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FIFA 12 Review: Ultimate Team

Part 4 of the FSB FIFA 12 Review brings us to Ultimate Team, will this years improvements be enough to drag you away from Career Mode and Head to Head Online seasons?

Presentation

Ultimate Team has seen a welcome makeover in the aesthetics department for FIFA 12 and compared to its predecessor the changes made certainly enhance the experience. Where FIFA 11 Ultimate Team was dark and dingy, FIFA 12 Ultimate Team is pleasantly bright and warm, especially in the main and squad selection screens. It’s reminiscent of the original FIFA 09 Ultimate Team design and as a hark back to the birth of the mode, that dose of nostalgia works wonders to freshen the Ultimate Team landscape once again.

Sadly, some of FIFA 12 Ultimate Teams menus are blighted by EA’s odd affinity for plugging dead space with shades of grey. The most glaring example of this is without doubt the Leader-boards menu where beyond the club crests, the environment surrounding you is depressingly bland.

It’s a real shame because some of the presentation on the console and the web is outstanding, but in less prominent sub-menus the styling appears to have run out of ideas. And because there is this disparity in presentation quality, Ultimate Team does lack cohesion especially on the console.

Inconsistently brilliant is probably the best assessment I can give of FIFA 12 Ultimate Team’s presentation and styling.

Ultimate Team Web App

If you were to rate new additions to FIFA on a scale of impact, then the Ultimate Team Web App is perhaps one of the most successful we’ve seen this generation. How we ever managed to trawl the auction market without it is a mystery to me and its implementation in FIFA 12 is just as good if not better.

The biggest plus point is obviously usability, as a mouse and keyboard will easily dispatch the controller when it comes to navigation. Everything drags and drops, button presses are minimal, exploration is simple and on the whole it’s very responsive. The Web App is the Mecca for serious Ultimate Team players and the re-skin for FIFA 12 has focussed on improving the smaller details which combine for greater effect.

There are a few odd design choices though, especially within the search options. The inability to search for a manager by nationality is probably the most annoying and also the most confusing because nationality is a mainstay in the player search. It’s a small problem in the grand scheme of things but that’s why it grates so much, because it’s easy to remedy.

Another concern is the inability to move Club items to your trade pile when using the Ultimate Team Web App. You can do it on the console, so why not on the web? This means you’re always wary not to “send all items to club” when using the Web App as valuable consumables can be lost in to the abyss and only returned by taking a trip to your console.

It’s worth mentioning as well that stability hasn’t been the Web Apps strong point during the FIFA 12 release. I’m sure the issues can be filed under “teething problems” but none the less it’s not the kind of service you’d expect from EA at launch. Seeing the message “FUT Web has reached its maximum number of users” does raise eyebrows and it ever so slightly tarnishes an otherwise exemplary experience. I appreciate that capping the number of Web App users is to protect the console experience, but for a franchise and publisher so big, capacity management really shouldn’t be this much of an issue.

The FIFA 12 Ultimate Team Web App is a crippling addiction which I just can’t seem to shift and free gifts aside, there’s always a reason to return time and time, again. The Ultimate Team Web App is a shining example of how good development can enhance the overall FIFA experience beyond even the highest of expectations.

It’s still a few nips and tucks away from being brilliant, but minor gripes aside the FIFA 12 Ultimate Team Web App is a resounding success, when it’s live…

Online Modes

When it comes to competitive matches with your FIFA 12 Ultimate Team, the only place to play is online. With the only limiting factor to the type of Ultimate Team you decide to create being your own imagination, the variety that can be seen online at times is truly staggering. From league and nationality themes, to coalitions of random players and even left foot only teams, there’s rarely a dull moment in FIFA 12 Ultimate Team online matches.

There’s a real surprise element to Ultimate Team online because until you and your opponent are joined you have no idea beyond Bronze, Silver and Gold what on earth you’ll be coming up against. A swathe of black in-form cards always sends chills down the spine as the team sheets are revealed and seeing Emile Heskey leading the line perhaps even more so.

