Review: FIFA 12 (3DS)
Ah, it’s that time of year. The time that the new football season is already upon us, still new, fresh, and just a few months in. It’s doubly exciting for football fans who are also gamers, as two major franchises hit the consoles around this time, allowing you to relive your footballing fantasies and fix results that didn’t go your way in real life.
We all know that FIFA is currently sitting pretty as top-dog over Konami’s PES, and EA, the lovely bunch they are, try to make sure that their latest instalment makes it out on all major platforms. Hell, they’d put it on toasters if they could, so it’s no surprise to see a version hitting Nintendo’s 3DS.
Is it worth carting about with you, though?
Gearing up for the new season?
Obviously, there’s a lot that has not made the transition to the 3DS. There’s no Ultimate Team, no arena to prat about in during loading screens and while most of what’s missing is fluff, you’ll find some menu oddities and niggling omissions. The lack of an auto-save is my number one bugbear, and something I fell foul of a couple of times.
So what made it in? You can still pick your favourite side from your favourite league, and the game will default to them when starting new games and seasons, while also helping to personalise the menus by adding player models and other suitable imagery related to your club. After doing this the first time, you’ll notice that the teams start with unlicensed kits and the squads are out of date. Luckily, both of these things are easily fixed with a wi-fi connection and a visit to the Wireless menu. You’re well catered for in terms of choice too, with thirty leagues spanning several divisions included, so fans of lower division teams will still find some love here.
The options available to you after that include instant friendlies, the standard Career mode, Tournaments and, much to my surprise, even the Be a Pro mode has made it in. Even more surprising, however, is the welcome inclusion of indoor/outdoor 5-a-side matches, changing up the game with tighter arenas and the ability to rebound passes off walls.
The career mode is where many will head first, with it being the most traditional form of football competition. It’s guaranteed fun for footie fans, but is most certainly streamlined in some areas. For example, signing players is as easy as getting Christiano Ronaldo to fall over, as you can ignore haggling in traditional fashion and just hit the eBay-style ‘Buy now’ option, which guarantees a player’s signature.
There are some light facility and stadium upgrades to do, which despite having no visual impact and detracting from your available transfer budget, both help slightly in developing the players you have and healing them quicker when they’re injured. You’ll find the usual options to hire staff, change training schemes and such, as you try to win everything you possibly can by making the best use of your squad.
While the Career mode is compelling enough for the average football fan, Be a Pro mode offers you more to work towards, as you create a player and try to earn him superstar status. If you’ve played this mode before on home consoles, then you know how this is done; you control only the one player in matches, and try to work your way up from grass roots to football at the highest level. There are some differences, though.
It’s more concrete roots than grass, as you start your little career playing 5-a-side for a street team and work your way up from there. Some of these 5-a-side match setups are quite imaginative and actually help teach you how to play the game better. For example, some of the games have no keepers, but a tiny hole in the wall for the goal; others have huge suspended nets at each end (much like a basketball hoop), that you have to lob the ball in to score. It’s pretty fun all round, and keeps the gameplay nice and varied.
Rather than being judged on positioning and making runs at the right time like you are the in main instalments of FIFA (though you still get the indicating arrow when you get onto a grass pitch), you are given a set of in-match objectives. These include things like calling for a lofted pass, successfully putting a player through, making a tackle or scoring yourself; completing these as many times as possible in a game will earn you XP and also increase your Fame level. By boosting your Fame level, the league football clubs will start to take notice, and this is how you progress through your player’s career. While it doesn’t sound as realistic as Be a Pro does in other versions, it’s just about addictive enough to keep you playing and, in all honesty, is probably the deepest part of this package.
Still, even outside of the meatier modes, the friendlies offer something different in this iteration of FIFA 12. During the set-up there’s an easily missed option called ‘Fun!’, where you can change some gameplay modifiers. These include things like turning off fouls, turning on invisible walls around the ground, have players run at super speeds and allow ridiculously curvy shots. It’s all rather daft, but surprisingly fun to play around with.
With that said, I’ve just realised we’ve gotten this far and I’ve not even told you how the game actually plays! Let’s rectify that now, shall we?
A decent game of football in your pocket
Okay, the first thing to go over, is that the game defaults to a view called 3D Pro Close, which gets the best out of the 3D effect and the game’s technical performance. Purists like me, however, will switch to a more traditional view pretty much straight away.
In handling, FIFA 12 on 3DS is a pretty decent approximation of the home console version. Like the ‘proper’ release, it’s a slower, more thoughtful style of game to previous years that rewards patient build-up. Because of this, matches are tense and tight, with goals tough to come by. Player movement is also true to its bigger brother, and although the players carry a certain feeling of weight and momentum, it leaves you feeling in total control of the ball.
The standard controls are mapped as they are in other versions, save for a few differences due to there being two buttons less. It’s responsive and feels natural to play, and you won’t find yourself bemoaning shoddy controls that often.
The new and much-debated Tactical Defending also makes its way into the game to a degree. It’s all about managing space, waiting for the player to make a move and then hitting them with the right kind of tackle. You have to make that tackle too; you can’t just hold the A button and run into them as you could previously. Whether that’s a good thing or not is something I haven’t quite decided about in the Xbox 360 version, but it does seem to work a little more freely on 3DS.
When it comes to corners and free-kicks (or any long ball for that matter), once the ball is in the air, you get a large yellow circle on the pitch to indicate the area in which it should land, and it gets progressively smaller the closer the ball gets to the ground. It’s up to you to move the player into the right place to meet it or trap it. It’s a nice little system that feels fluid and fair for everyone, rather than just finding two players automatically competing in the right place.
