FIFA 12 is born out of observation of the strengths and weaknesses of previous iterations of the franchise. FIFA 10 was a brilliant game, and FIFA 11 built on that. Now, with FIFA 12, we have a football game that plays better than ever, and introduces a game-changing feature that will forever shape the football genre for the better – Tactical Defending. This system allows you position your players and time tackles to perfection like never before. This system introduces a number of subtle innovations, such as jockeying with a player side-by-side, following the ball while keeping track of a possible run and even tugging back on a player and pulling their shirt, hoping that they misjudge a pass due to an off balance situation. It's phenomenal when you get used to it and, once you do, you won't want to go back. The "pressure" system of previous games feels skill-less and inane by comparison. That said, it can be frustrating when these defensive mechanics go wrong, but its in no way the game's fault. It's your own mishaps that will lead to chances and potential goals conceded.
FIFA 12, like its predecessors, also has a remarkably polished production all round. The menus are slick, the graphics are top-notch and commentary is revamped and sounds fantastic. It has a big-budget feel from top to bottom. Stadiums look brilliant, animations are better than ever, and some character models are flat-out amazing. Players look exactly like their real-life counterparts, and the weather effects add a lot to the atmosphere of a football match. However, crowds still look muddled and robotic upon close inspection. In terms of audio, commentary is better than its ever been, too. Martin Tyler is now joined by Alan Smith, and their dialogue, timing and feedback are fantastic, and it feels so real that it makes FIFA even more of a joy to play. Crowd chants and cheers sound a lot more polished too, taking us ever closer to the real thing. FIFA also continues the great tradition of an awesome soundtrack to accompany the action. Indie, synth, dance and rap all make an appearance, and you'll be cheerfully humming every song within time, and that's a good thing.
Career Mode is also great this time around. Although there are some artificial issues like predictable signings from clubs (clubs always sign the same players, no matter what team you are), its a really enjoyable mode. Fixtures and competitions feel real, contracts, finance allocation and more can be messed around with, so you'll likely have an enjoyable amount of hours playing with this mode. The presentation of the mode is solid too, despite some long simulation times and having to visit team management for every injury (letting us change it before the match would have been better).
I mentioned the fantastic Tactical Defending, and it is really well implemented. It makes the game more methodical, and while some people may not take to the slow pace of games because of this, I personally found it much more enjoyable and rich as a result. Midfield is also emphasized more this time around, too, with lots of tackling, defensive midfield pressure and a backline that can easily catch a winger or striker offside. Winning a tackle or jockeying successfully looks and feels great, and it will also feel rewarding, knowing that you've just intercepted a dangerous counter-attack or cunning move.
The physics are also very impressive. Here, with the title of Player Impact Engine, players can slip when tugged, some players can pull their hamstring during an attack or defensive portion of a match, and the match can often be halted due to a serious in-game injury. These lend to the broadcast-quality presentation – you could seriously think this was a real match. I love these nuances, as they really pull you into every game, and make every situation unpredictable in one way or another.
The physics aren't perfect, though. There can be a frequent amount of instances where animations become immersion-breaking, like players falling on top of one another (and robotic models as a result), players can fly across the ground even with a slight knock, and goal celebrations, while for the most part good, can be amusing. The controls feel brilliant once again, and passing and shooting are great. Heading from a corner, curling a free kick or blocking shots (another impressive touch) are all great, and make FIFA 12 the best football game yet.
There is also the EA Sports Football Club, that gives players an endless amount of weekly challenges taken straight from the weeks (or weekends) matches. This is a superb mode that focuses on player skill, giving us some seriously challenging scenarios. Can you take a League Two side and stage a comeback against a solid Premier League side when a goal behind? Can you hold onto a 2-0 lead against AC Milan as a minnow Lecce side? These are realistic situations, and they are well-implemented. Everything in the game - winning matches, playing Challenges, Career Mode and online modes - yields XP, which goes toward levelling up in the EASFC. This is a pretty great feature, and will have you longing to playing more and more challenges for that new XP level.
FIFA 12 is essentially an infinite game, because of the hundreds of teams, dozens of leagues and several competitions and career mode opportunities. Creating leagues and tournaments is nice, and playing Be a Pro is as solid as it always has been. Taking that Pro online makes for some interesting matches, and the Seasons mode is cool. There is Ultimate Team this time, and there is a major difference – it is now on-disc instead of DLC. Here, you open bronze, silver or gold packs, attaining random quality players in a bid to create the best team possible. You then take that team online or against the CPU and participate in matches to unlock more packs. It's a really great mode that has hours and hours of replayability. FIFA 12 will last you well into next year before the inevitable release of FIFA 13.
It is a superb football game that makes leaps forward to take us closer to the real thing. Even when the attacking flow of matches, Career Mode, online and Ultimate Team come into the fray, it eventually all revolves around the Tactical Defending and physics system, and they work fantastically well. Despite some small hiccups, FIFA 12 is the best football game since Pro Evo 6 all those years ago, and it makes me intrigued as to what EA Sports does with its next iteration.
Overall – 9/10