It’s a shame then that it’s the community’s innovation and dedication to team building that is inspiring the online arena because the tournament structure in Ultimate Team itself hasn’t moved on a great deal from FIFA 11. The differing entry criteria and featured tournaments maintain the interest to a certain extent but it’s the variety of your opponents which really make the mode sing. Knock-out football is the most intense form of sporting competition but as a singular strategy, I don’t feel it’s enough to carry the weight of an entire mode.

The next logical step is surely to incorporate Online Head to Head seasons in to Ultimate Team, which for me have been a real plus point from the wider FIFA 12 online space. Playing in Bronze, Silver, Gold and In-Form Ultimate Team leagues, with featured tournaments spliced in between, would have incredible community appeal and it could propel Ultimate Team to a whole new level of stardom.

Online matches in FIFA 12 Ultimate Team are fun, varied and compelling; it’s just the online modes themselves which require some innovation. Another year of the same tournament football won’t cut the mustard for FIFA 13 and personally I think Head to Head seasons could be the answer.

Single Player

If the variety of your opponents is driving success in the Online Ultimate Team arena, then sadly offline, when that element is removed, there are some serious issues. Because the auction market is online, the leader-boards are online and the Web App is online I totally get that the logical place to play FIFA 12 Ultimate Team, would be online. But if you’re going to provide a single player experience it still needs to be decent.

The single player structure is essentially a carbon copy of the online tournaments but instead you’re pitted against the AI and real life clubs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing per se, but it does show a lack of imagination about how Ultimate Team could and perhaps should stand out offline.

One major issue for me centres on game difficulty, namely the fact that it’s hard coded in to the tournament criteria. The opening Bronze tournament is set to amateur, a difficulty level I’d never consider using, but if I want to win the trophy I’m forced to grind through these matches with zero gameplay enjoyment.

The sensible thing to do would be to let us choose the game difficulty ourselves and have the tournament rewards scale based on how hard the matches are. So completing the Bronze tournament on Amateur will give you a 400 coin bonus but on World Class that might move to nearer 1000 coins. If I can’t enjoy Ultimate Team on the pitch, at a difficulty level I’m comfortable with, then there’s little or no point in me playing many of the existing offline tournaments.

Perhaps pulling in some elements from Career Mode would be an interesting experiment, mainly to try and shift the emphasis on to you as a manager, rather than a collector. Team Chemistry represents how different players gel but what it doesn’t account for is the personal aspect of whether Robinho and Messi want to play together. So maybe there’s a Player Stories angle which can be worked in to Ultimate Team offline, just to shakes things up beyond repetitively playing matches.

The single player portion of Ultimate Team does seem like a bit of an afterthought and because of that, much of the enjoyment is found online rather than offline. It needs either a drastic overhaul with some bold new ideas, or EA may as well make FIFA 13 Ultimate Team an online only mode and plough all the resource in to making it fantastic. Another half-way house next year for single player won’t be good enough.

Verdict

In most FIFA fans eyes when it comes to game modes it’s all about Career Mode and now the all new Head to Head Online seasons. Because of that, a lot of people see Ultimate Team as merely a side dish to the main FIFA course, but that’s an incredibly unfair assessment of a mode which possesses many qualities the other big modes fail to capture.

One of which being the sense of achievement that building an Ultimate Team over weeks and months and then going on to win that big online tournament gives you. The time investment can be incredibly high but that’s part of Ultimate Teams charm and the reason why the matches matter so much.

The big let-down is that the online and offline tournament structure is a touch uninspiring and worryingly identical to FIFA 11. FIFA’s gameplay will always look after itself, as will the addictiveness of the auction market, so for me the emphasis needs to pour in to the game modes if Ultimate Team is to develop and move on to the next level for FIFA 13.

Surely we can’t be that far away now, from a social life destroying Ultimate Team iPhone app either?

It would have been an 8.0 had the Ultimate Team Web App server issues been resolved promptly but because they still persist.

7.5/10

*This is not the final score for the game. It’s the score for this portion. The final score based on all aspects considered will be live at 3pm*

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