It’s that time again. No, I wasn’t talking about the FIFA World Cup. That’s not til June, man! It is the month of May preceding the mega event, so that means the FIFA World Cup video game is out for all your fantasy scenarios to play out. Don’t want France in the World Cup? You can knock them out in the preliminaries. Or better yet, skip to the tournament proper and assign the teams you want and just not invite them. Win-win, correct? Wrong.
EA sports flagship title has come a long way since usurping Konami’s Winning Eleven, now known as Pro Evolution Soccer, in the soccer video game world. Make no mistake though, not since 2004 have we had a fluid, balanced release from either camp, and that was all PES. FIFA took off in 2008 and hasn’t looked back. That was all on PES. Konami’s title never quite hit the ground running on its PS3 and Xbox 360 debuts, also in 2008. I’ve stopped playing Konami when FIFA slowly began resembling the real fucking thing although I have major grievances I will discuss below. Right now, I am about a dozen games in with 2-8-2 record on World Class difficulty and about ten goals scored (numbers not accurate but I lost count).
The introduction of sliders was a huge improvement. It may have been implemented in the 2011 copy if not 2010. Regardless. That announced user involvement in the game experience. So far, haven’t met a single schmuck who knows more about them than I do. And this not for lack of functionality. I don’t have many serious gamers as friends, and not many of such gamers exist nearby to really gauge my knowledge against. What should have signaled end user involvement, to this day, amounts to nothing more than skewing the in-game flawed physics further. What the game is trying to say here is don’t mess with perfection. The game’s animation doesn’t change with the slider, only the player positioning and game physics. Mainly how the ball interacts with the field, players, and goal posts. Also, sliders are not a mechanism for an in-between difficulty setting. While in theory they can help you find that middle ground, the AI’s true ability is not inherent in what it can do with the ball, but how it moves without it, and we’ve already established that the sliders largely pertain to ball physics in passing, shooting, first touch, etc.. Take it from me, let sleeping dogs lie and just enjoy the animation the way it was meant to played. And bear with the AI’s propensity to score conveniently at will.
AI Behavior & Difficulty
Huge one. There are distinct stages of the AI’s propensity to attack and defend throughout a game (again on World Class difficulty). I usually play six- or seven-minute halves. I am a simulation enthusiast and feel anything shorter condenses the time tactics develop in to a thrash and slash affair. The AI knows no sweet spot; Professional difficulty is too easy and World Class can be a bit punishing. This makes the Legendary setting uncharted territory, and for good reasons I’ll try to explain next.
The game allows you to toggle between five different poses on the attack-defense continuum. My guess, is you have to manually toggle up and down several times throughout a game according to the score, who has the ball, how much time is left to play. Pretty easy proposition except, any time you take your finger off the player control, a gap will open in your defense to allow a play to develop. And develop it most likely will. But it has to be done (and can be) to stand a chance.
In defense, the AI is very well organized and will rarely get caught out of shape or depth. And since most conventional defenses employ a four-man backline, you’re up against a tight alignment that is difficult to break down. Further up the field, they will apply pressure on your own backline in terrifying clockwork unison and precision that in real life is reserved to very few modern squads. This tactic will apply when you’re up in the score line and very late in the game. You will also have to deal with it when the AI is up and it is very late in the game, so as to keep the ball from you and simultaneously run it in your face.
In contrast, you can only control two players at a time; on offense, the ball handler and whomever he is facing, and; on defense, well, the player with you control and a seemingly random second “defender.” This in theory means you get to control double-teaming but the results aren’t always fair, and when you stack up bands of defenders those double teams will run into each other clearing up, you guessed it, a huge gap to make a play in. Unfortunately none of those tendencies have changed for a few releases now.
Still the best soccer game available, though the best of a small and bad bunch. Though hardly a towering achievement, I have a feeling I will enjoy the game as much as recent reiterations until the in-game mechanics become too repetitive to mask its single-player predictability.