven Anderson would put his body in front of a Jorg Albertz free kick for the club. This does not alter the fact that in FIFA 12 he has the turning circle of a particularly large gas giant. If you’re against an opponent with even a modicum of dribbling ability, you are in trouble. Chelsea’s front pairing of Torres and Anelka, for example, may twist and turn you all over the place. Even if you block all their angles for a shot, here comes Frank Lampard from deep. The better teams drag you all over the place, and then you blink and discover the ball is in the net when you thought you had all the options covered.

Then, if you pause the match to regain your bearings, you run the risk of hearing a Maroon 5 song. The soundtrack is the usual mix of Landfill Indie, Stuff You’ve Never Heard Of, and Actually, That’s Not Half Bad. Still, Maroon 5 aren’t so much a band as a war crime in my book (unpublished, photocopies available) so points off for that.

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However, attacking is different as well. It seems harder to get into a scoring position, but once you have it also feels easier to finish. Crosses are variable, with the emphasis being on clever passing and through balls. Of course, if you can dribble and have a fast enough striker, just going on a mazy run is an option. Once you’ve got a shooting chance it seems that more of them go in than in FIFA 11, but the left control stick is more sensitive when it comes to aiming and putting curl on the ball.

There’s an element of frustration involved in learning the game, as you will almost certainly find it harder than previous editions of FIFA. It is still addictive, as you score enough to keep coming back. It’s nowhere near as impenetrable as Pro Evo 5, where no matter who your opponent is they seem to consist of Nietzschean supermen. I swear you can hear them utter monosyllabic Lundgrens (i.e. big, booming putdowns. I’m trying to coin a phrase here) as yet another move crumbles to a halt and you are broken against at speed.

What is sheer unadulterated brilliance, however, is playing against a human opponent. No faceless AI mega-bastard with its ruthless undermining of your ineptitude here, oh no. Instead, because the defending is more difficult, we have breathless end to end matches, last-ditch-goal-saving-tackles and there’s also a tendency for the referees to let a lot of obvious fouls go unpunished. It’s great fun. I find it almost as good making goal-line clearances as I do scoring at the moment.

My main gripe is that the penalty system is the same as FIFA 11‘s strange, seemingly meaningless power bar method, which turns taking a penalty into some sort of A Clockwork Orange style torture for anyone remotely colour blind or lacking in co-ordination. A basic rule of any football simulator is this: power Bars are shite. FIFA 2002 may have had the most lifelike rendition of Darren Dods ever seen on screen (including live telly pictures of Darren Dods), but the power bar system for everything was dire, and it most certainly isn’t ‘In the game’. We thought you’d learned, EA, but no. No.

Five Stars? Not quite, but not far off. Maybe putting the onus on defending isn’t so bad, especially if you can get the same satisfaction from stopping a goal as you can from scoring one.

A challenge then, but an assailable one.

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4 out of 5