Month: February 2012

The goal next door

Things are warming up for me in the world of FIFA12. I’ve probably played as many FIFA12 matches over the past three days as in the 4 months since mid-October.

The goals are going in for me now. Below is today’s ‘great ordinary FIFA12 goal’—the perfect antidote to all those tedious YouTube videos of chain-’em-up tricksters. (About whom I have to ask myself: Why do they even bother playing a football game?)

This is my favourite goal of the season so far, and it’s very simple.

Watch as my star loan player, Philippe Coutinho, wins back possession, and then instigates a move down the wing. My right-back wraps his foot around the ball for a first-time MANUAL cross (this is a big deal for me!), leading to a stylish directed header into the side of the net.

I’ve seen that particular header animation once more since this goal, so it’s a definite part of FIFA12’s bulging toolbox.

You might look at the above goal and think ‘so what?’. I might think the same. It’s tough to convey in words how the heaviness of FIFA12, the way the game handles from moment to moment, makes such moves and such goals feel rewarding.

Context counts for much, of course. The goal made it 1-0 in a key match. In FIFA12 it goes much the same as in PES2012: scoring first is of paramount importance, and often decisive. Goals change games.

Over the past 24-48 hours I’ve started to believe I’m seeing the real FIFA12—most of it good, some not so good.

The bad stuff is whatever reminds me of the worst aspects of PES2012. For example, I got my Coventry City side to the League Cup quarter-final. We played Manchester United, at our ground. Three times, I took the lead; two times, Man Utd scored equalisers straight from kick-off; the third time, they only won a corner straight from their kick-off—and promptly scored from it… I lost on penalties after extra time.

Aaaargh. I hate the straight-from-kick-off nonsense in football games of the past few years. (I know, I know: ‘defend better’. I know.)

There’s also a hint of PES2012’s super-dribbling AI at times. It’s nowhere near as bad, but it’s definitely there. Usually when you’re 1-0 up in the 85th minute and your defenders are behaving strangely sluggishly.

Another bugbear—and a much more serious one—is a relative lack of fouls in each match. Of course, it’s early days for me and FIFA12, and early days for playing with those famous sliders—perhaps there’s a tweak here and a tweak there that I can use to instil more aggression.

On the plus side, I know when I’m playing West Ham (the runaway league leaders), and I know when I’m playing Peterborough United (a basement club). There’s a clear difference between them.

And FIFA12 has got player individuality. I already knew it had, but now I know it all over again. My Philippe Coutinho and Paulo Assuncao can really pass the ball and open up defences. With my default CCFC donkeys, on the other hand, I have to be uber-careful and conservative, or lose the ball. I play with semi-assisted passing.

I’m playing on Professional difficulty, the middle of 5 difficulties in FIFA12. I’m also utilising a set of gameplay slider settings that (very slightly) favour me, the human player, for speed and passing accuracy. So the true difficulty is probably somewhere between Semi-Pro and Professional. That League Cup run was not that much of an achievement really.

It’s all in aid of feeling my way in the early stages of FIFA12. I need to go up a difficulty soon, whether to World Class, or alternatively by staying on Professional and simply going the other way with the slider tweaks—to make them favour the CPU—I don’t know yet. I think the former. I’m more comfortable with the notion of observing a ‘master setting’ for difficulty. This change is going to happen sooner rather than later.

The current league table, just prior to the January transfer window opening up:

I was hoping to use this 10th position as a springboard for a late, late promotion push. I was just 6 points off the playoffs here.

Sadly, immediately after this picture was taken, I lost 2-1 away to Derby, and then 0-1 at home to Portsmouth. I might be out of the running. This is still on my quite-easy custom difficulty setting.

I tell you what, there could be some life in this game.

Stranger in a strange land

Switching from PES2012 to FIFA12 has turned out to be harder than I ever thought it would be. The news for today is that the transition to FIFA12 has not been a smooth one. Not by any means.

As the above league table shows, after 11 matches in the all-new Career Mode, I’m 14th and struggling to make things happen on the pitch. But in some ways, that’s the least of the difficulty.

Put it this way: after my first full session of full-time FIFA12, I was making contingency plans for a shock return to PES2012. Seriously. I felt out of my element, as if I’d washed up on the shores of a desert island from which I just wanted to get ‘home’.

