There must be some element of innate entry level pressure that underscores the beginning of development of every annual update in the acclaimed FIFA franchise. It goes without saying that in the last couple of years FIFA has almost certainly pulled away from Pro Evolution as the definitive football gaming experience on a console. But staying ahead of the competition year in year out is invariably easier said than done.
How can you make a match winning formula even better? Do you innovate or to you retain what you have and reinforce it with 12 months of bare trimmings and extras? Do you evolve or to you revolutionize? Sure, you can spruce up the visuals, tweak the gameplay and add a couple of game modes but is that enough to justify picking up a new copy of FIFA every October? Apparently it isn’t. FIFA 12 is being billed as a revolutionary experience, not least because it takes everything you’ve come to know about the way you play FIFA and changes it radically.
FIFA the twelfth is a distinctly different experience to that of its 2011 predecessor. EA haven’t exactly wiped the slate clean of 2011’s core strengths but they have initiated a number of key enhancements that change the way you interact with the ball, your team mates and your opposition. These enhancements are three fold and the first and most immediate of these is the new Player Impact Engine. Simply put, the impact engine is the core game changer. It’s represents a distinct paradigm shift from what we have come to know from FIFA. Playing FIFA 12 with the engine makes you wonder just how you played the game for so long without it. This custom built physics engine delivers comprehensive ‘real world physicality’ to every interaction you have on the field of play. It is complementary to every facet of the sport, as well as the slick visuals, presentation and aesthetic fidelity now synonymous with brand FIFA. It wipes the slate clean of awkward animations and unnatural movements. The engine adds a smooth holistic natural diplomacy to every movement and every player interaction. Remember the first time you picked up the Gravity Gun in Half Life 2 and wondered at how free and natural the experience was? The impact engine is FIFA 12’s Gravity Gun, with players experiencing new levels of physicality, movement and momentum. Players feel believable, be it when they tussle shoulder to shoulder with a defender or get taken down from behind by a rather ambitious but ultimately poorly timed tackle. Every movement is wondrously lifelike and is unlike anything you’ve ever seen in a football game before. As a result, everything feels free and feels real. Running with the ball, passing, shooting and defending has never felt this infinitely authentic.
Bulking out the innovations is precision dribbling; a feature that once again offers a new level of control and exactitude in movement. This is best exemplified in tighter spaces and allows you to alter the pace and precision of your touch. You can take more touches, be they small or more forceful and you can turn defences or take down the wing with more control and more time on the ball.
The developers at EA Sports have taken defending back to the drawing board and in tactical defending they have created a finely tuned mechanic that reinforces the importance of place and timing. By simply holding down the X or A button, your defender will essentially track the movement of the incoming attacker. You can determine the distance you maintain from the opponent and choose the right time to attempt to intercept or tackle the player. Tactical defending essentially deletes the need to just chase a player and launch into a big risky tackle to take the ball away from them. It gives you more control over the situation and is perhaps the most clever of the tangible gameplay innovations on display.
Of course all these enhancements are bound by Pro Player Intelligence, a self awareness that enables CPU players to behave and make decisions based on their own skills and tendencies. Players will make immediate decisions and big game calls based on the perceived strengths and skills of their teammates. For example, would you be more likely to send a high ball into the box for Chelsea if Torres was at the end of it or Drogba? You’d choose the latter of course and FIFA 12 recognises this. Teams will vary tactics based on the players on the pitch. Therefore, no two game plans and no two matches will ever be the same.
Another neat addition is 12’s true injuries. The impact engine tracks and monitors the strain put on the players bodies, be it from running for too long or picking up knocks from other players. The results are life like injuries that see, for example, players pulling up off the ball away from other opponents. Players will grab their hamstrings and react to the pressure that their bodies are put under for 90 minutes like never before. It’s a small addition but goes to show you that EA Sports are always dedicated to adding extra layers of realism and authenticity to their annual updates.
FIFA 12 is perhaps the most radical redesign the FIFA franchise has ever experienced. It feels tangibly different to FIFA 11 on nearly every level and as a result, EA are perhaps on the cusp of crafting the most definitive, authentic and realistic footballing experienced to date. Only time will tell if it warrants the revolutionary tag that the team at EA are pinning to it. For now, it certainly shows promise. Expect EA to drop a ton of additional FIFA 12 info at E3 next week as well as a number of exciting announcements between now and it’s Autumn release.
FIFA 12 is available this Autumn on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC, Playstation 2, 3DS, PSP, iPhone and iPad.