There's a reason FIFA Football (that's FIFA Soccer to those in the US) on the Vita lacks the "12" tag of its console counterparts. Many of the franchise's compelling new features, such as the Tactical Defending System, Precision Dribbling, and the Player Impact Engine are missing, as is the excellent EA Sports Football Club online mode. While that's disappointing, the classic FIFA gameplay is still a lot of fun, bringing all the thrills, spills, and drama of the world's biggest sport to the Vita. There's fluidity to the gameplay that produces some wonderful football, and that paired with the official licences, great visuals, and slew of modes makes for an experience few sports games can match.
Impressively, all of FIFA 12's single-player modes have made the jump to the Vita. At the heart of these is Virtual Pro, in which you create a player, selecting his age, play style, and position (goalkeeper is an option here). You can also customise the physical appearance of your player, but unlike in the console version of the game, you can't map your own face onto him--a strange omission given that the Vita has built-in cameras. Once you've got your player set up, you can use him throughout Career mode--and even the practice arena--building up his statistics and earning accomplishments.
Career mode lets you compete either as a single player working through a 15-year career; as a player manager, with whom you manage your team's lineup and compete on the pitch; or as a manager, with whom you take a backseat to the on-pitch action and instead focus on tactics and building up your squad. There's something for everyone, and if you tire of one mode, you can easily switch between them to mix things up. There's also an array of tournaments to play through, from the FA Cup through to custom leagues and knockout tournaments, as well as quick exhibition matches.
While the single-player modes are lifted from FIFA 12, the action on the pitch certainly isn't. Improvements such as the Tactical Defending System, Precision Dribbling, and the Player Impact Engine are nowhere to be found. The lack of tactical defending is particularly jarring, with the old "pressing" technique feeling dated and requiring little in the way of skill. That said, the Vita still plays a mean game of football, mostly based on that of FIFA 11. Player movement is quick, without feeling unrealistic; the constant tussling of players makes long runs fabulously tense; and goals range from the mundane to the spectacular, with all manner of crosses, runs, and outrageous volleys possible.
Tight controls add to the natural feel of the game, letting you concentrate on winning matches, rather than worrying about which button to press. The lack of triggers on the Vita means some commands have had to be remapped, but thankfully, it has been sensibly done. The same can't be said of the touch controls, which replicate the functions of the traditional controls, and are often more of a hindrance than a help. If you're on the ball, you can tap on a player to pass to him, with longer taps adding more power to the pass; when you're off the ball, tapping on a player switches control to him. It's a simple system, but having to take your hands off the analogue stick or face buttons to do these things feels awkward.
The touch controls fare better when used during set pieces such as corners. Instead of using the analogue stick to control the direction of the kick, you can swipe in the direction you want the kick to go, adding curve with a simple flick of the wrist. There's more touch-tomfoolery on offer with the rear touch pad, which is used to shoot. The rear surface represents the goal, with your finger position determining the direction of your shot. It works well for penalties and free kicks, in which the direct line of sight makes it easier to visualise where your shot is going. For regular shots, a small picture of the goal appears at the bottom of the screen, with coloured dots showing you the position and strength of your shot. Depending on how you hold the Vita, it can be far too easy to unintentionally shoot just by adjusting your grip. If you're finding the controls troublesome, you can at least switch off the rear touch pad and touch screen and stick to the traditional controls.
Like the action on the pitch, FIFA Football's online modes don't quite match up to those of its console cousins. There's a range of ranked and unranked matches available, with global leaderboards letting you keep track of your progress. You can also take part in custom leagues set up by you or your friends, but none of the modes come close to the depth of Online Seasons or EA Sports Football Club from FIFA 12. Matches are at least smooth and lag-free, and competing against a real player throws up exciting challenges you simply don't face against the AI--though the AI is still good on its own terms.
Despite some omissions in FIFA Football, it's as close to the full-blown console versions as a portable FIFA game has ever got, playing a precise, challenging, and--most importantly--exciting game of football. The great gameplay is backed up by a slick presentation with easy-to-navigate menus, well-delivered commentary, and crisp, detailed visuals. Deep single-player modes and smooth online play ensure you have plenty to keep you occupied as well. Don't be too disappointed you're not getting FIFA 12--you're still in for a really great time.'