There is always that love/hate that people have with EA Sports games. People love it because they know that when EA makes a game, you are going to get almost everything you could ever imagine in a sports game. The license, the players and so on. And then, there are the things that you hate about EA games. With them scooping up licences, they tend to break their competition down (yes Madden, I am looking at you) and make their games unplayable. They change game elements and sometimes they even take small things out. For example, how much is it to ask for to get a decent halftime show? Ask 2K Sports to educate you on how to make a proper sports presentation hat will really immerse you into a game.

FIFA 12, like Madden 12, represents all of the love/hate that fans have had for the franchise over the years. Because truthfully, most of the changes in this year’s iteration are small tweaks.

Let’s start off with the fact that if you bought EA’s Season pass (20 bucks) you get the entire game downloaded to your PS3 or 360 for nothing extra. The entire game. Not a demo. You are then free to go in and start your career mode, download your game face etc. It lasts right up to the point of the actual day of release. If you are a hardcore EA Sports gamer, this will be up your alley because for one year you can get any EA Sports title and if you feel like it sucks, you lost nothing except money for the access and a few hours. Your miles may vary.

As for the game itself, the presentation screens remain largely unchanged from last year’s presentation short of the menu bars scroll at the bottom as opposed to the left side like last year. And for some it really feels at this point that you paid money for a roster update. But wait, here is where the small stuff kicks in that will determine your value of the game.

The EA Sports Football Club has been implemented that gives you XP for things you do within a game and it levels you up accordingly. Also if you support a particular club, everything that you and all of those supporters does goes into the pot and everyone levels together. Another side of this is that you get challenges to complete that earn you XP and unlockables. The challenge this week was to bring Chelsea back from their 1-3 deficit against Man Utd which started you off at the 49′ mark. After three tries, I still haven’t gotten past it because there is so much else I want to see and do.

The Career mode was where I really enjoyed myself on this game and again it looks largely unchanged except now, if you choose to be a player-manager, it’s a little bit more involved. Some of the transfers are indeed a bit more realistic (not to mention that the rosters are already updated to current status). And as an added touch, you get tips and warnings similar to FIFA Manager about how to go after players; if you go after players that play with your rival, you will get told that it will cost you a bit more. Also, the AI is a bit more aggressive about coming after players and that is one thing that was lacking from last year’s iteration. You may receive more that 3 or 4 offers for a particular player, but what I wished for is that if a team really wanted my player, is that if they were denied, they would come back with a higher offer. Also during the course of the season, players will tell you when they are unhappy or feel good about the team so pay attention to the morale of your side.

One other like/dislike I have is that because news articles are highlighted, you can click on them to read the full story but you can’t pick and choose which ones. You have to wait for it to be highlighted to bring up the story. Nice touch but sloppy in execution. Speaking of the press conference, it is a bit forgettable whereas a question may be asked about a match, you answer it, and that’s it. Nothing else. FIFA Manager handled this a bit better by showing you if morale went up or down or if your popularity with fans went up or down. The press conference is just another tacked on extra that should have been fleshed out to be as good as if not better than FIFA Manager.

So with all that said, how is the gameplay? It’s fine but one last bug I have to talk about and then I can get to it. The biggest little bug I have encountered so far is that the AI may have the game scheduled at one time but the lighting effect shows another. I had a game scheduled for 8pm. Once the game started up, the lighting effect was 1pm that afternoon which threw me off simply because it was a minor annoyance, but after seeing this happen two more times, it was irritating.

Gameplay itself is mostly unchanged but one thing I did notice is that there are additional sliders in the game settings you can set to control the pace of the game. You can change yours or the AI’s sprinting speed, pass control, shot power and more. Otherwise it’s the FIFA game everybody knows. As far as the tactical defending, it’s definitely a game changer.

I have seen possessions won and lost based on how hard players play on the ball. There is definitely a lot more jostling and shirt pulling this year and it’s not simple to just take a ball away from someone like last year’s edition. Also I do like that if you hit a bumper button another player can be called over to help contain an attacking player. If you don’t like the tactical defense, supposedly it can be turned off but I haven’t attempted to yet because it feels a bit better.

I haven’t experienced any of the graphical glitches so far that has been reported to have cropped up but one thing I have noticed that a lot of player models haven’t been changed or aren’t 100% correct. Patrice Evra is still a bit too dark considering his skin tone and David De Gea is clean shaven and I wish I had a way to edit that! Wayne Rooney of course is sporting his weave and Bacary Sagna sports his two-tone short locks. There are of course many new animations added because of the new engine involved and yes, the game does move well and the dribbling has improveed also. I feel like I do have a little more control over moving the ball around and not losing it simply because someone got close enough to swipe it away from me.

This year you have two choices for your commentary team and I have used both and so far, they’re not bad but EA still needs to take notes from 2K Sports on how to do commentary. 2K games such as NBA 2K11 had a dynamic system where the commentators could take stats from a previous game you have played and inject them into the game that you are currently playing. Why for the life of me can’t EA do this for Madden and FIFA franchises? Laziness? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that your player who shot 60% on target on a team he faced twice last season could do it again today and you know this because of the commentary? Wishful thinking, I know, but then I won’t rant on about the static looking and sounding crowds either.

I have not played any games online as of yet, nor have I been able make time to try Football Ultimate Team but I will do so upon release of the disc on Tuesday, so obviously I cannot comment on that aspect.

In the end however, FIFA 12‘s minor changes especially those in the Career mode and tactical defending will keep you playing. There are a lot of minor additions to the GUI and menu interface that gamers wanted. But, the only ones who will be hard pressed to buy this are the same ones, who like myself, get sick of the minor updates for 60 bucks (like Madden Football) and are hoping for more. At least for futbol fans, you do have an alternative: PES 2012. As long as you can live without the licences, you are OK.

Rating: 8/10.