Released on Friday 30th September, to surprisingly little fanfare compared with previous years, the latest version of Fifa hits the shelves on every format known to man. But does this year’s effort hit the back of the onion bag off the stantion? Or is it a spooned miss from three yards? We took look at the Xbox 360 version and put it through it’s paces.
If you are a long term Fifa player, or even if you are playing for the first time – you are likely to get quite a shock when you first boot up the latest version of the game. Sure the presentation is still as top notch as you would expect – with crisp graphics swirling around the screen to introduce you into the game, but the gameplay (they say) has changed so dramatically that they force you to go through a defensive tutorial before you start. I was sceptical. And I zoomed through the tutorials without hardly taking any notice. Then I played a career game. And got murdered four nil. Then I went online. And lost nine nil. And again online. And lost six nil. Then back to career. And lost five nil. Are you detecting a pattern here?
Yep – EA have most certainly altered the dynamics of the game, and this is possibly the most radical overhaul of a franchise I have ever seen. You have to play this game with your head just as much as you do with your thumbs. When you are defending you have to be VERY careful not to drag your player out of position. As soon as you find yourself being dragged into the wrong area of the pitch you need to make sure you are switching cover between players. If you don’t you are going to be exposed very quickly. When defending it is essential that you master the jockeying skill. And you can no longer just go running pell mell into a player to win the ball. You need to actually tackle by pressing the B button. Is the player getting away from you? Then the B button will pull his shirt. Beside him? Then it will shoulder barge. But don’t be too overzealous or a free kick will be given away.
This means that when the opposition are attacking you, you must make sure that you concentrate with every fibre of your being to make sure you shepherd them into the corner before making your tackle. It is a very impressive feat of programming.
Passing is improved to the extent that it is now the best I think it has ever been in a football game, period. Every pass you make is controlled by a power bar and the level of control you have is superb. You can place the ball exactly where you want it, and the intelligence of the AI is similarly improved. When pinging the ball around in midfield you nearly always have options, and pressing the left shoulder button makes computer players start beautifully judged runs which you can try and pick out. Yes, it takes a long time to get used to, but when you do this game is an absolute joy to play…..
Offline (we will look at online seperately) the gameplay modes really haven’t changed since last year. Career mode is the same, and you can also set up cups and play through them with your team. You can create a pro and use him in various modes online and off, and build his attributes. It is a shame that they haven’t improved this aspect of the game – but when you see what they have done online you can justify this.
Overall then, in terms of gameplay this is quite possibly, without any hyperbole whatsoever, the best implementation of the beautiful game yet committed to console. Admittedly, it is very much a simulation now – and some may not like this. A lot of effort needs to go in to make it enjoyable and you cannot score easy goals. But surely this level of depth is to be welcomed? At one stage I was sprinting clear of the opposition defence with Suarez, hammering the sprint button, only to see him pull up realistically with a torn hamstring. It is truly stunning what EA have created here. A fantastic job.
Of course all is not perfect – and a few glitches from past games still rear their ugly head. Switching of players is still not as responsive as it might be. There are times you will pass to a player, and hammer the switch button – only for nothing to happen and the opponent steal the ball. And the AI is punishingly difficult this year too. There are difficulty settings, of course. But generally you may find yourself having to play a level down to what you used to in Fifa 11.
But believe me – these are minor details in the whole scheme of things.
Every year you think that EA cannot possibly improve things on the graphics front, and ever year they somehow manage it. This year is no exception. The facial models are more precise and realistic, and the crowd and nets look even better than they did before – the former far more realistic.
The much vaunted “player impact engine” comes into play on the pitch with every tackle, push, and shoulder barge producing far more realistic animations. As well as the previous hamstring pull I mentioned, I have also seen a player fall awkwardly and dislocate his shoulder. It was actually wince inducing to watch. It is this level of detail that shows what EA have achieved here. It is scary to think this level of graphical realism is being achieved on an Xbox 360. It is hard to think of anyway the graphics can be improved.
No Andy Gray and Richard Keyes this year, for obvious reasons. Funnily enough – no female linespeople either! Instead the commentary duties are taken up by Andy Townsend and, errrrr, someone else. But the lack of star names isn’t a problem. The narration now fits in much better with what happens on screen. The commentators remember your last match and react accordingly. Play a friend online, for example, and the commentators will remark on the result of the last match between you. It’s a lovely touch. Unfortunately, there is as usual rather too much repetition – but I guess this is unavoidable. Again, EA have improved this area and there really isn’t much I can criticise.
Online has received the biggest overhaul of the lot and it is now absolutely awesome. It takes more than a few leaves out of Call of Duty’s books. You now have XP – the same as you do in the first person shooters – which you build up by achieving promotions and beating friends. Everything is stored in an “online hub” where you can compare your XP levels with friends over a daily, weekly, or all time period. Every day you get a challenge. Beat it – and your maximum XP cap for that day goes up. The challenge could be, for example, being Arsenal and 1-0 down after 36 minutes. You have to win 3-1.
On the left of the hub is a list of your friends and whether they are online at the time or not. Play them, and it lists all the results you have ever had against them. You play in “seasons” of ten matches, and at the end of the season the winner gets the cup, and the rivalry starts all over again. It is beautifully implemented.
The same system is now used in online ranked matches – called head to head seasons. Now you start off in league ten, and you get matched against others in the same league who are playing with the same rank of team. You are set a target of points to reach within your ten matches – 12 points. Gain this, and you get promoted. Then you play your next ten matches in division nine – you can get promoted, relegated, or stay where you are. Not only does this keep your interest alive it also ensures you are matched only against others of a similar standard. It makes for brilliantly close matches.
All the time, your friends achievements are being notified to you by pop up. This never happens during a match for obvious reasons – but when you are going round the menus, if a friend wins a match you will know about it. Again, this is all fantastically integrated.
Add to this all the old modes returning – Ultimate team, online clubs etc etc, I can do nothing but award the online aspect a full mark 10/10. I cannot think of any way to improve.
You may think it’s cheeky to expect you to update every year – but I am afraid this year is an absolute no brainer. I am sure this review will already have persuaded you but if not then I just need to conclude with two words. BUY IT. This game has reconnected me with people I haven’t gamed with for years, and even persuaded me to start this site up. It therefore proudly becomes the site’s first review and becomes the site’s first recommendation. EA should be congratulated on producing the world’s greatest ever football simulation. What the hell are they going to do next year?