I missed Master League like crazy. Yes indeed, I was pining for PES2012. This was astonishing. After everything that happened…

It’s understandable really. I’ve always loved PES and Master League, except for when I disliked them. Even then, the dislike was motivated by love. This blog, on the whole, would tend to support that view.

It’d been 3 whole years since the last time I played a FIFA for any serious length of time. That was FIFA09—and really, back then I went to FIFA09 having sucked PES2009 dry. I was moving on naturally. Here and now, I’ve sort of left PES2012 in suspended animation.

And so I’m turning up on FIFA12’s doorstep with a packed suitcase and a cheesy pleased-to-meet-you grin on my face.

Is it any wonder there was some element of awkwardness, of oh-shit-what-have-I-done, about it all?

Playing FIFA12 full time is a very challenging prospect. My hands want to play any football game one way, the PES way; the game in my hands, FIFA12, won’t let me; the outcome, for an alarmingly long time, was frustration and a certain sense of deflation.

I started Career Mode on Professional level difficulty. I play with slightly tweaked gameplay sliders. I’ll post them in detail later in the week.

I started as Coventry City. It’s what I know, and as such it’s an easy way for me to take the temperature of Career Mode. I dithered for ages about making my own custom team in Creation Centre, or downloading one that others had made. I ended up gravitating to Coventry.

And rightaway I set about beefing up the team. I loaned in Philippe Coutinho from Inter Milan. I bought Paulo Assuncao. I bought Makinwa from Lazio.

None of those players would ever come to Coventry in real life. That is what makes simulated football game careers so great: a fantastical, even humorous element (Assuncao at Coventry! lol!). It’s what made Master League the #1 gaming pastime of my entire life so far. Career Mode needs some of that romance, some of that pizzazz. This is one way of doing it.

Also in the team, wearing  the no. 8 shirt: yours truly, here called N. Greg.

He’s my Virtual Pro, and one of my best players right now. I’m still unsure whether to reveal my real name when the book comes out (don’t ask about its current progress).

As can be seen I’ve gone for a variant of the basic 4-4-2 with a flattened diamond midfield.

I spent some time tinkering with the formation tactics to get it playing the way I want. One of the elements of FIFA that always gets criticised is its relative lack of tactical depth. But perhaps the critics are not looking hard enough. There’s a fairly well-hidden tactics screen where you can adjust attack/defence posture on an individual basis, and assign individual run directions (old PES-stylee).

I don’t know about the latter thing yet, but the former—adjusting attack/defence—really does work well.

I have Assuncao as my DMF (that’s a CDM in FIFA). I set his Defence to High and his Attack to Low. Which should mean he plays most of the match sat in front of the back 4, right? And that’s exactly what he does now. If I want him to join an attack I have to deliberately bring him forward. I tell you, it’s quite gratifying to look at the pitch and see your players doing what you’ve asked of them in tactics.

There’s a lot to say about FIFA12, about football gaming, about what is good in this game, what is disappointing, and what is great.

This game is deep. And do not underestimate the influence that Tactical Defeding has had and is having on my judgement. The game automatically gained credit with me just by ditching the old FIFA defensive system of sprint-clamp button pressure.

I’ll also talk some more about Tactical Defending over the next week or two. If I talked about everything I wanted to talk about here and now, today, this would be a 10,000-word post, and not even I will ever go there.

My rocky start with full-time FIFA12 started to turn around when I relaxed and allowed myself to forget that I was playing FIFA12. There were a few moments on the third and fourth days (Saturday and Sunday) that started to make me feel more at home. FIFA12 was going to welcome me to its bosom after all.

I’ve always felt that the greatest thing a football game can do is to make ordinary goals feel wonderful, as if scoring them is as good an achievement as any long-distance thunderbolt. I know that most other football gamers agree with this stance.

So, for different reasons, I was delighted with both of these quite-ordinary FIFA12 goals early on in my new Career Mode:

With the first goal, I love the scoop-style aerial through-ball; with the second goal, I love the full manual cross, and the way my player (me!) quickly stabs the ball home for a bread-and-butter type finish.

