Pros: Nice looking, many modes, ambitious ideas.
Cons: A lot of control choices, but none are quite right..
Sometimes you find a game that seems to do everything right. A game that finds the perfect control scheme that makes every action feel intuitive and natural. In the soccer sports genre, that game, for me, was PES 2009: Pro Evolution Soccer. This was a problem when I started playing FIFA Soccer 12; for me it was very hard to get past the fact that it wasn’t PES 2009.
The Basics: Many Modes of Soccer in Stadiums and on the Streets
FIFA’s design is fairly interesting. You have various modes; there is full scale soccer or street soccer, the latter of which has less players and smaller fields. There is a tournament mode and you can also create an individual player and work him up from local street athlete to big-team star. You can play as a team manager. You can compete in an InterCity Cup. The main menu is laid out as a city which will expand and gain in population as you win games.
The feel of street and professional soccer in the game is quite different. Street games take place in small areas and are fast-moving and hectic, with high scores, as soccer games go. Professional games take place with players loping along huge soccer fields; turnovers are so common that games can easily end in a 0-0 score.
From that description I would expect to like street soccer better, but surprisingly I found it fairly annoying. I often lost track of where the ball was amidst the game’s tumble of bodies.
The Controls: Many Choices, But Is There a Right One?
This confusion underlined my main objection to the controls, in that tackling and shooting use the same button. Too many times I would tackle, get the ball and then, before I realized I had it, shoot from across the field.Fortunately, FIFA has a lot of control choices, and while they all have that flaw, some are decidedly more usable than others. The simplest control scheme involves pressing and holding buttons on the remote, which is the ideal system for someone who wants something brain-dead easy. You can play either with the remote, a remote plus a nunchuk or a classic controller. The remote can optionally be used as a pointer to aim the ball.
After much experimentation I found I had the best luck using the remote with the nunchuk, which allowed me to control where I ran, and with the pointer option. While I appreciate FIFA’s determination to have control schemes for every taste, I would have preferred one really good system to having to sort my way through a set of so-so ones.
Once I found a control set up I liked I found the game somewhat more enjoyable. The street stadiums are rather quaint, if perhaps more perfectly designed for soccer than real-life courtyards, and player animations are fairly convincing. And in spite of my struggles actually making a point, I still enjoyed the measured progress of professional games. Still, the nagging feeling that I’d seen this done much better kept me from fully committing to FIFA.
Verdict: A Decent Game That Falls Short
To be fair, I’m not a soccer fan. If I were, I would have played at least one of the two sequels that have come out for PES 2009 since I played it. If you love soccer, and soccer video games, you are far more likely to forgive FIFA’s flaws than I am, and to work with the game until its quirks feel natural.
I reviewed FIFA Soccer 09 All-Play the same year I reviewed PES 2009, and declared it to be a decent game. But I’d played it earlier in the year, before I’d seen what a soccer game should be like. The latest FIFA game is definitely better than the last one I played, with more variety in its structure and some interesting ideas. But I enjoyed this game less than its predecessor simply because I have something so much better to compare it to. And once you’ve climbed a mountain, the view from the local hilltop will never be quite as grand.