Distilling the world's most popular sport into a video game isn't an easy task. Aside from capturing the atmosphere of the game--the satisfying thump of boot on football, the on-pitch dramas created between player and referee, and the ferocious roar of the crowd as the ball sails into the back of the net--there are other considerations too. Some players want to manage their teams. Others want to live out their dreams of football stardom. Still others want to put their skills to the test against the best in the world, all the while clamouring for as realistic an experience as possible. FIFA 12 lets you do all of these things and more. A new tactical defending system, player impact engine, and head-to-head seasons are just some of the excellent new features it offers. But it's the new EA Sports Football Club that's the real draw, bringing with it an addictive levelling system that pits you against the world's players, keeping track of your own progress and that of your favourite team too. Not only is FIFA 12 the best game in the series, it's also one of the most exciting, accurate, and complete sports games around.
6336887Uruguayan maestro Luis Suarez weaves his magic against Manchester United.
If you're a longtime FIFA player, then the changes to defending in this year's game might come as a bit of a shock. A new tactical defending system has been implemented that drastically changes the way you play. In previous versions of FIFA, a common tactic when defending was to hold down the two "pressing" buttons, which sent players in to close down attackers and win the ball, requiring little in the way of skill. That tactic no longer works. Instead of rushing in to take the ball, your player now just tracks the attacker and remains a few feet away, keeping him held back. This system of containing the opposition requires more thought than simply sticking a leg in and hoping for the best. You have to actively time when to tackle or decide if it's better to simply hold a player back, rather than rush in for the ball, miss the tackle, and have the opposition pass.
If the opposition does get past, you now have the option of jostling them--that is, pulling on their shirt or using your player's arm to hold them back. This is a neat feature that brings the game closer to how the real-life sport is played, with new player animations making it look more realistic. Be warned, though; pull too many shirts, and the referee won't hesitate to throw a yellow, or even a red, card your way. Other improvements to the animation lie in the new player impact engine. This adds a physics system that simulates the impact between two players during tackles or other forms of contact. If you go in for a particularly aggressive tackle and slam into the player, the resulting animation is rarely the same twice, depending on the build and strength of the two players in question. Both or just one of you may end up in a heap on the pitch, while passing players leap over fallen bodies to get past. On the whole, the system works well, adding another layer of realism to the game. It's not infallible, though, and there are times when you see some comical rag-doll-physics-like animations as players flop over the pitch.
Sending one to the back of the net is as satisfying as ever.
More tweaks to the controls come in the form of precision dribbling, which enable you to control the ball more accurately in close quarters. For example, when you get near the touchline, your player automatically knows he's there and retains tighter control of the ball to keep it in play. The system also affords you the ability to use small, quick touches to control the ball, letting you perform sharp turns and making it easier to beat the opposition's defence. You can shield yourself from other players while dribbling too, rather than being rooted to the spot like in previous games, giving you another way to get past defenders. These enhancements make FIFA 12 the most realistic representation of the sport yet. Scoring goals is trickier, with teams working together to implement strong lines of defence, but the game is all the better for it. You have to work harder, with a greater amount of skill required than ever before. These changes make those moments when you manage to score all the more satisfying.
You can break out your newfound dribbling and defending skills in a number of modes, many of which have carried over from last year. These include Career mode, which lets you compete as a single player working through a 15-year career; as a player manager, where you manage your team's lineup and compete on the pitch; or as a manager, where you take a backseat to the on-pitch action and instead focus on tactics and building up your squad. There's something for everyone, and if you tire of one mode, you can easily switch between them at any time to mix things up. There's also an array of tournaments to play through, from the F.A. Cup through to custom leagues and knockout tournaments.