FIFA 12 Review (PS3)

This is a tough one. Really, it is. It's been incredibly difficult to separate the annoying from the brilliant, the frustrating from the liberating and the “is it just my dreadful play?” from the “well, the AI is clearly cheating there.” So this is less a review and more a discussion piece. Because, let's face it, it's FIFA at the end of the day, and if you don't know what is or involves, it really isn't going to be for you, is it?

It's with the major new change to the way things work that the potential problems arise. Not because it's not a good system, because on paper it is. It's just that it challenges years of training and learning, forcing experienced players to re-learn what before they took for granted.

After 89 minutes of Arsenal passing it around in the centre circle, Chelsea finally decided to attempt a tackle

I'm talking about the defending, which has changed from being about high pressure and harassing to being more about shadowing and jockeying a dribbler, waiting until the best moment to time the tackle. Now, as mentioned, this sounds perfect on paper. No more spamming of the A or B keys to send your players rushing about like tits in a trance, and more thoughtful, considering play, a slower, more realistic experience with bursts of activity when someone breaks quickly.

Sounds perfect, but that's before you take the AI into consideration and how amazing it is at exploiting the situation. When you are first stepping into the fray, you'll be getting increasingly frustrated as the AI just tricks and flicks its way around your defence, as you can't possibly react to the changes in direction and the skill moves it employs.

Even after hours of practising, it's still incredibly difficult to deal with the changes in direction that the AI will throw at you, especially when you play an elite side like, say, Real Madrid. Playing against them you often see defensive warhorses doing 360 spins and flicks that would see Maradone clapping with appreciate applause.

It seems to be a reaction to the general consensus that in FIFA 11 the AI didn't attack enough, or just not with enough purpose or consistency. Now it seems they're too good at attacking, at least at first. FIFA 12 also suffers from the problem of having difficulty levels that are too easy or too hard, with little middle ground for those with less ability to settle themselves in without winning every game 10-0.

So thank deities for the sliders. These allow you to reduce (or increase) the ability of the AI teams to hopefully make things more acceptable on your own terms. Think the AI is winning too many headers? Just put that slider down slightly. Your reviewer here slipped all the sliders from 50 to 45 on Professional and suddenly things became a lot better. Still challenging, but not as seemingly unfair as it was initially.

You might scoff at this, laughing at the inability of this supposed professional to cope with the medium difficulty setting, but the sliders allow for everyone (who discovers them) to be able to tailor the difficulty to their own degree. It's a much needed, vital even, element of customisation.

Once you've played a few friendlies, determined what level you want to play on and tweaked the sliders, you'll be wanting to head into the Career modes or perhaps even delve into the twisted, murky waters of multiplayer, which as always brings a whole new dimension to the play.

You've got the usual modes all present and correct, and there's not much better than playing in a 11v11 game with your fellow humans all trying to do their positional jobs properly. It naturally degenerates into nonsense with six or seven players all chasing the same ball down the wing, but when it all clicks, it's brilliant – even for those playing in defence.

Career modes though have had their problems in the past with a few bugs sometimes creeping in to spoil matters, like older players not retiring and youths never developing unless given unrealistic amounts of game time ahead of better seniors. Not much has changed fundamentally this year, but there are a few little tweaks that budding careerists might be interested in.

Transfers are a little easier to handle with the addition of a 'recommended price' hint from your chairman, which saves time otherwise wasted making loads of bids. The protracted deadline day is also useful in tying up loose ends, as is the increased number of player requests based on not playing enough or failing to settle.

Everything you do contributes to an online league table, where clubs' fans are ranked according to success in every game mode

Scouting is useful for identifying the latest prospects from around the globe. Send your scouts out, get them to monitor players and deliver increasingly accurate reports based on how long they've been watching a given player, although of course other clubs might try to nab them. One niggle is that a good scout will find amazing players anywhere he goes, even if they're sent to a backwater where very few world class players ever emerge from.

As for the youth development issue, it does seem to be sorted – although it's worth nothing that, no, we've not had time to play for more than a season or two. Give us a little bit of a break on that one. But, having said that, players do seem to progress at realistic rates, especially those getting into the peak developmental years (19-23).

As for the Player mode, nothing's really changed, so you're just doing what you'd have done in FIFA 11, barring a couple of very minor cosmetic tweaks. It also doesn't seem to take as long to simulate the transfer window days.

So the main change has come with the actual gameplay, with only a handful of changes for the modes and such. And as discussed in the first half of this article, it's a marmite situation. You can switch things from the new defensive system to the old FIFA 11 one with the pressing, but if you're going to do that, why not just play FIFA 11 and save your money?

To this reviewer's mind, even though it's very difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible to match up to the better sides, there's a lot to be gained from persevering, as the new system is more realistic and enjoyable once you get the hang of it. Repeat, once you get the hang of it. It is especially rewarding online, where after so long of players exploiting the pressure system, it's now more of a considered affair.

Additionally, there's also the matter of the closer control players enjoy on the ball, which is both a good thing – you don't have farcical turning circles of FIFA 11 to deal with now, and there's the potential for some great dribbling, especially against non-telepathic human players – and a bad thing – the AI being so adept at turning and darting off before you've even had the change to react.

"'ere, you heard the one about the nun and the copy of the Racing Post?"

But yes, it's very difficult to adequately score or sum up FIFA 12, simply because it's taken such a risk with an established formula, one that's turned out – eventually – well indeed, but also one that requires a lot of effort to learn and get used to, something a lot of people might not want to do (judging by comments scattered around about the demo, anyway).

So it's still a great game should you love it and get on with the new system, a terrible one should you not. And as mentioned, you can put the old system back on, but why buy a new game if you want to play the old one? So do feel free to ignore the score and read the text of the review before making a purchasing decision. Or play the demo, it really is there for a reason this time.

Favourite Game Moment: Nodding home the winner in an 11v11 online game. Well, it would be if it had ever happened to me. One can only dream of future glory.