FIFA 12: Evolution of football
Review platform: PlayStation 3 (also available on Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Vita, Xperia Play, PlayStation Portable, 3DS, iOS)
Electronic Arts has demonstrated an unrelenting thirst for improvement with regards its FIFA franchise. After making a successful transfer to the third generation platform, FIFA has year on year emerged with a stronger game.
Last year's instalment, FIFA 11, proved an absorbing addition to the series, arguably raising the bar to a new level, so it was with much anticipation that this year's offering arrived.
The immediate impression during the opening minutes of our debut match, having engaged acutely with Martin Tyler's tutorial about the new approach to defending in FIFA 12, was that this game has evolved. It feels so different.
During the early stages, it is human nature to attempt to play as if operating FIFA 11. This approach of resorting to a well-trodden path is doomed to failure at the best of times, and even more so with FIFA 12 - in particular, defending is initially alien, and a test of one's mettle.
And so begins the challenge of 'Tactical Defending'. Whereas previously simply holding down the tackle button would yield an almost guaranteed pinching of the ball, this time a single press will motion a lunge. If you have not timed this right, be prepared to be left exposed with the opposition skipping away as you frantically look to call upon a team-mate to close down the space created by your hapless hanging leg.
Running alongside this consciousness of timing is the option of 'jockeying' an attacker, which sees you needing to move goalside and get into the right position to make a tackle. It sounds like a lot of work, because it is. Frustrating? Yes, initially, but therein lies the making, rather than the breaking, of FIFA 12.
Further developments made include a new 'Player Impact Engine' and 'Pro Player Intelligence'. The former has certainly added to the more tactile nature of the game, rewarding the player with a more genuine experience - opponents shoulder barge one another, battling for possession, and the contact looks and feels physical. FIFA 12 also has the added bonus of improving player movement, with the evolution of the 360 degree control meaning there are spins, jinks and feints that mirror real life.
The 'Pro Player Intelligence' serves to ensure each player excels in their real-life strengths. So, it was noticeable that a more creative player, such as Wesley Sneijder in one instance, had a wonderful aptitude for finding that killer ball. Indeed, Cristiano Ronaldo proved a continual menace during an encounter versus Real Madrid, forcing the defensive team to double up on the Portuguese time and time again.
It's the little things, too: that you can now take a quick throw-in brings a smile.
Off the pitch, the list of added features is extensive, including a slicker Career Mode. The superbly spiced-up Transfer Deadline Day emulates the drama of the real thing and had us immersed and struggling to pull ourselves away from the screen.
Online Mode is polished and more in-depth. The 'Head-to-Head Online Seasons' gives the matches played more emphasis as you embark on your own mini ten-match campaign, urging you to play just one more match in a bid to earn promotion.
The bells and whistles aside, ultimately at the crux of any football game is the gameplay and, here, FIFA 12 duly delivers once more. As with the beautiful game played away from the screen, FIFA 12 serves up unpredictability, with no two outings the same. What is apparent is that FIFA 12 is a challenging experience. One feels this is the type of game that rewards the hours put in.
Patience is key. Just as in real life, to go gung-ho into tackles will leave you with egg on your face, and to think you will be a master from the off is naive. The fact that practice makes perfect is a positive, for it leaves you with a game that has you coming back for more and more.