The on-the-field product is excellent and, depending on how well you take to Tactical Defending, a big leap forward.
masterpinky2000 wrote this review on .
Thus, there is one question that will determine your ultimate reaction to this game: are you a Manager Mode devotee, or do you care only about the action on the pitch? All sports gamers are an amalgam of these two types, but which type you lean toward may well dictate your reaction to this new edition of EA's FIFA Soccer series.
FIFA's recent preeminence has thankfully not resulted in EA resting on its laurels, and the studio has made several ambitious changes to both the game mechanics and the seasons-long Manager Mode. The most notable ones in my experience are:
1) Tactical Defending -- Though this feature was less hyped in game previews than the Player Impact collision system, this is the far more important of the two. Tactical Defending forces the player to be a more intelligent and proactive defender than in previous iterations of the series -- you can no longer turbo around the field and automatically tackle the ball-handler, you know have to properly time a manual tackle or intercept a pass by reading the offense's formation.
2) Youth Academy -- In Manager Mode, you can no longer rely on scouts to unearth 17, 18, or 19 year old prospects who are already starting quality players for an elite squad. Instead, you will sign players at a younger age (14-16) and develop them more gradually.
3) More Realistic Manager Mode Time Frames -- In older FIFAs, you pretty much could do whatever you wanted to do, whenever you wanted to do it. Want to get rid of a player? List him for transfer or loan and he would be gone within 2 weeks guaranteed. Now, the AI is more intelligent, and clubs aren't falling all over themselves to grab your leftovers or serve as incubators for your youngest players. List a quality winger like Affelay and you'll get a loan offer quickly; but list a more borderline prospect, and chances are no one will offer to take him. Moreover, the timeline varies widely -- you could list someone for transfer and not manage to sell them until the last day of the transfer window, or not at all.
All in all, the changes combine to make the best soccer game I've ever played on the pitch, but one of the most frustrating off of it. Tactical defending adds an element of depth to the series that it's been missing -- possession becomes more important than ever, and you actually have to think while tracking back and blunting the opposition's attacks. On higher difficulty settings, every CPU squad (even inferior teams that are facing relegation) possess frighteningly accurate passers and great build-up play, and it will take a concerted defensive effort to win the ball back. On the one hand, this makes defending entertaining and meaningful. On the other hand, it is a little unrealistic to see mediocre squads, which lack dominant midfielders of Xavi or Iniesta's ilk, playing a Barcelona-like possession-based game and carving apart world-class defenses with incisive through balls.
However, the new quality is counterbalanced by a frustrating Manager Mode. The new Youth Academy idea is quite brilliant, but the problem is that all teams start with nothing (including noted systems like Barcelona, Ajax, etc.). Given that these new players start at much lower ratings (the best max out around 68-70 upon joining the senior squad), it takes many years (and active playing time) to develop them. Effectively, this means that the best real-world teams, with the best youth-development programs, will actually have to re-build their squads entirely from transfers for the first six years. Moreover, to the extent that one wants to develop one's own youth players, you have to give them starting spots and significant playing time, which sabotages a team's chances of contending.
I understand the motivation for change, since the old system was entirely unrealistic, and it was simply too easy to develop elite stars. However, this new system is equally unrealistic, because it is impossible to develop star players while working with your best starting 11. In the real world, of course, the way youth players develop is by playing on the junior squads (e.g., Barcelona B, which has produced and promoted prospects like Thiago, Isaac Cuenca, and a few others just this past year). But these don't exist in FIFA 12, saddling the first-team with the entire duty of player development.
Youth development is also flawed in another significant way: CPU teams do not devote significant resources to it. Thus, after several seasons of Manager Mode, you will likely have several youngsters rated 65-75 and with potential of becoming long-term starters. However, no one else in the world will have comparable talent (a CPU Barcelona, for instance, may have only two or three youth players, and they'll be rated below 50). This is pretty ridiculous and ruins the game after 10 years, when tons of superstars have retired but no new players have risen up to replace them. In effect, FIFA is predicting a crippling shortage of elite talent in world football in the near future, to the point where Real Madrid, Manchester United, and AC Milan become no better than the LA Galaxy of 2011. Such an outcome is so absurd that its regular occurrence in FIFA 12's Manager Mode nearly ruins the experience.
Because I myself love Manager Mode and the task of building a squad over the course of several seasons, I cannot whole-heartedly endorse this game. This isn't to say that it is not a fun and worthwhile purchase. The thrill of orchestrating a well-organized counterattack, and putting the ball in the back of the net, more than justifies the purchase price by itself. It improves on FIFA 10 and 11's on-field action in significant ways, but takes a step back in the area of the game to which many players devote the most time. For those similar to myself in this regard, it may be best to hold off until EA spends more time (hopefully in next year's edition) refining the management side of this game.