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Career Mode: Toms Impressions

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For the second time this year, we’ve been to spend some time at EAs UK Offices in Guildford, last time it was a little bit restrictive in the sense that we could only play as Arsenal and Chelsea, and that all of the game modes besides Kick Off were locked down. On Monday, this wasn’t the case.

After what I’ve been retrospectively told was way too many beers on the Sunday evening I found myself headed to the Guildford office (via Starbucks) to see an extremely quick presentation from David Rutter (this was a good thing, we got hands on a lot faster) and to play the latest publicly viewable build of Career Mode.

After my initial complaints and concerns about the amount of available consoles, I looked like an idiot when only about 20 people were there and there were plenty of seats. So apologies for making a fuss Al, hands up, I was wrong.

I spent the day playing on PS3, so whilst I can’t comment first hand on the PC build, because I didn’t play it, I did watch a couple of games, and it looks gorgeous. Everyone who played it said it was great and there was chatter of a few console players making it their platform of choice for FIFA12. To top it off, the machines it was running on were pretty standard desktops. Really promising stuff.

One thing to note is how long we were actually able to play for. A 10am start, coupled with the presentation, lunch (yes, we have to eat) and a couple of “meetings” to provide feedback meant that we weren’t going to get to the end of a season. Bear that in mind.

After a few games against various people, I managed to snaffle a console to myself and started a CM as Arsenal. At an initial glance, not much has changed, bar the odd tweak to the layout but over the course of a few matches, the changes bubble to the surface.

Firstly, the off pitch interaction is a marked improvement. It’s still not perfect, but it’s better, I definitely felt more connected to what was happening. As an example, whilst looking through the Squad report screen, I noticed that whilst Nasri was in good form, he wasn’t happy with his wages. Being the proactive type I decided to put forward a wage increase before he got any ideas of courting other clubs (the irony was sickening), and offered to bump him from 60 to 90k per week. He thought about it for a few days before emailing me telling me to stick it. The offer wasn’t good enough, so I was left with an unhappy player. Not one to tolerate that kind of behaviour, I benched him, hoping to dish out a dose of perspective. His response was to start talking to the papers about how his future at the club was uncertain and how unhappy he was. Cue a mad rush on deadline day trying to juggle picking up a replacement and shipping him out.

It’s a single example, that played out over the space of about two weeks, but it demonstrates the extra level of interaction that can be found now and it helped create a feeling of immersion as well as an actual connection with what was happening, that in some small way my actions were affecting things.

Visually, The email screen looks untouched, and sadly you’ll still get pulled away to answer trivial emails that could probably wait until the end of the week, it would be nice if there was a way to have one day of admin at the end of the week and only be interrupted by items that need immediate attention. This is accentuated by the fact that the calendar is now displayed across the top of the screen, which makes the whole layout feel cleaner, you can now see most things at a glance. The calendar icons have been tarted up a bit and are clearly visible at the top of the screen, so you’ll know what to expect from the next game. It’s in this calendar view that you’ll see the opportunity to talk to the press arise for a few days before each match.

If you choose to talk to the press, you’ll be given various options for praising or unnerving players from either side, or the management/team as a whole. It’s a swift process, but what we couldn’t figure out was how your selections affected the game ahead. We later found that this was a design choice, but I’d personally prefer even a small amount of feedback relating to your choice, as at the moment there is none. I’d not necessarily want a finite “your action boosted X”, but even something as simple as a news story acknowledging your action would be a good start, at the moment, although we’re told that the choice made does play a part somewhere, there is no callback to the decision once you’ve clicked ok.

UPDATE: Since posting, it’s been confirmed by Simon Humber in the comments that this was simply missing from the build we played (and apparently I knew but spaced on it, my bad). So there will be a follow up on your actions. Cheers Simon.

Throughout the transfer window, I was getting plenty of interest for unlisted players and crucially the figures proposed were along the right lines. Frequent targets from other clubs were the likes of Nasri, Fabregas, RvP and Vermaelen, which made sense. I listed a few duffers (Eboue, Denilson etc) and again, the quality of clubs approaching and the fees involved were pretty much accurate, as well as the level of interest, i.e not very much for those two in particular. This seemed to be the case all over, as I’d say that team budgets, player valuations, wages and final transfer fees were generally spot on.

On to deadline day. A simple addition that rounds off the transfer window nicely. Once it pops up, you’ll get 8 hours, or rounds, of negotiations to finalise any transfer activity you’ve got going. At one point I mentioned that I felt it was too short, but Nick pointed out that if you’ve left any crucial deals this late, then you’re an idiot. I had to agree with him, you don’t really want to be entering negotiations with a club at this stage, the two tiered negotiations mean that transfers now take longer, and each time you make a move, the deadline day counter runs down by one hour. In the right circumstances it will add a little tension to the closing of the window and even if you’re happy with your squad changes for the year before you get to it, you can still watch the rest of the transfers unfold in “real time”.

Negotiations on the whole feel more involved, once you’ve agreed a fee with the club, you need to agree terms with the player, which adds an extra hurdle to landing the star you want. You will see instances of players refusing to leave, or demanding more money when you approach them.

When setting up a scouting network, you’ll hire from a pool of generic scouts, rated by nationality and quality, and send them off on a jaunt to wherever you feel like. It’s pretty much the same as scouting of old. Once you’ve told them where to go and what to look for, they”ll begin reporting in on a monthly basis. As they do, they’ll be looking through a list of unknown players and making suggestions. When a report comes in, initially you’ll get a wide range of what the players OVR will be, as drastic as “somewhere between 50-90”. You can then scout them again, to tighten the gap and gain a better view of the player. The longer you continue to scout them, the more you get to see. However, what also increases is the risk that someone else will pinch him.

Small touches like using Triangle/Y whilst in any of the squad management screens to swap the highlighted player easily for someone similar make squad rotation a much less painful experience and hopefully once the polish is added, these little changes will add up to create much smoother navigation around the mode.

I appreciate that after some CM playtests last year, we reported bugs and were assured they’d be addressed, only to find they weren’t. All I can say is that during the same process this year, we were met with a lot more “this has already been fixed” compared to last years responses of “we can fix that”. I know that the community doesn’t have a lot of faith in the QA done for FIFA and whilst I completely understand and share some of those concerns, it was comforting in some ways that the majority of the problems reported back at the end of the day had either been fixed or at the very least already been spotted.

The hardest thing about this has been how much we actually got to see. People want to know about form and player growth and how they affect the game, but truthfully we just didn’t get far enough to really comment on those things, not firsthand anyway. There will be problems that don’t surface for a while, there will be unpatchable bugs and there will be features that don’t make it in because of time, but I’ll say that based on conversations had on the day, I believe that after all the screw ups of the past few years, Career Mode is finally in the right hands. I came away feeling pretty positive about where things were headed, even if there is still a lot to add.

Feel free to pop any questions in the comments, I’ll do my best to answer them all.

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