The FIFA 12 demo is good. So good, in fact, that it’s likely to mean that the combined FIFA 12 review you’re about to see splattered across the internet will report nothing short of a physics revolution. Lee Hall has the story.
When EA unveiled its annual big idea for FIFA we didn’t expect them to be shoving PIE down our necks. Luckily we’re not talking balti or mince-and-accidentally-discarded-jagged-fingernail here – FIFA’s Player Impact Engine (PIE) is a game-changing physics revolution, if something of an acquired taste.
PIE hits you in the face like a custard projectile, unlike last year’s subtle keynote addition, a suite of characterful tweaks under the ‘Personality+’ umbrella. The fundamental changes it effects will frustrate, but ultimately delight, fans who have one eye on improving FIFA rival, Pro Evolution Soccer.
Alongside tactical defending PIE slows the game a fraction and places emphasis on individual battles all over the pitch. It renders players with the ball more robust and prevents rash defending from spoiling matches through breaks in play or unfair turnover of possession. Crucially, it makes FIFA 12 more engaging than its predecessor and hard to master.
We’re conscious that judging a final game from a demo is a bit like predicting the Premier League champions after a handful of matches – an inexact, though irresistible, science. But the omens are good for FIFA 12.
It doesn’t start well, mind, as your first reaction to the defending is ‘this is weird’. Containment and calculated intervention are the watchwords, hardly terms synonymous with sexy football. But FIFA 12 is well-balanced and the demo has left us itching for the full game.
Let’s look closely at the moreish art of mastering defensive play… Last year pressing the man in possession meant jamming the A button (on Xbox 360) which caused your defender to charge in until he won the ball or committed a foul. In FIFA 12 pressing will only get you so far. You’ll close down a rival, but must actively seek to win the ball by sliding, sticking your foot in, or tugging at your opponent. It pays to hang back with A, which is now the contain command, or send in a teammate to stand up the man (RB) while you track a runner or cover the space behind. Defending successfully requires you to engage your brain more than ever before, making split-second strategic decisions.
PIE slows the game a fraction and places emphasis on individual battles all over the pitch. It renders players with the ball more robust and prevents rash defending from spoiling matches through breaks in play or unfair turnover of possession. Crucially, it makes FIFA 12 more engaging than its predecessor and hard to master.
Match ups are more physical too. Flair and genius are championed – not least through near-flawless stats for the likes of Lionel Messi who shines brightly next to lesser stars in the demo’s Man City , Arsenal, Barcelona , Marseille and Dortmund sides. But the nitty gritty of pushing and pulling opponents and jostling for possession are integral to gameplay and not punished by whistle-happy refs.
You’ll see this physicality in subtle touches – shifts in body weight from players resisting a challenge, wonderful stumbles when a winger is shepherded out of play to concede a goal kick or tiny pauses as defenders gathers themselves after chesting an over-hit pass. These are more than mere animations, affecting gameplay by opening opportunities to nab possession and mount a counter-attack.
Defending will take some getting used to, but the fact you don’t mind getting dumped on your backside when outwitted by a jinking forward speaks volumes for the game’s balance and authenticity. It happened in our demo marathon many a time, starting when the man himself Lionel Messi picked up the ball on the edge of our Man City box. We tried to contain him, but he dipped his shoulder one way, then the next, and eked out the tiniest space into which he flashed a precision shot. 1-0 Barcelona . Nice work, FIFA.
That set a positive tone for the following hours of demo play. The only major source of disappointment was the frustrating ineffectiveness of slide tackling. Players cover very little distance with a lunge and struggle to stretch and dispossess attackers. How we yearn to try out the tackling with some lower league cloggers and clatter Cristiano Ronaldo…
FIFA’s new gameplay doesn’t simply affect defending. The changes have been made to improve the experience of attackers as much as to boost the challenge of keeping the ball out of the net.
Men in possession are afforded less space, hence the pace is calmed and the need to pick a pass less urgent. Dribbling is subtly improved too, more by the fact you have time to consider your options than by the more responsive footwork of your players.
Off the pitch the demo showcases or suggests a series of changes to presentation and content that should improve the game.
Out-of-favour Andy Gray has been dropped from the commentary quicker than you can ask “Can you shove your hands down my pants, love?” in a Scottish accent. The broadcast aesthetics have been souped up to match the ever-growing expectations of the Sky Sports era with a barrage of swishing graphics. And the promised improvements to stadia and match atmosphere manifest themselves in throatier, more reactionary crowds.
More important that these superficial adjustments are new modes locked out in the demo version. Online friendlies are 10-game seasons pitting you against mates with a trophy and the chance to defend your title as a prize. Head-to-head seasons are a welcome new addition, enabling you to earn promotions to higher levels, rather than simply competing for rank online. The cumulative result of these squad additions promises to be a far more engaging online mode.
Our impressions of the demo are overwhelmingly positive. Sure, it’s easy to fawn over a game without being able to turn it over and examine the warty under belly of potentially neglected game modes, gameplay balancing and online glitches in the final release. And we are too long in the tooth to predict an unbridled success before we’re ripped apart every inch of the finished game. But on the evidence of the action on the pitch – which is where it really matters – FIFA 12 should be an absolute belter.
FIFA 12 releases on September 27 in the US and September 29 in Europe.