All in all a good start with FIFA12 full-time—if not the staggeringly great one that I was hoping for. I now see myself as naive to expect that I would just resume where I left off in early October. I still think FIFA12 is going to work out and that I need to be playing this game right now. But it’s clear that my 250+ hours on PES2012 have affected me more deeply than I know. Possibly there are more ups and downs ahead.

Viva Las Vita

Between the end of PES2012 and the beginning of FIFA12, a breathing space. I have started a new Career Mode in FIFA12, but not got very far. I’m still in the first transfer period of the first season. Gaming time has been very limited over the past few days, and there are other distractions (see below).

I am already missing the crazy bizarro world of Master League, for what it’s worth. ML’s fantasy football element is roundly mocked in some quarters, but is really its secret strength.

But FIFA12’s Career Mode has come a long way this year. And, in its own way, the CM world can be just as fantastical. I’ll tell all on Monday.

The PlayStation Vita (or PSP2, as at least I would’ve been happy to call it) arrived last Tuesday. Delivered by a man who seemed to be driving his own car. He was wearing a yellow hi-visibility waistcoat, as if that automatically made him official. Which I suppose it did.

The Vita is an amazing little piece of kit. First of all, it’s very light, and surprisingly thin. It is very w–i–d–e, which accounts for all the pre-release grumbles about its size.

Setup was a pain in the arse, due to a Day 1 system update and some bad design of the setup process. Setup wanted me to login to PlayStation Network using my existing ID, but it wouldn’t allow me to log in until I’d installed the system update, and I couldn’t install system update without logging into PSN… Fuck’s sake!

There was no way out of the trap. In the end I had to set up a new PSN account in order to get access to System Update, allow the Vita to update itself, and then login to PSN with my proper ID. Whoever designed the Vita setup process thing needs to get together with whoever designed PES2012’s shooting and whoever designed PES2012’s Master League. And all go to live on an island together somewhere. (What if they’re all the same person?!)

It was worth it. The screen pops right out at you. Remember how amazing the PSP was—a PS2 in your hands? Well, the Vita really is more of the same, only this time of course, it’s a PS3 nestling snugly in your hands.

I got FIFA Soccer and Uncharted with the Vita. What I didn’t get was a memory card, assuming that a basic one would come with it, and that I didn’t need one to play the games anyway. The Vita’s games, if you didn’t already know, are on little micro SD-like cards. I assumed that, like the DS, the games would record save data onto the cards themselves…

And some do do that. FIFA does it. Uncharted, alas, does not. I had to hurriedly mail-order a Vita memory card, which is due to arrive sometime Friday.

In the meantime, I’ve been playing FIFA Soccer. It’s pretty good, you know, but looked at dispassionately, forgetting that it’s running on a handheld, it’s not the greatest footy game in the world. It’s as close to FIFA11 as it is to FIFA12—and I disliked FIFA11. The old-school FIFA defensive ‘system’ (if it could be called that) consisted of squeezing one (at most two) buttons and waiting for the ball to be returned to your possession. Literally, that’s all it took. It’s the same on the Vita.

FIFA Soccer on the Vita is what I think of as a typical launch-day football game. It’s pretty good, and there’s a great deal of novelty in seeing it run on this hardware, but it won’t last me a long time.

Here’s my first goal, played in my traditional opening football game match, England vs Scotland:

In truth I can’t wait for my memory card to get here so I can play Uncharted and start moving my PSP purchases onto the console. And what will PES2012(PSP) run like on Vita? There might be more Master League coming my (and the blog’s) way sooner than I think, you know…

Ah, but now I am playing FIFA12 on the Xbox360 as my main football game. I have commenced Career Mode. It is going well. All will be revealed on Monday.


Going into the last stages of season 8 in Master League 2012, the situation was simple. With 6 matches left, such was the position:

I had set myself the goal of finishing in the Champions League places.

If I accomplished that, I would happily play on into season 9—and possibly beyond.

If I didn’t, I would set PES2012 aside for now, and turn to FIFA12.

This is just how it was. I won’t bother rehashing the various fine-grained arguments for and against. It’s all laid out in my posts on the blog for the past month or two.

