When the 3DS launched in March, Konami instantly seized the opportunity to provide the first football – or soccer, for our US readers – title on the 3DS, with Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D. While that title was prompt but light on content, FIFA 12 has emerged for the second half of the year to attempt a comeback; can it turn the game on its head?
Of vital importance to any football title are solid controls and gameplay, without which the experience falls short, regardless of multiple modes or licences. In this respect, FIFA12 misses the target, but only just. To start with the positives, the controls in this title are excellent, making intuitive use of the 3DS form factor. Despite every button and control input being put to use, a small amount of time in the handy ‘Training’ mode will have you executing skills and flowing team moves in no time. Aside from standard button inputs for actions such as passing, sprinting and tackling, there’s also interesting use of the touch screen for shooting. When you’re within shooting range, typically about 30 yards from goal, the radar on the bottom screen is replaced by a goal. By tapping and holding an area of the net you can quickly control the aim and power of your shot: the accuracy depends on the player’s balance and level of ability. It won’t suit everyone, but it’s an interesting alternative if you don't just want to tap the A button.
It's unfortunate that despite a solid control setup, the actual gameplay is flawed. It’s immediately striking that the overall tempo of play is fairly laboured, and while we’d like to think that this was a stylistic choice to encourage composed play, it’s actually a result of a struggling frame rate. It does fluctuate depending on how many players are on the screen and the choice of camera angle: the wider the view, the slower the game seems to become. This is a particular problem with set pieces such as corners, where a crowded penalty area strips away any pretence of smooth animations. It's never game breaking and most gamers will be able to adjust to the sluggish pace, finding a way to execute attractive skills and enjoy the gameplay. It’s clear, nevertheless, that the game engine needed further tweaking and optimisation to make the most of the experience.
It is a pity that the title’s performance lets it down, as in every other regard it’s polished and packed with positives. The first thing that many will notice when they browse the menus, or even read the manual, is that FIFA 12 doesn’t suffer from a lack of content: it’s bursting to the seams with a variety of game modes and even includes roster and kit updates, allowing you to play with all of the latest strips and squads. The updates take some time, but it’s a function that would typically be expected of the home console versions of the title: an example of how seriously the developers took this iteration of the series. One major negative to get out of the way, however, is that multiplayer is local wireless only, with two copies of the game required. For all of the features and modes that we will outline, the omission of online multiplayer is a disappointment.
For single players, however, there is a wealth of options and game styles to choose from. In each of the modes there are options to play standard 11 vs 11 matches or 5-a-side ‘Streets’ matches. Standard matches are as you would expect, but the street matches are a highlight. An emphasis on skill moves and end-to-end play is undoubtedly fun, all set within a variety of urban and indoor settings. In many respects, these street matches are the perfect pick up and play option: matches are short, action packed and full of goals.
Beyond exhibition matches in ‘Kick Off’, there are long-form modes for football addicts to tackle. ‘Tournaments’ allows you to choose from a dizzying array of league and cup competitions, with a number of obscure options such as the ‘Sonata K-League’, for example, if you have the need to conquer the South Korean league. If there’s a particular league or competition that you’re interested in, except for the European Champions League, it’s likely to be here.
‘Career Mode’ is an expanded option where you not only play as your favourite club to seek glory, but also manage aspects such as transfers, training and club facilities. Player transfers are easy and instantaneous, while hiring staff and setting training regimen is only ever a couple of button presses away. Decisions made in the running of the club are important for progress, but it is all very simplistic, rather than a genuine simulation of managing a club. This basic setup does seem apt for a handheld experience, and it's fun to build up your team and buy/sell players without being drawn into complex negotiations. Managing club affairs will only take a few minutes at a time, all the more time for getting to the action on the pitch.
Perhaps the most significant mode on offer is ‘Be a Pro’ , where you create and customise a brand new player and aim to move to the top of the game. Starting off with a street team you only control your own player in each game, with the pass and through ball buttons, for example, acting as a call for the ball from team mates. Your goal is to gain XP for boosting your player’s abilities, and to earn ‘Fame’ points that allow you to move up levels and improve your reputation. At the end of every season you get offers from (hopefully) bigger clubs. The logic seems to fall over if you improve too quickly however: after a stunning second season for our new club we anticipated a step-up, yet the offers didn’t come. Another season of accumulating points and XP, among team mates that were statistically far inferior, was a bit of a drag. Generally, however, this mode is put together well and provides welcome variety to the package.
The overall presentation, meanwhile, is as slick and stylish as would be expected of a FIFA title. The visuals are fairly good but nothing special, which makes the slow frame-rate a tad puzzling. The 3D effect, on the other hand, is without a doubt one of the most substantial on the system so far, without any significant impact on the already sluggish performance of the graphical engine. Camera angles based behind the goal, in particular, show off an impressive depth with the slider all the way up. In terms of sound, there are a few pleasant licensed music tracks, decent crowd noise and passable commentary. It may not be exceptional, but it all gets the job done, especially with a pair of headphones plugged in.
It’s appropriate, perhaps, for FIFA 12 to be regarded as a game of two halves. In terms of content, slick features and a variety of game modes, it’s an impressive achievement and far superior to its rival, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D. Gameplay is entirely mixed, however, with intuitive controls and some fun mechanics being undermined by a poor frame-rate performance from the game engine. If the action flowed with smooth animation this game would be utterly exceptional, but it isn’t. FIFA 12 sets itself up for a glorious winner, but sends the final effort past the post.