Saturday, 12 November 2011

FIFA 12 [PS3]

The football giant is back with some addictive, fresh features but still a bunch of little annoyances.

Adding some contact to non-contact sports
The big selling point in this new FIFA title is the "Impact Engine", which is where momentum and weight are taken into account when players collide - meaning that slight tactical nudges can knock a player off his run for the goal. However, in other cases a slight jostle will lead to one player cartwheeling across the pitch like a Catherine Wheel - slightly ridiculous to say the least. I'd say that it feels like they were trying to build a "mud wrestling simulator" and then thought it might work as a football game. Now don't get me wrong, the impact engine does add a lot of depth and realism to the game. Sadly, there are many other instances where 4 players will get stuck together and start glitchy humping each other, which makes me feel the need (as a totally straight, heterosexual, not-gay, masculine manly man) to put the controller down. This isn't why you play FIFA! Well, maybe for some it is. But not for me! It was for the skilful, athletic, testosteroney glory! Man against man in combat which avoids contact in any significant way. Not like the brutish rugby or American football! Minimal physical violence but lots of balls moving very fast. It's a middle class Englishman's thing. We like cricket, golf and football. We may not know it straight away but one day the inherent trigger will just switch and then that'll be it. Poof. Turned into a golf watcher. Or worse: a golf video game player (for reference, see my upcoming review on Tiger Woods 2012 - The Masters on PS3).

See below for some examples of the glitches I was describing:

Video 1: Watch the end of this video for some glitchy cuddling

Video 2: And this is a tackle gone wrong

Ultimate Team turned me into an eight-year-old
Possibly the most remarkably addictive addition to the series is the "Ultimate Team" mode, which can be most likened to the childhood pursuit of getting packs of footballer stickers and filling in an album. This was something I did as a primary school child (ages 6 - 10 maybe) so appeals to the still ever-present child within me. The feeling of going to the shop and spending money (both in-game credits and real world cash - between £0.25 and £1.99) is quite a giddying feeling. The game also does an exciting sequence of: Pause, Rip packet, SEE SHINY RARE STICKERS! This addition was present as DLC in last year's game, but having it in all its wallet-burningly addictive glory right off the disc is a welcome change. I spent quite a lot of my time in this section getting better and better players, which you in turn use in a squad and participate in single player and on-line tournaments. The on-line rankings show you who the week's best/richest teams in the world - and either some people are spending a shit load of money or have no life whatsoever, which amounts to the same thing. 

Shiny, Shiny, Shiny
Presentation is very good overall. The whole game has a polish and shine that closely resembles TV football presentation and it enhances the realism greatly. There are many occasions where you can forget that you are looking at a video game and truly believe you are watching a real-life game. There is something quite giddying about going over a replay to see how exactly the players fell over each other, or checking in slow-motion how your free kick went millimetres wide of the post. Seeing the action from a variety of angles and at stop-frame speed just goes to emphasise the fluidity of the animations and the top-quality graphics on show.

The ONLY gripe I have in terms of visuals is one that is present in ALL football games. The players look life-like. The grass sways in the breeze. Stadiums tower above you and gleam in the sunlight. And the spectators look like cardboard cut-outs painted by a five year old. I understand that in order to maintain a high frame rate on the high definition players that there needs to be some sacrifices, but these could easily be worked around. Camera focus - have it so players are sharp and the backgrounds (all the spectators) are slightly blurred - then it doesn't matter that they look like crap! And certainly don't do what I keep seeing happen in FIFA 12, which is to have camera angles that look directly at the awfully drawn fans! That just highlights the fact that it's a game. On a machine. And you're not actually the puppet-master god forcing Rooney to cuddle Messi.

Sounds & Commentators
The sounds in match are almost spot on and it must be said that the commentary has moved on a lot in the past few years, and the new commentator (Alan Smith) brings a fresh feel to the comments provided. Sadly, the instances where one man would shout "And is it going to be a goal?!?!", when no player was anywhere near having a shot again breaks that web of immersion offered here. The level of customisation available in the soundtracks is spot on too. The on-disc music is fairly rubbish but you are able to select playlists from your Hard Disk Drive (HDD) for different situations, such as matches, menus and modes, gives you the opportunity to play whatever sounds you want (my personal favourite being Christmas songs given the time of year).

Menus & Modes
The menus are still brutish to work through - reminiscent of old football manager games on the PC - make it a chore to get to things like squad management and transfer options in career mode. A more streamlined team management interface is sorely needed. Also, having the season play out day-by-day and having brief-but-barely-readable messages flash past is somehow both too fast and too slow. Just skipping to the next match day instantly would be great, otherwise show each day's headlines and have a button press to move to the next day would allow you to read the messages that were interesting. On this point, there is a very organic feel to the seasons and leagues - but as I have said, you often don't have time to read what has been going on. 

The on-line modes are both grand in scale and highly depressing all at the same time. All your in-game actions add to the tallies that are displayed on-line, so the fastest goal or most goals in a match will be compared with other players through the "EA Sports Football Club". This is obviously to offer bragging rights and on-line cred, but if like me you're a little bit shit at football games then it just highlights how really shite I am. "Yay! I just about made it and have taken Brighton and Hove Albion to the top of the Premier League on Normal difficulty! Yay! Oh, bollocks. One of my friends just scored his 1 millionth goal as Sheffield Wednesday on Legendary difficulty! Oh sod off FIFA 12, you've upset me now".

"There is an issue connecting with the EA server"
Constant connection issues for everyone, everywhere - particularly in the first couple of months post-release. Doesn't really help a game that relies on on-line involvement so heavily that it cuts you out every other time you sign in. Then there's the lag issues while in games - players seem to stand there looking confused when you try to get a bit of a kick around going and the only thing that gets their heads back in the game is a ball stop and slow dribble. Quick 1-2? Not on your life. 

Another joy was the experience of getting to the end of a tournament only to be booted out of the final game that I HAVE JUST WON because "There is an issue connecting with the EA server". Pile of pants. 
Play again or throw my controller at the screen? 
Perhaps one, then t'other.

So then after weeks of games cutting out and some bizarre AI lag issues, the latest massive patch, which has made no discernible improvement, added in a podcast which started harping on about how they've sorted everything out! No no no no no! Sort things out and then have 2 overpaid EA nerds smugly talking over my graceful football finesse - don't you dare talk again until you've sorted the technical issues out. Go on, FIFA 12, into the corner with you. Bad FIFA 12.

I will say that the lag issues are rare enough so as not to really put you off playing on-line, but having several games won that are never registered because of the EA error message of death will make you think twice - and certainly doesn't persuade me to put card details in and pay money.

It's certainly a step up from previous incarnations, offering a very deep, immersive and interactive experience. The only problem is the niggles that are still present bring the whole illusion crashing down - and can be a credible risk to valuable gadgets.

I still recommend this thoroughly to anyone who likes football games and if you're willing to give this a go then I think even non-football gamers could enjoy this. If you're willing to be laughed at by the on-line community for the first 6 months of play, that is.

Have a go. It's realistic, exciting and shiny. And only a little bit annoying.

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