The clue about EA's aspirations with FIFA Football is in the name.
The omission of a year in the title seems to be a deliberate move to demonstrate that this is a whole new strand of the beautiful game, and one that’s been designed specifically for Sony's PS Vita.
When judged against any portable football game before it, FIFA Football stands tall - bringing a level of depth, fluidity, and control that others just can’t compete with.
It still needs a season or two to hone its craft, and it isn’t as technically gifted as the home console versions, but there’s no need to loan this game to the lower leagues of the Vita launch lineup before you put it on your team sheet.It’s the colours you have
The lack of a year in the title is also, in part, to prevent you from confusing it with FIFA 12 - despite the menu screens, song listing, and commentary all resembling the most recent entry in the home console series.
It’s in the matches themselves that the differences are most keenly felt. There’s no Impact Engine or divisive defensive system at play here - just smooth, stock animations and the now traditional double-press defensive controls that FIFA players of old should find fitting like a pair of old boots.
Despite cutting off the triggers, the PS Vita manages to replicate the console’s controls without causing too many headaches.
Setting players on an attacking run is a little trickier than it probably should be - double-tapping the L button to activate the run can occasionally be confused with letting the ball through under a receiver’s foot - but almost every other button-press is an exact replica of its PS3 brother.Contact sport
The big new addition to your arsenal is the touchscreen and back touch panel, both of which you can use during games to perform shots, free kicks, penalties, and even passes.
The back panel effectively becomes the goal mouth when you’re within shooting distance, with longer held taps resulting in more powerful shots.
Once you get your head (or rather, your hands) around the concept of holding the Vita so that you don’t brush against the panel, it turns out to be a powerful addition to the standard controls - especially when it comes to headers.
The touchscreen, meanwhile, is used for picking out direct passes and corners, and slamming in free kicks. Any press in space while on the attack sends the ball to that spot, making it an alarmingly effective way of getting through balls to your nippy strikers, or crossing the ball from the corner.
Free kicks should, in theory, be an even better use of the touchscreen, given that this component of the game uses a system similar to the excellent Flick Kick Football on iOS. But EA hasn’t quite got the balance right.
Flicking up at the same speed, for instance, can produce wildly different results, and the direction of the shot/cross seems almost completely unrelated to where you swipe. It’s a disappointment given that this was one area of the console controls (apart from headers) that could have really benefited from a shake-up.Good game, good game
While some areas have been bulked up, others have been left on the touchlines for this first Vita outing. A lot of series favourites are present: Career mode looks and plays a lot like pre-12 FIFA (no slowing down the transfer window here), while Be A Pro is still more interesting on paper than it is to actually play.
In terms of what’s been lost, the excellent Ultimate Team - first introduced as a ‘core’ mode in FIFA 12 - is out. So are many of the newer multiplayer features, like the ace Head to Head Seasons and EA Sports Football Club. The former loss is a particular shame as it added structure and purpose to online matches.
What is there, though, is Friends Leagues - allowing you to set up a proper structured tournament - and Ranked Matches against strangers. I did encounter some lag during the online matches I played, but it was never particularly troublesome, and I can see this being the go-to mode if you have a decent wi-fi connection handy.
It’s hard not to come away from FIFA Football both impressed and wanting more. It’s easily the closest I’ve seen a portable football game get to the quality of home console editions. But - because of that - the lower detail in the gameplay and missing features stick out a lot more than they probably should.
Anyone picking this up expecting literally a shrunken version of FIFA 12 will come away a little disappointed - but, well, the clue’s in the name.