There are some optional 3DS-specific touch controls to play with, but they’re faffy and probably not worth the time. As you get within a player’s shooting distance, a 3D representation of the goal appears on the bottom screen. While continuing to hold off defenders and finding the right angle to shoot, you need to touch the area of the goal where you want to the ball to go, and then hold it for the right length of time to get the power right and release.
It’s all a bit too much, and takes way too long. For a start you can’t physically look at both screens at once, so watching your run, placing your shot and getting the right power is nigh on impossible without getting tackled. Secondly, it’s pointless moving your thumb from the face buttons to the screen to try and pinpoint where you’re aiming for, when it’s easier to tap the button right where your thumb is. It’s a bit like rubbing your head and patting your belly at the same time… while juggling with your feet and whistling the Kazakhstan national anthem backwards.
The touch controls for free-kicks and set-pieces fare a little better, but they’re still a little hit-and-miss. For example, if you have a free kick outside the box, you can change the type of shot or pass you want between straight and varying degrees of curl, then you trace over the one that represents the way you want the ball to move. It’s a nice idea but not an exact science; personally, I tended to have better luck from set-pieces with the traditional controls.
In short: Play with the traditional controls, and you’ll find a nice little game of football.
Still, there are some cut-backs due simply to system limitations. The game obviously doesn’t have the same amount of animation possibilities as it’s bigger brothers, which, in turn, means you don’t get the same level of player individuality in the way they stride or move when on the ball. You lose the hint of power in Gerrard’s run, for example, or the almost effortless, floaty effect by Yossi Benayoun when he’s on the ball, replaced by a generic run used for everyone. They just don’t act much like their real-life counterparts either, which, on the plus side, means that half the Manchester United first team won’t spend half the game in the referee’s face…
All aboard the showboat…
I’ll be perfectly honest. I was expecting this game to look an absolute mess; however, it’s actually a very polished looking game; especially close up. Player models are nice and reasonably detailed despite lower-resolution textures, the stadiums especially look fantastic and vibrant on the small screen, and there’s just enough movement in the crowd to at least give the impression of a decent atmosphere.
Obviously, there’s less space to make sure that every player looks like his real-life counterpart, so outside of a number of unquestionably talented players, you might find most of the squad members looking a little on the generic side. Still, the key players look just about how they should, with Rooney looking Shrek-ugly (plus wig), and Gerrard sporting his strange forehead-covering hairline.
There are some downsides. If, like me, you didn’t want to play the core game using the ‘3D Pro Close’ camera and switch to the more traditional side-on view, you may find that player animation skips a few frames on the far side of the pitch. It’s similar, but far less noticeable, to what I mentioned in my review of Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D. Like I said in that review, it’s not really a problematic frame-rate as such, because the gameplay still remains perfectly smooth; it’s just the distant player animation that’s slightly affected. It doesn’t detract from the flow of the football and won’t force you into mistakes on the ball or anything like that, as a true, chugging slowdown would; you’ll just notice it there from time to time.
The 3D effect is subtle but well utilised. It’s most effective on the aforementioned default camera, but even on the other views it adds some depth, especially when it comes to looking at the stadiums.
For whatever reason, I came into FIFA 12 on 3DS not expecting any form of commentary, but it’s here and actually pretty expansive. For this version, Clyde ‘can’t say Rooney’s name without orgasming’ Tilsley is in the booth alongside Andy Townsend, and while there’s definitely less dialogue between the two of them than on the home console versions, it actually feels less repetitive to me. I think that some of the simplicity in what they’re saying actually helps with that.
The crowds sound lively enough, though it’s very generic. Some clubs’ terrace songs do feature, but you’re more likely to hear the sounds from other players than anything else, with calls for the ball and instructions being yelled loudly to each other during play. It’s a nice touch, but these soundbites are oddly mixed way louder than the sound of 40,000 screaming fans, so at times it’s a bit annoying.
Saying that, the only thing that really annoyed me during the matches was the ‘Ooooh’ from the crowd that triggers every time you sprint forward and knock the ball out in front of you. The same effect repeats after every subsequent touch until you lay the ball off, leading to this unnatural sounding ‘Ooooh… Ooooh… Ooooh!’, like a record being spun backwards to reveal satanic messages. A small downside on a game that otherwise sounds pleasant and authentic enough.
There are a couple of licensed tracks here accompanying the menu screens too, with tunes from Crystal Castles, Grouplove, and The Hives making navigation a pleasant experience.
How does this not have an Online mode?
It just feels strange to imagine a football game without an online mode these days, doesn’t it? It felt wrong when PES 2011 launched alongside the 3DS, and it still feels wrong now that EA decided that it wasn’t necessary for FIFA on 3DS. Whatever the reason, I doubt anyone was expecting online leagues or 11-a-side Be a Pro; just some basic form of matchmaking would have been a nice inclusion. Alas, it wasn’t to be; maybe next year?
Still, the game does feature local wireless play for those that have 3DS-owning FIFA fans around them. Unfortunately, I’m not in that bracket, and with Download Play not being an option I was unable to test the stability of it at all. A shame, but the option to play with your mates is there if you want it.
Better than a football in the groin?
Even without an online mode, FIFA 12 on 3DS comes packed with a surprising amount of content that will likely keep you busy for a while, and you know what? It plays a lovely, considered game of football with it.
It’s not the complete package it could have been and some of the 3DS-specific features are hit-and-miss; it’s for those reasons that it doesn’t quite reach the highs that 3DS owners would have been hoping for. Even so, it is just about one of the better handheld ports I’ve played, especially when it comes to being true to the aims of the ‘proper’ releases on other consoles.
If you’re after a football game on the go this year, then you could do far worse. Real football fans (and possibly some Chelsea fans too…) should find some value in what FIFA 12 on 3DS has to offer.