Each year, as summer draws to a close and remaining indoors glued to the television with a console controller in hand suddenly becomes a more attractive prospect, EA Sports and Konami lock horns in a duel to crown the definitive soccer game. And after years languishing behind the Pro Evolution Soccer series, EA’s FIFA Soccer franchise is beginning to enjoy its day in the sun. Packed to the gunwales with official licenses, sleek aesthetic touches, and (finally) an on-field experience to match its off-field polish, it’s difficult to look past FIFA Soccer 12 as this year’s definitive soccer simulation.
And it’s with a heavy heart that I admit to this, as I’ve been an obstinate Pro Evo devotee for some 15 years—since International Superstar Soccer Pro on the PSX to be precise. In recent times, though, in the wake of startling advancements in EA Canada’s game engine and Konami’s comparatively meagre response, it’s been impossible to remain faithful. FIFA Soccer 12, then, only extends the distance between its foremost rival, leading the charge with revamped defensive techniques and the brilliant Impact Engine. The former places emphasis on the more conservative elements of a player’s defence, allowing you to keep an attacking member of the opposition at bay by “jockeying” with them via the left trigger, while pressure can be applied—or a shirt can be tugged—in neck-and-neck tussles with the X button. This grants the player a much-needed alternative to hurtling into every challenge with a reckless slide tackle, thus rewarding one’s patient defending with these chess-like tête à tête contests.
The Impact Engine is an even more radical innovation, and makes ghosting through defenders into the box much more difficult than it’s been on previous FIFA Soccer outings. Here, and this applies even more so as one advances through the difficulty levels, any nudge or slight collision against another player (whether opponents or teammates) will affect your balance and scotch your momentum. So no matter how many elaborate step-overs or fancy roulettes you try, going through a player is impossible, as it should be.
That aside, EA Canada only make modest tweaks to their tried-and-tested game engine: 30-yard thunderbolts and 80-yard mazing runs are still sensibly few and far between, and the rewards are still reaped most frequently through a patient, passing approach. Essentially, this brings FIFA Soccer 12, for better or for worse, closer to an authentic soccer experience than the arcade-like feel of its rivals and predecessors. The game’s evolution toward authenticity proves to be a double-edged sword though: For many fans, imitating humdrum 0-0 draws and clinging to scrappy tap-in goals is never going to be as attractive a prospect as executing gravity-defying bicycle kicks. In this respect, at least, the FIFA Soccer franchise is almost becoming too realistic, and could be taking the simulation aspect more literally than some fans might hope.