The portable FIFA titles have come a long way since the days of Game Boy Advance, when pitched down versions were the norm. These days EA takes the portable market a little more seriously, going on PlayStation Vita from day one and launching FIFA Football alongside the new system.
If you've played a home console FIFA title in the last few years, you'll know what to expect. Many of the same modes have carried over, and Vita's set up means that the controls are pretty much the same as well – which is to say, they're very good. You can play through all major tournaments or host your own custom competitions, play head-to-head online and set up friend leagues for up to 32 players.
As with other recent releases you can create your own player in a decent editor; whether you have an attempt at your own mirror image or just build a complete freak show – like we did – there are enough parameters to muck about with to make whoever you want to a reasonable degree. You can then take your pro into the career mode as player, player-manager or manager and run through entire seasons, either focusing on the matches alone or tinkering about behind the scenes on transfers and squad line-ups. It's the most competent handheld FIFA to date, an addictive version of the beautiful game right between your clammy palms.
It's not all hat-tricks and victory tour buses, though, as FIFA Football appears to have been rushed for Vita's launch – there's a reason that the standard year number has been conspicuously dropped from the title. It's not actually based on the latest version, FIFA 12, perhaps because its release date was so much later than other formats' games bearing that moniker. Instead it's built around FIFA 11; practically dragged and dropped from the console versions, even.
That's as much a cause for derision as it is celebration. There's none of the wonderful tactical defending added to FIFA 12, nor the improvements to career mode such as expanded transfers and scouting. While you've got a great looking, close-to-full console experience — minus key modes such as Ultimate Team or online clubs — it's not optimised for Vita. As the camera spans the pitch there's slight visual lag; you won't even notice it after a bit, but it looks untidy.
The text is tiny, the interface unchanged from the console versions. Scrolling through your squad list in career mode is slow. The menus haven't been changed at all, still reliant on sticks and buttons despite a perfectly usable touch screen being right there. Though none of FIFA Football's flaws are game-breaking, it smacks of a product that hasn't been given the proper time of day; technically competent and very much the playable game, but rough around the edges. Future Vita FIFA titles absolutely need an overhaul on the user interface front – there's so much that could be streamlined through implementation of the touch screen.
It's more disappointing when you consider that optional touch controls are available in matches. When you're on the ball, you can tap another player to pass; off-ball, your controllable player can be selected with a click. It works, but it's a bit fiddly to use while also making sure your men are running into position to mount a decent attack. The use of the rear touch pad, on the other foot, is superb. It's used only for shooting, a virtual net that represents your target goal. Press anywhere and your striker will accurately aim for the corresponding area of the goal. It makes attacking simpler without making it easy; if there's one thing that EA transfers over to the inevitable FIFA 13 Vita, it has to be the back-touch.
If you've been dribbling to play a soccer game on that big, shiny widescreen, you're in luck – but be warned that, though FIFA Football plays well through its flaws, in a matter of months there will almost certainly be an expanded, improved and numbered update that's not been rushed for launch. If you can't wait you're sure to have a ball, but don't act too surprised if EA sends it off in favour of a new edition by year's end.