These were my last 6 fixtures:


Ouch. That middle clump featuring Man City, Chelsea, and Man Utd on the bounce made me nervous. But what do we play football games for? Surely it’s to have a sense of occasion, of playing for big stakes. It’s what makes football games great. Big matches that mean a lot are what Master League, in particular, has always been about.

So I was excited about the challenging nature of it all. And determined to stick to my pledge. No Champions League, no more PES2012 for a while.


A terrible, tight, cramped performance. I had 65% possession, made a dozen chances, half of them clear-cut chances. No goals. Two were gilt-edged, clear-cut chances that there was no earthly reason for not scoring. I aimed ridiculously wide, almost to the corner flags. The ball went straight at the keeper.


The opposite of the previous match in many ways. I was 1-0 down at half-time, but staged a Barnes-storming comeback in the second. That’s a pun on the name of my key LMF, John Barnes. I said Barnes-storming instead of barnstorming

John Barnes inspired the fightback, laying on two goals and scoring one himself. This match saw the best of PES2012. And its worst, again: I could and should have had 5 goals, but no, it wasn’t allowed.


A total calamity against my nearest rivals for a top 4 finish. The game was heading for a 0-0 and I was grudgingly accepting it, knowing that a point would still gave me the edge. Then, late on, a routine pass out of defence saw my veteran CB, Ruggeri, take a monstrously heavy first touch on the ball for no reason whatsoever. Tevez—playing again for this Man City, at least—nicked the ball and scored. After this match the table looked like this:

3 matches to play. My goal difference now was as good as being a point behind. Not good at all.


A thumping defeat. I played badly for this one, no complaints. Everything that you shouldn’t do in this iteration of PES against this AI, I did.

I over-committed players in attack. I was impatient and impetuous in defence. Chelsea could have had 6.

After the match I checked the results. Man City had only drawn their game. They were now 1 point ahead of me. Not ideal, but as often strangely happens in Master League, I was still in the hunt. The quest was still on.


Another heavy defeat by the same scoreline, and this time I could legitimately grumble about a couple of things.

Early on I had two one-on-ones where the shot went straight at the keeper. Then Man Utd scored a good goal to take the lead.

At 1-0 down I still played superbly, if I may say so myself. In the second half I dominated play. I was holding off the Man Utd attack with relative ease. It seemed an equaliser was inevitable. It was going to happen. I had Merson-style unbelievable belief…

Then this happened:

Between the moment when my keeper patted the first shot away, to the moment the ball crossed the line, I had no control over any player.

My defender’s bumbling touches were automatic.

My keeper’s atrocious touch that carried the ball over the line was automatic.

I think his belated clearance was my work (I was twatting the circle button at the time), but can’t be sure.

At 2-0 down my belief departed, but I kept going. You never know. I had a few half-chances, then conceded the third goal in the 92nd minute.

Afterwards, I looked at the table.

Man City had won their match and were now firmly ensconced in 4th place—4 points clear of me, with one match remaining.

It was now impossble for me to finish in the Champions League places, and that was the end of PES2012.


The last match of the season. A hat-trick from van Basten. An enjoyable match. Too late.

Here is the final table for season 8:

And with that, PES2012 goes on the back-burner. It doesn’t have to, of course. I’m a big lad now. I can stay up late if I want. I don’t have to eat my vegetables if I don’t want. I can go on playing PES2012 if I want.

But as these 6 games showed me in various ways, it’s probably best that I depart the scene while I still have more than a modicum of respect for the game.

I do not rule out a return later in the year. Heck, I don’t rule out a return next week. There are no guarantees that I’ll take to playing FIFA12 full-time. FIFA09 was the last time I found a next-gen FIFA to be playable for very long.

After my PES2012 session was over, I backed up my Master League savegame to USB for safekeeping, and uploaded it to Dropbox for extra-safe safekeeping. I removed the DVD from the PS3 and put it back in its case for the first time since October.

Then I booted up FIFA12 for the first time in a week. All being well, this should be my football game for the near future.

How will I take to it after all the PES2012 hours? Will the new-look Career Mode grip me as it has gripped others?

I played one match in my existing Career Mode save, as Coventry City. (I will not be playing on with this save. I’ll be starting over, from scratch.)

The match in question was a pre-season friendly against Catania. And whom should I see on the pitch but a dear old friend from PES2010.

A good omen, I hope.