It took me a moment to realize what it was, but from first time I saw the FIFA Soccer box, I knew there was something missing. The cover art was the same as EA Sport’s most recent soccer release, the in-game menus were identical, and it looked exactly as I would expect. Then I realized what it was — the “12” was missing from the title. That might seem like a minor quibble, but it turned out to be a telling omission.
FIFA Soccer is not a port of FIFA 12 as you might hope and expect. At first glance the presentation is the same, but there are some notable differences in both the content and gameplay. It isn’t necessarily worse, but it isn’t the same either. It’s also a step back for the franchise.
FIFA 12 quickly became the fastest-selling sports game of all time, and with good reason. Even though most fans of the series already owned at least one or more copies of the franchise, FIFA 12 was a must for them, since there were some significant changes in the way that it played, along with a handful of new modes. For the most part, these gameplay additions are gone, and the game-mode options are limited.
That doesn’t make FIFA Soccer a bad game, just an old one. It reverts back to the gameplay that had already felt stale for a few years. It is actually closer to FIFA 10 or 11 than it is to FIFA 12, even though the graphics are close to the most recent version on consoles. In fact, the graphics are at times incredible on the Vita. When you are in a game though, the action can seem remote and small, as the overhead cam can only do so much on a 5-inch screen. You get used to it, but it does take a moment to adjust. This is an inevitable consequence of translating a realistic soccer experience into a handheld device.
The controls are mostly the same as all standard FIFA games. The precision dribbling introduced in FIFA 12 is sadly AWOL, but the controls are responsive. The game also tries to incorporate the Vita’s touchscreen and rear touchpad with mixed results. When you are in a game, you can touch the player on the screen to pass the ball to them. It’s neat, but soon feels like a gimmick. In a fast-paced game, it is just easier to use the pass button than to move your hand to the screen, then move it back. It’s more effort than it is worth, and it doesn’t give you any advantage.
The touchpad on the back is a great idea, but an ultimately doomed one. When you are on an approach to shoot, you can press the touchpad as if it were the place in the goal you wanted to shoot. Touch the upper right corner of the pad and you will shoot in the upper right corner of the goal, for example. Touch it gently for a light shot, mash it down to blast it. In theory it is revolutionary. If you can pull it off, it changes the way you shoot, and you can actually score more goals than you ever imagined possible. In fact, it can be almost too easy to score. There is a major downside though. The touchpad is sensitive, and the entire surface of the pad is active. It isn’t a matter of if you will accidentally touch the pad and launch off a shot, but how often you will do it. Avoiding it also makes holding the Vita a bit awkward.
It really is a good idea and a noble attempt to make the most out of the Vita’s options, but in practice it just doesn’t work. Thankfully, you can turn both the touchscreen and touchpad off.
The game is also missing the vaunted Tactical Defending and Player Impact Engine. If you haven’t played FIFA 12, that won’t mean a thing to you. If you have, you will miss it immediately. In all other regards, the game plays and moves as you would expect. For fans who have sunk a lot of hours into the kinda fantastic FIFA 12, this game does feel like a step back.
The game mode options are also scaled back. Beyond the standard exhibition mode, you have career mode (where you can be a player, manager, or player manager), tournaments, and “Be a Pro” mode for players and goalies. Online soccer is there as well, but it is a bit laggy at times during matches and not particularly deep. There are leagues you (or your friends) can create, plus the ranked and unranked matches, but that’s it. Ultimate team mode, unfortunately, did not make the cut.
FIFA Soccer is an old game made to look like a new one. If it weren’t for the fact that the Vita could easily do more, it would be easy to forgive this game’s shortcomings and call it a great game “for a handheld device.” The Vita is a powerful piece of hardware though, so this game feels rushed to release. Using the current box art and menus also feels a bit misleading.
For people who have invested a lot of time into FIFA 12, this game is a step back in terms of both gameplay and content. If you haven’t played FIFA in a few years though, but you are a fan of the series, the game has plenty to offer. That is a bit like grading on a curve though. There was a good reason FIFA 12 changed the tactics — they had grown stale. That feeling returns in FIFA Soccer
FIFA Soccer makes for a decent experience, but more than anything it will probably just make you excited for the coming release of FIFA 13 on the Vita later this year. If that title can reach the potential this one hints at, be prepared for an incredible game.
Score: 7.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita on a copy provided by EA)