Football fans need a fix of the beautiful game every day of the week, and FIFA has been providing the same for more than a decade now. With each iteration, it’s simulation of the sport has become better and better, but a good handheld game has always eluded the series. However, EA’s first footie release on the Vita looks to set the record straight.
As soon as you boot up the game, the series of screens that follow spark an array of thoughts in your mind. “This is going to be just like the PS3 version on-the-go“, is sure to be one of them. You are now in EA’s simplest yet most effective addition in quite a long time – the arena. The first touch you take and the consequent dribbles you make warmly remind that you’re going to get that warm, fuzzy FIFA feeling on your shiny new handheld. Sadly, that doesn’t quite happen.
The menu is smooth; smoother than the home console versions, in fact. The game starts with the touchscreen and rear touch controls explanations without a proper tutorial. I chose an exhibition match to begin with, and I was pretty pumped up until the match started. It wasn’t long before the realisation started to kick in – this is not what I paid for. The framerates are pretty bad, making you feel like the game is an upgrade to the earlier PSP version rather than a PS3 port.
It’s always an interesting challenge for sport franchises to cope up with the limited button options on a handheld. The Vita is quite powerful, and so it shows in the game, but a huge part of the experience depends on how the controls are mapped. The touchscreen and rear touch controls just don’t cut it. There’s a reason why the FIFA games on iOS and Android devices make use of a simulated stick and buttons, so I wonder what led EA to implement touch controls here.
The game uses both the touchscreen and rear trackpad for its touch-based controls. The rear is only good for shooting and works on pointing out the position on the net to shoot at. Simple, yet ineffective in most situations, unless the move is to quickly pass and shoot. However, due to the Vita’s design, the rear touch hampers the gameplay by registering the slightest of touches on its back panel, which a normal adult may mostly use to get a grip on the handheld. The front screen is used to point a position to play the ball out to or shoot. The problem here is the massive screen size. Since the left hand is going to be on the D-pad, your options with the touchscreen are going to be limited.
The physical button layout, however, isn’t any good either. There are some logical errors in button mapping, like how the pace control button (L) is also used for a dummy move, so I cannot use it when receiving a pass. Navigating players and passes through the analog nub is tricky at first, but it’s quite well done. One of the bigger let downs in the controls department is how EA has wasted the right stick. Instead of mapping specific passing/shooting functions, it’s used for long touches and tricks that you can rarely effectively execute. Wastage!
The overall feel of the game, however, is quite solid. It’s comparable to its console counterparts in many ways, even the graphics, to an extent. EA did well to remove both the player impact engine and tactical defending from this version. The soundtrack is the same as that in FIFA 12, which was pretty good.
The Career mode comes with some added features. It operates on the same system, but now has more variety in progression. There’s a solid player growth system and players who perform poorly get their attribute stats reduced. There is also more interaction with youths in the team and some good touches to communication on various aspects like transfer negotiations. Player fatigue levels are also well balanced. The EA Sports Football Club misses out in the Vita version, so players don’t have an option to gain XP by competing with friends, nor can they check each other’s progress or participate in daily challenges. The player rating system is much better now though, laying emphasis on points based on off-the-ball performance as well.
Online multiplayer is very smooth. Connecting to an opponent in head-to-head matches is instantaneous. Friendly Seasons matches are missing, but friendly matches are possible, along with the ability to feature in a 11 vs 11 match. Players can also form and join leagues. Downloadable updated squads are also available for both online and offline usage.
FIFA Football is quite an underdeveloped title. It’s a step backwards in a series that has improved leaps and bounds in recent iterations. It falls short of delivering what it promises, but it shows signs of what’s to come. Yet it retains that FIFA feeling and it fits in your pocket.