FIFA 12 came to us a little late, as was the case with the recent NHL 12 from EA Sports. As such, we're getting our coverage for the title up as we finish committing some real, legitimate play time to the game. We've been rolling with our favorite clubs for nearly two weeks now and feel entirely comfortable with tossing down a review…
So, excuses over, let's do this.
Before we even laced up and hit the pitch for our first round of soccer in FIFA 12, we'd heard from a ton of other folks that this year was one of the best offerings to date. Supposedly, the on-the-field play mixed with the intuitive nature of the menu system comes together to create one of the most playable, rewarding sports games to release in years.
Guess what…that's totally correct. FIFA 12 manages to blend strong new gameplay tweaks with a great, almost Pavlovian reward system together for its fans.
First off, in the arena of gameplay, FIFA 12 launches the brand new, two years in development Player Impact Engine. Basically, everything that happens on the pitch feels more weighted, reacts more realistically and rolls more fluidly. You'll actually feel a genuine sense of push, exhaustion or struggle when it comes time to handle the ball accurately and pass between teammates. And that works towards FIFA's goal of creating one of the most realistic soccer games on the market. To-date, this FIFA feels the most physical in the series.
That engine does, however, come with its fair share of bugs and oddities. The demo for the game was a great portrayal of problems when it released a few weeks back; basically, players found themselves embedded in one another, launched, flipped, stretched and weirdly bumped during play. The full version of the game encounters these issues a lot less frequently, but FIFA 12 marks the first time I can ever remember finding myself flipped end over end a full five yards after bumping a keeper.
Furthermore, possibly because of this new engine, defending is actually more fun this year as well. It's not just a matter of stepping up to the ball handler and assuming possession anymore. If you do that, you'll likely be beaten down by the CPU. Instead, you have to maintain position and press at the right times. Lose yourself to overzealousness and you'll be way out of position, and, guess what, the computer knows how to take advantage of that.
As for the game's AI, I will promptly own up and say that I found it to be a downright bitch. FIFA 12 is hard, don't let anyone tell you any differently. If you play it on Pro or World Class or stronger difficulty (forget Legendary, you'll be murdered), prepare to be challenged. I've always started FIFA titles at the World Class level, finding it to be the perfect blend of tough play and beatable AI; it took me five games to score my first goal this way. Seriously. The AI is smart, fast, resilient and tough to counter.
Be warned, however, this game can be extremely frustrating. It's almost too tough at times, and that worked against its likeable nature as far as we're concerned.
That said, the added difficulty, once you learn your limits, will make this a game worth playing further down the line. There's nothing worse than figuring out how to consistently beat a sports game, and FIFA 12, for me, so far, avoids that problem.
On the menu side of the equation, where everything but actual play happens, FIFA 12 shines with only a single major blemish. We'll get to that flaw in a second, but understand that this game feels simple, intuitive and connected. The menus make sense throughout the experience, with even the Ultimate Team portion (included on the disc at launch for the first time since one of the UEFA titles) feeling easy, so you'll be able to hop in and out of games and modes quickly.
It's connected because now, you as a player of the game, have an overall level and experience pool. You'll actually earn XP by playing FIFA 12 in its every mode. Whether that's a quick game with friends, a game online or a game in your career mode, your central profile will earn experience and level up. You'll be able to compare your level with your friends and see who ranks the highest, has the most skill and has played the most games. It's like a constantly challenging game within a sports game, and it's that piece of Pavlovian conditioning we told you about much earlier. This leveling process will likely keep FIFA 12 near your console for several months on end.
We'll admit it, soccer's never been our favorite game. We're fans of FIFA as an experience and great sporting title, but we won't fire up the TV to watch matches or go hooligan. However, this year, with FIFA 12, we've fallen in love with the beautiful game a little more than ever before. Its playability, its rewarding nature and its longevity make it one of the best sports titles for 2011.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline was sent a review copy of FIFA 12 for the Xbox 360 several days after its release by way of EA Sports. We've played the game for nearly 20 hours across all modes within on every difficulty except Amateur. Also note that we did not cover every single portion of this product in our review, but, instead, decided to give an overarching sense of feel and design for the game.