My first impression of FIFA 12 was not good.
FIFA 12 (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PlayStation 3)
EA Canada’s endless refinement, endless iteration, has turned FIFA 12 into the Galapagos Islands -- everything from the physics engine to the controls to the high-level design choices of each mode has been rarefied, specialized, and tailored to suit its environment. It's ostensibly similar to other games in its genus, but unrecognizable in its specificity and mutation.
From here, FIFA 12 balloons outward like a circus tent, with a host of elephantine modes and options. EA Canada took a few core concepts -- it’s fun to improve, it’s fun to compete, it’s fun to collect famous soccer players like Pokémon, and it’s fun to do all these things online -- and remixed, remastered, reconfigured, and recontextualized them over and over.
Player development, both for youth squads and the player-created Virtual Pros, is particularly slow. After three seasons, virtual Joseph Leray is rated at 75 -- he hardly competes with Javier Pastore and the newly-aquired Cesc Fabregas for a starting position on my team.
But, still, these issues often get swallowed up in the enormity of FIFA 12. There’s so much content, so much flexibility, so much dynamism that it’s hard to gripe too much. Tweaked mechanics and game modes aside, the defining achievement of FIFA 12 lies in the ways individual players change the contours of the game.
Roman Palyuvchenko is no longer just a name on a character model: he likes to drop back and play as second striker, mopping up loose balls and creating plays. Aleksander Kolarov prefers making runs and crossing than he does actually defending. Mevlut Erding seems at his best sitting at the back post. boxing out smaller defenders for crosses. Andrei Arshavin and Kevin Gameiro make -- in my Twilight Zone version of Ligue 1 -- a devastatingly effective duo.
It’s weird, for example, that sports games assign arbitrary numerical values to athletes; it’s weirder still that EA Canada made an effort to eschew that reduction, to show us that pathfinding and AI aren’t -- or don’t have to be -- static and one dimensional. In the public eye, athletes tend to oscillate between being seen as outsized, outlandish personae, or reduced to a series of statistics and metrics. FIFA 12 attempts to humanize the enterprise of videogame sports simulation.
EA Canada's relative success in that attempt depends, like actually playing the game, on players' willingness to buy into the system. It's an arduous mountain to climb -- even while writing this review, I was trounced twice in a row by lowly FC Souchaux and those irascible Girondins in Bordeaux -- but there's gold in them hills.
THE VERDICT - FIFA 12
Reviewed by Joseph Leray
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