Over the last couple of weeks I have rediscovered my love for FIFA. After a long and fruitful relationship, we hit a rocky patch earlier this season. I couldn't get into FIFA 12 in the way I had with previous entries in the series.
Time was a factor. Completing the manager mode in a modern FIFA game is a grind. To finish it off without simming any games is a gargantuan effort, requiring a considerable investment of time and energy. With so many quality titles arriving in short succession, my football gaming time has been much diminished.
The new defensive engine was another factor. Whilst I appreciate the need for the series to evolve, I found the changes acted as an additional barrier to entry. I couldn't just pick up and play. I wasn't able to compete on the hardest settings any more. This was an entirely new beast and mastering it would require some time, and I just didn't have any spare.
A short foray into iPad FIFA provided a brief renaissance, but ultimately a lack of depth in the iOS version of the series prevented me from really getting lost in it.
The revitalisation of my love affair with EA's football sim came from two different places. The first was my shiny new PS Vita.
I wanted to get Uncharted bundled with my handheld when I picked it up last week, but an inflexible range of deals narrowed my options. It was FIFA Football or nothing, and so FIFA it was.
I was of the opinion that, seeing as I hadn't played that much football on my 360, I wouldn't on my Vita either. Well, it turns out I was wrong. I haven't put it down since I got it and it has proved an excellent remedy for my FIFA blues.
It's not the perfect game. To me it resembles FIFA 10; with less of the tactical improvements of this year's iteration. Instead the focus is on creating an accessible, free-flowing interpretation of the beautiful game. In this endeavour EA has been successful.
What makes it so utterly addictive is the inclusion of a full and comprehensive manager mode. Picking teams, tweaking formations, feasting on stats, buying and selling players; these things are all there, and EA hasn't skimped on the portion size either. The result is game that marries addictive, accessible playability with the depth and detail necessary for complete and compulsive immersion.
On my Vita I'm playing as Paris Saint Germain. I decided I wanted some money to play with at the start. Once I've established myself on the other side of the Anglo-French Pond I'll try and move over to the Premier League, but until them I'm happy spending millions and thrashing average French teams.
Whilst all the aforementioned football might have been played on my new handheld, it has been playing co-operative FIFA 12 on my mate's PS3 that has really fanned the flames of my affection.
We've set up a manager mode and are fully invested in returning Southampton to the top table of English football. We do the transfers and team selections as we go, but the pleasure comes in the winning of matches, and to do that we've joined forces. Instead of taking it in turns, we now play all the games together, passing and moving as we seek to outplay our AI opponents.
Admittedly, we don't play on the hardest settings. We're building up slowly. We'll take it up a notch in January, and see how that impacts on our promotion charge. For the moment we are enjoying a rich vein of form (despite our hiccup at Doncaster), so it will be interesting to see what happens when the difficulty is increased. I think we'll be just fine; as we play more together, our game grows more instinctive. What was once long-ball is now the smooth execution of pass and move. It's just like watching Brazil (especially when the team plays in their away kit).
Playing as part of a team with my buddy, rather than against other players over Xbox Live, has opened my eyes to the subtleties of what I now consider to be the best FIFA game in the franchise's history (you'd expect them to improve every year, but anyone who has followed the series will know that forward progress doesn't necessarily make for improved games).
There are now so many ways to play FIFA that you are literally spoilt for choice. Some people prefer taking control of one player in Be A Pro (though not me, I spend the whole time in perpetual offside), others enjoy the competitive nature of online matchmaking. I like the managerial campaign; taking a struggling club, a sleeping giant, and resurrecting their fortunes and returning former glories to the stands. Thanks to my Vita and a bit of pass and move with my buddy, I've rediscovered why I've been playing FIFA for the past 15 years; because it's a beautiful game.