FIFA Soccer is arguably one of the most enjoyed and acclaimed sports titles of this current generation. It made a lot of sense for EA to release a Vita version of their popular sports franchise to coincide with the system’s launch earlier this year. While it’s typical to see sports titles go through some growing pains when adjusting to a new operating system, FIFA Soccer bucks that trend almost entirely. With a nearly note-perfect recreation of the console version of FIFA, EA has set a new standard for what gamers should expect from a handheld sports game.
Most of the gameplay modes from FIFA Soccer’s console brethren make the jump to the Vita. Be A Pro and Career are the sole places to get your solitary soccer fix. Be A Pro is a solid game mode, but without the EA Sports Football Club option to back it up, you’re better off playing around with a created character in Career mode. Career mode at least gives you the option to control your whole squad instead of just your created player, which actually benefits you a great deal in the long run. Often when in control of just one player, you’ll be waiting for the ball to come your way while your AI teammates fiddle about the pitch, unsure of where to go without a hand guiding them. Now that’s not to say that the AI in FIFA Soccer is bad. Far from it. It’s just that a user-controlled team is far more adept than one that relies mostly on computer intelligence.
"What’s great about FIFA Soccer on the Vita isn’t just how it plays and looks now, but what EA should be capable of doing on the handheld in the future."
While the single-player options aren’t exactly robust, they’re certainly deep, and provide just as much replayability as they do on the console. Though Ultimate Team and EASFC didn’t make the cut for this initial offering, players in dire need of a football fix on the go will certainly still find plenty to like about what the Vita version has to offer. The online is incredibly smooth, and the interface moves you from menu to game quickly. With only two players allowed to compete against one another online, it should come as no surprise that FIFA Soccer is a relatively lag free event. There’s no other way to play online save for exhibition, but that doesn’t really hurt the overall package. It would have been nice to see some sort of continuous league play like in the console versions, but for a first effort the absence of a feature is entirely excusable.
Where FIFA Soccer will really stand out to longtime fans is in the differences in the way it plays compared to the console versions. EA did a great job of translating the standard controls to the Vita. It couldn’t have been a hard transition as the Vita has only two less buttons than a standard console controller anyway. The second analog stick makes a great difference this time around, and keeps players from having to hold in far too many buttons to perform skill maneuvers like the PSP versions of FIFA once did. FIFA Soccer oddly enough has more in common with FIFA 11 than it does FIFA 12 though, so players who’ve finally grown accustomed to the new subtleties in FIFA 12 will have to readjust to playing the game they abandoned last year. That’s okay because while they’re trying to get their muscle memory back, they’ll also have the option of learning the Vita’s new touchscreen controls.
In case you didn’t know, the Vita has a touchscreen and rear touch-pad that developers can use to make the Vita version of a particular title stand out. Not everyone is successful, but FIFA Soccer actually gets the job done. Well, for the most part. The touchscreen can be used for passing, which is a great benefit to those who pride themselves on accuracy. All you have to do is simply touch the screen while you have the ball, and your player will attempt to place the ball where your finger was. It works on corners and crosses as well, but there are some drawbacks. Namely that your finger will be covering the screen. Also, there’s no real way to move your hand from either of the analog sticks to the main screen comfortably while maintaining control of your players. It’s a good idea in concept that hopefully EA will flesh out a little more for the next iteration, but right now it’s pretty tough to use.
The rear touch-pad controls, however, are pretty cool. Scoring has always been one of the most challenging aspects of a FIFA video game. Much like the real life sport, it’s not uncommon for games to end 1-0 or even 0-0. The commonality of that outcome changes drastically with the touch-pad controls on the Vita. Mapping the entire rear of the Vita to equal the face of the net, players merely have to tap a spot on the rear pad to fire a shot at the identical location on net. Now you can only do this when you’re in the final third of the offensive area, so you won’t be able to blast shots on point from midfield, but the pinpoint accuracy you’re able to get with the touch-pad up close makes it an extremely dangerous weapon. The only real drawback is having to keep your hands in a claw-like grip so you don’t accidentally tap on the rear pad when you don’t mean to.
From a presentation standpoint, FIFA Soccer is right on par with its console cousins. Animations are smooth, colors really pop, and there’s hardly ever a dip in performance at any point during a match. The commentary and crowd noises are also perfectly realized, though like many sports titles, the commentary will fall into repetition the more you play. Like its console counterparts, FIFA Soccer’s menu interface works out of the one-on-one lobby, and everything transitions quickly and smoothly to the next mode or menu.
What’s great about FIFA Soccer on the Vita isn’t just how it plays and looks now, but what EA should be capable of doing on the handheld in the future. This version of the game, as sparse as its modes are, sets quite a bar for the next incarnation. The controls are impressive, the graphics are top notch, and most of all it’s a faithful recreation of the sport. Vita-owning soccer fans have likely already added this title to their collection, but there’s plenty of reasons here for newcomers to see what all the fuss is about. It may not be as tight a game as FIFA 12, but it does sure come awful close.
Release date : 2012-02-28
Publisher : EA Sports
Developer : EA Canada
Gameplay : Sports
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