A combination of new and returning online modes make FIFA 12 the most feature-packed version of the game yet. New this year are Head to Head Seasons and Online Friendlies. Head to Head Seasons is an online league, split into different divisions. You start in division 10, and at the end of each 10-game season your results determine whether you get promoted or, at the very least, avoid relegation to a lower division. You get three points for a win and one for a draw, with the number of points needed for promotion getting increasingly higher as you progress. Each division also has its own cup to win, starting with the EA Shield for lower divisions, through to the Premier Cup for the top tier. Tournaments for cups take place every few weeks, so you've always got another chance to compete for some silverware if you miss out the first time. Your performance is tracked too, so you can see how you compare to the rest of the online community, with a table showing you how many players are in each division.
6336891Nani takes a dive into the Manchester United goal for one eye-opening celebration.
Online Friendlies is an evolution of unranked matches from FIFA 11. While you still play friendly games against your friends, the results are tracked. Every friend you play against creates a new season, with the two of you having 10 matches in which to earn more points and beat each other. At the end of the season, the winner receives another trophy for the cabinet. This makes playing against your friends all the more exciting, particularly if you're competing in regular matches, giving you all the excitement of the ranked leagues without having to play with strangers. If you do delve into playing with random opponents, though, things have been tweaked so matches are fairer. Instead of searching for a match and then picking a club--which usually results in everyone playing as a five-star team--you now pick your team before searching for an opponent. The game automatically finds an opponent with a similar level team and takes into account your division, skill, location, controls, and Did Not Finish percentage (rage quitters beware!), ensuring that most matches are even.
Whichever mode you play in--online or offline--all your hard work is kept track of in FIFA 12's excellent EA Sports Football Club. At its simplest, the mode keeps track of your experience points, which are awarded to you in any game mode, giving you an overall level that you can compare to others worldwide. It's only when you delve deeper that the real fun begins. You can choose to support any real-life club from around the world, with your accomplishments and experience going toward them, regardless of what team you're playing as. This gives your favourite real-life team an overall position on global league tables, with the league resetting each week to allow for fresh competition. Fans of smaller clubs aren't at a disadvantage either, as scores for each team are based on averages, so even if you team's fan base is outnumbered when compared to the likes of Manchester United or Real Madrid, you're still in with a shot.
EA Sports Football Club keeps track of your FIFA career.
Competing to progress your favourite team up the table, even if it is a virtual one, is very compelling. Seeing your team slip down even one notch on the leaderboard is enough to spur you on to play more matches. There are also plans for EA Sports Football Club to incorporate real events from the world of football. These will include different challenges and storylines to play through. For example, if Liverpool beats Everton in the real world, that could be turned into a FIFA challenge where you could replay the match and try to avenge Liverpool. It's an interesting concept, and how well it works depends largely on any drama going on in the real world, and the ability for EA's dedicated writing staff to turn that into an interesting challenge. Integration with other FIFA games, such as on mobile devices and social networks, is also promised, letting you earn experience points regardless of which version of FIFA you're playing. And if that's not enough for you, the FIFA Ultimate Team mode that was released for previous games as DLC is now included for free too, letting you build a team of players by competing in matches and trading player cards.
Whichever mode you play in, you're treated to the slick presentation that the series is famed for. Menus are easy to navigate, the commentary is exciting and well delivered, and the visuals are as crisp as ever. It's easy to recognise your favourite players as they line up on the pitch, with official licences ensuring they sport the right kit too. And with the addition of the player impact engine, animations are more realistic than they've ever been. Excellent online modes and improved player handling further cement FIFA 12 as football at its best--gloriously deep, rewarding, addictive, and as close as you can get to the real thing without donning a pair of boots.