Somewhere along the lines, we lost the authenticity of sports in our video games. FIFA 12 does a magnificent job of depicting the sport of soccer in video game form, with all of its beautiful and natural imperfections.
The guts of FIFA 12, the Player Impact Engine, defines the game's attempt at authenticity by basing player collisions on true physics and not just triggered animations. The result is an incredible amount of variety in player movement, most of it feeling natural and realistic. Of course, occasional hiccups result in some appendage-bouncing, glitchy action, which is to be expected this early in the game's (and engine's) life.
Precision dribbling emphasizes the change in player movement this year. Holding down one of the bumper buttons while moving slows players down so they can put more deft touches on the ball. Whether in the box or handling the ball down the sidelines, precision dribbling is a monumental addition to FIFA 12 when in the hands of the right player. Used correctly, players can replicate more lifelike, sometimes captivating movements with the ball on a smaller scale than past games could.
On the other side of the ball is tactical defense. Defense in past games were waiting periods between opportunities to trick the AI into allowing a cross to drop into the box for an easy score. This year, defense is less about throwing heavy pressure at the opponents and forcing mistakes, though that age-old tactic seems to still work in FIFA 12. Instead, players must consider their placement in greater depth, jockeying and containing opponents into unfavorable spots.
Online team play and "be a pro" modes are interesting, but like other modes they are just a spin on the standard game of soccer FIFA presents. This is the heart of my core qualm with FIFA 12: Many of these modes lack anything wholly interesting or enriching.
Career mode is improved this year, but ultimately you are given nice-looking menus between on-field play, with blurbs of text telling the story of your player's career. That is, unless you skip to manager mode, in which case you take on more blurbs and menus without all the soccer you bought the game for. These single-player modes are still fun, but they rarely deliver the off-field excitement you get from real sports, a feeling FIFA 12 didn't even try to tackle this time around.
Other players' favorite soccer games might be the ones they feel most comfortable manipulating to ensure their success on the virtual pitch. FIFA 12 is my favorite soccer game because it simulates the sport better than any soccer game I've ever played. While playing this year's version, I found that I don't want to return to the days of trying to "game" my sports games. I want the seeming randomness of sports and the anomalies that sports fans crave. I want the minutiae of player movement to feel like the small moments we crave in real-life sports.
The best additions this year are bits of the unexpected, something almost never achieved in sports video games. FIFA 12 delivers enough of those flashes of brilliance to feel a little less like a game, and more like a true soccer simulator.
This review is based on 360 code of FIFA 12 sent to Joystiq by EA Sports.
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