Aside from may be Call of Duty, there isn’t a bigger game franchise out there than EA Sports’ FIFA, with every iteration comfortably selling over 10 million copies and consistently being one of the most played games online. But to keep these millions of people coming back each year, EA has to do all it can to keep pushing the game towards football simulation perfection. FIFA 11 took some significant strides towards achieving that, but there were a few gameplay and AI issues that held it back. With FIFA 12, not only is EA attempting to plug all the holes, but they’ve also claimed that the new game will revolutionize the football games genre.

Chasing balls

Chasing balls

Leading the ‘revolution’ is FIFA 12’s new player impact engine, which aims to lend the game a whole new level of physicality. In most sports games, including past FIFA games, collisions played out with the help of situational animations. So being clipped on the heels by an opposition player would trigger a trip animation that would send your player into a stumble or to the ground. In the same situation now, however, the outcome is determined by various on-the-fly physics calculations that take into account parameters such as the speed and momentum of your player and the severity of the opponent’s tackle. What this eventually means from a gameplay perspective is that being clipped on the heels doesn’t always have to impede your progress. If you’re well balanced, you have speed and momentum, and the challenge isn’t a particularly tough one, you could well shrug it off and continue with your run.

FIFA games have always had more realistic player animations than other sports games, but what this new player impact engine does is ensure that each collision now looks different. So bone crunching tackles will be shown with believably theatrical animations, while smaller nudges will result in players stumbling or shrugging off the challenge. There’s a potential downside to this, though. Since all the collisions are based on on-the-fly physics calculations, there is a possibility of these calculations sometimes having undesirable outcomes. There’s no doubt that EA will thoroughly play test the new engine, but this being the first time its actually being used, there is the possibility of the odd awkward-looking animations. For example, a player may fall to the ground like he was tripped when he was actually shoulder-charged by a defender. This is, of course, a very extreme example, the likes of which you probably won’t see, but using an open-ended system like this surely opens the game up to such risks, especially because in games like FIFA, there are so many different gameplay scenarios playing out that it’s impossible to play test for them all.

Using your head

Using your head

Another new feature in FIFA 12 is the precision dribbling system, whereby players have increased control over the ball when standing still or moving at a slow pace. What this essentially means is that shielding the ball from a defender or holding up play while your teammates join the attack is now possible. You can now apply deft touches using the inside or outside of the boot for twisting dribbles that allow you to maneuver more freely without actually losing control of the ball. While being caught in tight spaces in earlier games meant being dispossessed by an opposing player, with precisions dribbling, you now have many more tricks up your sleeve to retain possession.
One of the biggest complaints from FIFA 11 players was how overpowered the defenders were, so this time, the developers are introducing tactical defending, which relies more on skill and judgment. Positioning and timing now play a vital role in not only making successful tackles but also in intercepting passes.

Aiding defense further is the new pro player intelligence, through which the AI moves more intelligently into open spaces and helps provide cover in vulnerable areas. This also has an impact in offense, with AI teammates making intelligent runs through the middle and down the flanks. Players will also play to their strengths and utilize the strengths of their teammates. To add to the game’s realism, the true injuries feature will punish players who rely on and overuse a particular star performer. Players will realistically fatigue over the course of a game, and pushing an already fatigued player further may result in injuries. So the game now encourages teamwork as opposed to just using the star player to do all the work.

Dude, watch where you're going

Dude, watch where you're going

There are even more changes in FIFA 11 that we haven’t covered here, such as the improved career mode. So this clearly isn’t just FIFA 11 with a new name, but a serious effort on EA’s part to deliver an all new game in its quest to take the series ever closer to the real thing. But the intent has always been there; the real question is whether this is the year that EA finally delivers.

FIFA 12 is scheduled for release on September 2011 across PC, console and handheld platforms.

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