I have a particular weakness for sporting games, especially for those which lend themselves to playing on the couch with several friends, generally with the television’s volume down and some music playing so I don’t have to listen to what is doubtless grating and repetitive commentary and bad licensed music. I have a few immensely fond memories of playing lots and lots of FIFA 11 at my friend’s flat in Aberystwyth, using the absolutely brilliant Lounge Mode and passing the controllers around to whomever was currently up to play. After playing FIFA 12‘s demo, I was elated to see that the game played much as I recalled its predecessors playing, and so when I got my hands on the full game, I was excited to dive headfirst into something which I was sure would be incredible.
There were, however, a few problems. Firstly, and in my mind most importantly, Lounge Mode is gone. Vanished to the aether and replaced by… nothing at all. There is, bafflingly, absolutely no comparable mode available. If you would like to play against your friends on the couch, boot up the exhibition matches and get comfortable, because that’s all there is. Lounge Mode is dead, and nothing better replaced it. It’s a depressing step backwards and it robs the series of something that made it stand out among the other sports games out there. Instead of Lounge Mode, there’s the bloody awful Ultimate Team, which exists now in all EA sporting games, I predict a veritable minefield of microtransactions awaits the player and so no, I did not bother to investigate, because I have better things to spend my money on than buying footballers. It’s like Pokemon, if you had to pay for new Pokemon instead of just wander around until you found one. Also your Pokemon are pro soccer players.
The other problem is that FIFA 12 is unforgivingly difficult. Here is a game that completely took me apart and forced me to revert to the easiest of easy modes to have any sort of success—and even on the lowest difficulty I still lost a hard-fought match to Chelsea (which I can understand, as honestly Blackburn’s not got much of a shot against Chelsea under any circumstances). This is I think partially due to the game’s revamped physics engine, which makes tackling and dribbling a lot more difficult as the players are actually bound by the laws of physics now. It is a marvelous engine to watch in action, because it makes the players move fluidly, stumble around if they get run into, and the ball itself does an awful lot of moving around that does not seem as eerily perfect as in earlier games. Instead it is at times frustrating to control because your player needs to have actual control of his feet and momentum in order to successfully pass and not just fire the ball off in some random direction. I will note here that while yes, this is certainly part of the difficulty in passing, the other part is that it is awfully hard to get the ball to be kicked to the right person—very often I found myself aiming for the man a few meters in front of me and kicking all the way down the field instead, and a particular slow kick at that as I’d only meant a short pass to the guy, you know, a few meters in front of me. It’s frustrating as hell, and something which afflicts every soccer game under the sun, as far as I can tell, although I haven’t spent enough time with Pro Evolution Soccer‘s offering this year to say that for certain.
So yes, there are some definite things about FIFA 12 that make me want to calmly put my controller down, eject the disc, and then go for a long walk to keep from putting my fist through the screen. My neighbors most likely think I must be watching a real sporting event from the amount of times I’ve groaned aloud and howled something akin to ‘why would you pass it to him?’ Fortunately for FIFA 12, however, I can’t seem to stop playing it.
I love the create-a-player mode, for starters. My bearded avatar currently plays for the Blackburn Rovers as a fullback, and a fine job he does of it too. There’s also the addition of the ‘support your club’ feature, which gives you experience points for doing any of the game modes, even just playing a friendly match online or with someone on the couch next to you. These experience points are put into a pot which supports all the other players who have selected your team of choice, and the teams are ranked weekly to see who can reach the top of the tables. It’s a blatant bid to keep people playing the game, and it’s utterly pointless, but it does give players the golden opportunity to watch numbers go up, which is a very popular thing to do in video games these days, especially when your numbers are higher than your friends’ numbers. Similarly, your Pro can play in friendlies and still gain experience, which in turn will make him a better player when you set out to continue your career. When the game clicks for you, and you string together a nice series of passes that end with a brilliant shot on goal, the control problems no longer matter. This is a game which has a good grasp of how a game of soccer should feel, and I will say, a bit grudgingly, that it works.
There are, of course, the other modes as well—you can take on the role of manager, if you don’t feel like playing the actual games, and focus on trading and taking care of injured players and whatnot. There’s also the ability to play your created player in an online match together with your friends (or strangers) each playing a particular position against another team similarly composed of a group of friends (or strangers). The only drawback to this mode is, of course, having to deal with the sorts of people who are generally running around online.
In short, FIFA 12 is a good game—the engine is phenomenal, especially where physics are involved, and the player models aren’t going to win any awards for photo-realism any time soon but they’re solid enough that it is not painful to look at them. I don’t know that there’s much of a visual improvement from FIFA 11, but really there doesn’t need to be. The improved physics engine as well as the (unfortunately for me) much improved AI were really all that EA needed to do for ’12, if we’re being honest, but the frankly bizarre decision to get rid of Lounge Mode keeps ’12 from being as good as it would be otherwise. Sport games are (for me anyway) social games. The very fact that I wound up enjoying career mode is a testament to how good the gameplay is, and while I certainly take no pleasure out of getting annihilated trying to play the computer on harder difficulties, I’m also certain that there’s a definite challenge there for the skilled player that will be appreciated. A fine update to the series, but I want to see Lounge Mode back in the next edition.