Fifa 12 Review - October 3rd 2011

A shabby Asian man mumbles to you through a five o'clock shadow, beneath him subtitles dryly describe the intricacies of zonal marking in the latest PES. This is the announcement video. Exciting. Cut to FIFA 12's debut vid-doc. Slick HD footage and a welcoming voice concisely lay out the groundwork: improved tackling, dribbling and colliding. Boom. Konami, are you watching this time?

In the same way dogs are like their owners, games are like their vid-docs, and FIFA 12's no exception; it's confident, professional, and puts you in safe hands. The first evidence lays in the new collision system.

Poor fools impaled by flying legs, balled fists thrusted into skulls and jutted clean out the other side - tackling in football games often looks more the climax of a Saw movie, collision detection never FIFA's strong suit. In fact it's the only bugbear preventing EA Sports' all-conquering football series from almost bewildering realism.

Player collision detection has been massively improved.

Players are already astonishingly lifelike, similarities edging closer to photorealistic the higher you climb up the league (sorry, Swindon); commentators Martin Tyler and his less misogynistic new partner Alan Smith 'um', 'ah' and correct themselves as if they're not plonked in a booth reading from a sheet; licenses from leagues as low as England's Npower League 2 and as far as Poland's Polska Liga give the series a comprehensive air of authenticity. But holographic tackling let the side down. Until now.

The player impact engine is FIFA's concession towards Euphoria. If you can't beat them, hire a bunch of physics boffins who know binary. While the engine doesn't quite rival the chaos theory of Euphoria-powered games like Backbreaker- some knocks look canned and players occasionally hit the floor as if cushioned by cotton wool - the lack of limb-clipping is a major step forward. PES 2012 feels positively inert by comparison. Jostling midfielders butt heads, arms get convincingly pushed aside instead of inserted into torsos, and onrushing keepers will send strikers flipping through the air like they're on a wireframe. The smaller and more innocuous the collision, the more impressive the result.

The A.I. is brutal on the harder difficulty setting.

Brushing up against your opponent's thighs might excite for a while, but sooner or later you'll need to win the ball. This is where the second of FIFA's major refinements comes in - tackling - and unfortunately it's the sort of misstep that usually results in a tangle of legs and a swapping of insurance details. Hold A to contain a player, when the moment's right pressing B to launch a tackle, or using RB to call a teammate over. It simply doesn't work against the computer. Opponents rarely face you head on, so containing them with A is akin to herding sheep. Unless you're facing a particularly brazen winger they'll turn tail, with your shouts of "come by!" proving futile. Calling teammates for added pressure sends them scurrying all the faster. Bizarrely, it's possible to chase cautious strikers all the way back to their own goal. The system isn't broken, it's just rendered ineffective by the playing style of AI opponents.

The new tackling system emphasizes possession and caution. It's not rare to concede 60% to 70% custody to better teams who'll infuriate by continually playing the ball the width of the field and then turning their back and legging it if you get close. Wining the majority of balls through interceptions and unforced errors is more realistic, yes, but not more fun. Opposition players now seem almost superhumanly adapt at keeping you at bay with a combination of sharp turns and cowardice, so this makes your positioning - rather than your persistence - crucial. For those unsure about the changes, legacy controls - the tackling scheme from FIFA 11 - is an option. What's ineffective for one player might be game-changing for the next.

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