FIFA FOOTBALL (PS Vita)
For over twenty years EA and their Sports brand have been building a huge number of franchises and it all started with a few key titles in the late 80 and early 90s. PGA Tour Golf was one, Madden another and FIFA Football was another. Since then we have seen EA offer great support for a wide range of platforms, often releasing titles after many developers had moved on to next gen consoles.
As well as supporting consoles to the death EA are also often in at the launch of new models and the PS Vita is no different with the latest incarnation of FIFA Football chosen as a launch day title. We last saw a FIFA title with the 2012 release on PS3 and found it to be one of the best versions yet so it will be interesting to see how much of that game makes it to the Vita and how the touch controls might change the gameplay.
In a somewhat unique approach to game menus FIFA Football throws the player immediately into action as before we access the main menu a practice arena appears. Initially we are given control of a single player against a goalkeeper and can run around familiarising ourselves with the controls. Hit Select and this takes us into a more in-depth practice of key aspects such as set pieces and Start opens the main menu. Interestingly one of the main menu options allows us to change the practice arena, goalkeeper and player to any of our choosing, a nod to how configurable the game is as a whole.
In terms of gameplay modes FIFA Football on PS Vita features a wide range of options. They start with the basic Exhibition Match which allows us to quickly pit two teams of our choosing against each other. Then we have Be a Pro (Goalkeeper or Player) which see's us take control of a single person in a team and play as them only for the duration.
Those looking for a slightly more in-depth experience will want to head to the Tournaments section which allows us to play through an event from any of the featured countries but it is Career Mode which is most challenging.
In Career Mode we choose to take part as player, manager or player manager and work our way through an entire career. As a player we concentrate on our role only (like Be A Pro but with aspects such as signing contracts thrown in). As a Manager we focus on the admin side of the game and player manager obviously gives us the full experience.
FIFA Football on the Vita also has online functionality available where we can go head to head with opponents, enter matches via a lobby or even set up leagues with our friends. As expected each mode can be configured to suit our available time and skill level with achievement tracking available too.
Finally on the game options we have Virtual Pro which allows us to create our own in-game identity, a player we will use in career mode, built from scratch. So what about the controls?
Like many of the PS Vita launch games we have a set of standard controls which will immediately feel normal to the player. We move with the left stick and various kicks are performed with the right thumb buttons with right shoulder to sprint. That's classic mode and alternate pre-set options are available too, as is custom. Where things get really interesting though are with the introduction of touch screen controls, both front and back.
On the front panel we can touch the display to pass to the player we hit or an area on the pitch. Then when we get closer to the opposition goal the back panel becomes active, and is of course a similar shape to the goal. Tap any area on the back panel and the player in control will shoot at the corresponding area of the goal, the longer the tap the harder the shot with distance and position all playing a part in how successful our attempt is.
Graphics and Audio
It is clear when playing FIFA Football on PS Vita that EA have tried to keep as much of the FIFA console experience intact as possible. For years now they have been trying to perfect the match experience, from using the same angles as TV cameras to including familiar goal celebrations and pre match segments. All of these make an appearance here and for the most part look good. There is plenty of detail in the stadium, of which there are many, and the grass textures are decent. Player animations almost always fluid and everything is easy to see on the screen.
That said when in Be a Pro mode the angle used does show the engine to be a little rough around the edges when extreme distances are in use. The models used for more well-known players are recognisable though, not perfect mind you but better than the attempts in Virtua Tennis 4 on Vita. We also loved the behind the player motion camera which is available, especially when sprint kicks in.
On the audio front there isn't much going on. We get crowd chanting, general in-match noises from the events on the pitch and commentary from Martin Tyler and Alan Smith. Essentially the same as the major consoles it all works well, even if the commentary isn't always 100% accurate.
When playing FIFA Football on PS Vita the overall feel generated by the game is one of a proper console experience. This starts with the menu screen where we find a scores feed from real football and downloadable squad updates along with a wealth of options and game modes which are similar to those found on PS3/Xbox 360. Career mode for example see's us take control of an individual for 15 seasons and between games we get plenty of statistics and news, as well as managerial tasks for those who select the appropriate mode.
Although this wealth of options is good there is one minor issue which appears as part of it, when playing the larger competitions, for example the FA Cup, as a higher league team there is a reasonable amount of waiting as the Vita works its way through the early stages towards our match day. We essentially watch the progress of the competition rather than jump right in to our game, realistic but not exactly pick up and play.
Elsewhere the graphics are impressive for a portable console, they are lovely and fluid which is important for a sports game and the TV feel of replays, pre/post match and celebrations is good. There are a few celebrations which are repetitive and it would always be nice to see more players based on real world counterparts but overall EA do well. The same can be said of the audio which is functional, the match noises good with the commentary a little repetitive in places.
The gameplay is where FIFA Football really stands or falls though and for those trying the PS Vita version for the first time the game is very easy to play. The basic controls are intuitive and the overall experience just like the home consoles but the touch screen additions are phenomenal.
By being able to touch an area on the pitch, or player to pass we get a far greater level of control on our passing than is possible with traditional button/stick gameplay. Then when we combine this with the back touchpad working as a goal area for us to choose the exact shot/target the accuracy of control is unmatched.
Imagine this... you are breaking through the centre circle as a striker, having just received the ball from defence. At the bottom of the screen you see a faster player, one of your wingers, making a run towards goal. You can see the path he is about to take and tap the screen in an area which matches it, threading the ball between defenders so that the winger takes it in his stride. The winger, who you now control, has burst past the defender and is heading into the box, you can see the keeper's position and you know where in the goalmouth you would place the shot in real life. Tapping the corresponding area on the back panel your winger hits the shot towards the exact location with the power of your choosing... GOOOOAAALLLLL.
On the surface FIFA Football for PS Vita is a solid version of the console great that we all know and love. The accuracy which the combined front and back touch controls give us is unmatched on any platform though and really make the game.