Platform: PS Vita
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
It's something of an open season for the football-loving FIFA fan. FIFA 12 is freshly renewed, thanks to the January update; FIFA Street has undergone a serious reboot, using the former's Impact Engine and delivering a shallow but enjoyable experience; and then there this - FIFA Football.
That we should simply praise the developers for producing a FIFA title on a portable platform without compromising on content is to be applauded. But it rather misses the point. The PSP's footballing titles also did cracking jobs of packing the delights of Career Mode and Be A Pro into their UMDs. FIFA Football's real triumph is that, aside from bringing over dual-stick controls and the offline trappings of the expansive career mode, the developers have managed to incorporate some of the Vita's unique bells and whistles.
Nowhere is this felt more keenly than when on the attack. Although the button layouts remain the same as those on the PS3 (albeit with a few double functions on the two lonely bumpers), purely optional precision controls are now mapped to the front and back touchpads as well. In terms of ball distribution, the touchscreen works much as it might on the mobile version of FIFA 12: tap a player off the ball to pass to them, or trigger a run by double tapping the L-bumper before touching a spot just ahead of the dashing player, to play the perfect through ball.
This is still a FIFA title, though, so the offensive AI often fails when it comes to imaginative attack lines off the ball, but the fact that you can nudge through a deliciously accurate assist is satisfying indeed...
...or at least it would be if it worked. Sadly, although a nice idea, this feature runs into the same problems that you get on smartphones too - fingers obscuring play, a lack of precision unless you use a stylus - but with an additional concern that you have to move your right hand completely to pull anything off, because of the size of the Vita.
The rear touchpad shooting mechanic, though, works rather well, particularly when playing end-to-end such as in Be A Pro. Essentially mapping the face of the goal to the touchpad, a tap in the lower left hand corner of the pad will lead to a placed shot in the lower left corner of the goal. Accuracy is determined by the stats of the player you're controlling, positioning, and the power of the shot. It takes some getting used to, particularly if you have large hands like mine, but once you get the hang of it, the results are impressive indeed. Playing against an opponent who's mastered the rear touchpad is often far more dangerous than going up against someone using the classic buttons.
So the touch controls are a little bit inconsistent, but if you don't like them, you can just turn them off, at which point FIFA Football plays pretty much like any other FIFA title in the last few years...except FIFA 12.
Don't expect Precision Dribbling, don't expect that Impact Engine, and you can kiss goodbye to Tactical Defending - you'll find none of those things here. In fact, on the field, FIFA Football feels immediately dated, with the illusion of a modern FIFA title on an HD portable platform spoilt somewhat by emulating an 18-month-old game. It might not bother those gamers who never got stuck into FIFA 12, but flitting between the two is a bit like going back in time.
Sadly, this also extend to the game modes. Although the offline options are relatively comprehensive - with the triple-threat of Player, Manager, and Player-Manager options available for Career Mode - the online material is sorely lacking. Perhaps the most glaring omission may be Ultimate Team, with the virtual card trading seemingly a perfect fit for the social functions that might have been afford by Near integration. The absence of divisions (even FIFA Street has that!), and the persistent incentives that come with Football Club integration means that, 18 months on, the online suite isn't nearly as attractive as it could be.
To say that this is the best portable football game yet is pretty accurate. It's very easy on the eye, the load times are actually less offensive than one might expect, and it's nice not to have a bunch of Online Pass screens when you first load the game up. The usual initial issues with online lag have been occasional, but never game-breaking, and unlocking abilities and stat boosts for your virtual pro is just as addictive as it ever was.
But it's difficult not to feel as though there's a fair bit missing from this title. In isolation, FIFA Football is a solid package with some interesting (if flawed) touch integration. But, when you consider the price tag, not to mention the likelihood of an overhaul when FIFA 13 inevitably drops in a handful of months, the package becomes rather less appealing.
- Touch shooting is pretty good
- Compelling offline FIFA experience
- Predictably shiny presentation
- The lack of features may not sit well with FIFA 12 fans
- 'Unlearning' Tactical Defending is horrible
- There'll almost certainly be a new (probably better) game out in 7 months
The Short Version: FIFA Football delivers arguably the best example to date of a console-quality sports title on a portable platform. Sadly, though it's a year too late, sitting uneasily between FIFA 11 and FIFA 12. A fully fledged Career Mode and some interesting touch controls can't prevent the feeling that this game could have been much more.