FIFA 12 is the latest entry in Electronic Arts's long-running football series, which has soared ahead of its rivals in recent years and is currently basking in the adulation from fans and critics alike. Digital Spy recently had an early hands-on and a chat with FIFA's line producer David Rutter to discuss the all-new Player Impact Engine and other changes.
With last year's FIFA proving such a storming success and providing a virtual footballing masterclass, we were unsure if developers EA Canada would be able to dazzle us with any silky new tweaks and touches. However, far from meekly promising a few new features and some minor changes, the developers speak of a gameplay revolution. At the heart of this revolution are FIFA 12's "trinity of gameplay innovations", which aim to make the already beautiful game that little bit more attractive.
FIFA 12 screenshots: Chelsea's Terry and Torres in action
The all-new Player Impact Engine
FIFA 12's newly-introduced Player Impact Engine is the key to understanding the "trinity of gameplay innovations" and really brings the new features together. David Rutter explains: "The Player Impact Engine is a new type of real-time physics engine that we are introducing this year. It's a very big deal for us for a number of reasons. First of all because it's taken us a couple of years to build; second, it's probably the biggest technological change we've made to the game since the transition to the current generation of consoles and thirdly because it leads to amazingly accurate, incredibly consistent and concise in-game collisions."
To highlight his point, various clips are shown of players coming together and clattering each other in a variety of different situations. Clipping a player's ankle or thigh might lead to a rather spectacular fall if they're in full sprint mode, while a similar amount of contact on a different part of the body and with less momentum might take the attacker out of his stride but leave him able to recover and move on.
"Dependent on the type of collision, we have a near limitless variety of possible outcomes. This is a good thing because it keeps the consistency and continuity of the game intact so you don't feel that there are these jarring moments when you're thrown out of your game," adds Rutter. "It leads to behaviours when collisions occur that look so realistic that you are kept in the moment, and perhaps the most exciting part of it is that we can take this particular information and harvest it and turn it into other things too."
FIFA 12's 'True Injuries' are just one of the ways in which the new physics engine has an impact on a different aspect of the game. According to Rutter, diagnosing and determining an injury is handled far more realistically, as is the way it affects the various game modes: "We can now measure the type of contact and the impact on the players and determine whether or not an injury has occurred and then broadcast that into the rest of the game as part of our career mode, part of our commentary system and presentation."
While the injuries are an offshoot of the Player Impact Engine, the new precision dribbling and tactical defending are the other two key components that make up the game's trio of new gameplay features, all of which combine to make the most well-rounded FIFA to date. "The new features all support each other in a rounded, supporting, reciprocal kind of way. In particular, we're talking about the precision dribbling and tactical defending," said Rutter. "On the one hand you've got this really engaging, deep and unparalleled level of control when you're on the ball, on the other hand you've got this really nice, deep, rewarding gaming mechanic for when you're defending, where you have to engage your brain instead of the mindless button press."
He continued: "What you have is this kind of mini-game going on where if he beats you - great, tackles you - great, and if you come together you have this collision, and an outcome that's really pure and realistic. This is why we talk about the trinity and the innovations coming together, because more so than any other year, FIFA is kind of a harmony of gaming elements."
FIFA 12 screenshots: Players jostle for possession
Hands-on with FIFA 12
FIFA 12's new features certainly look great on the teamsheet, but did we notice them when the game kicked off and we were up against some real opposition? The good news is that we absolutely did. FIFA 12 definitely feels a lot more meaty and physical than ever before and the new physics engine provided many moments of genuine excitement. Going for 50/50 balls resulted in lots of crunching clashes and players were no longer hampered by silly and unrealistic recovery times for innocuous knocks and nudges. There were also countless frantic scrambles in the penalty area when a ball would come loose and players would fall over each other (not in a slapstick manner) to try to get that all-important touch.
The precision dribbling and tactical defending also made a big impression, the latter, in particular, took some getting used to but made the defensive play much more of a strategic affair. By simply holding a button, the defender shadows and contains the attacker, with distance determined by flicking the left analogue stick to move closer or further away. A new button has been assigned for a quick tackle, while sliding remains the same as before. Gone are the days when pressing a button sees the AI defenders launch themselves at an attacker like a bullet from a loaded gun and steal the ball with a far from skilful automated tackle. The new system is fairer and much more reliant on timing and pressurising the opposition into making a mistake.
FIFA 12 trailer: the all-new Player Impact Engine
The precision dribbling is the flipside to tactical defending - the yin to its yang, if you will. It allows for improved control under the tightest of circumstances, especially when there are two defenders containing the attacker in a corner of the pitch. For example, during one match against a dominant Chelsea team, I managed to get the ball to my striker who was hovering around the halfway line by himself. Despite being heavily outnumbered by opposing defenders, the precise dribbling techniques enabled my player to take a few touches and turn away from the defenders, which bought in my midfielders and allowed me to counter attack - all within a relatively small area of the pitch. Heavier touches and gluey defenders would have made this an almost impossible task in past games, rendering any attempt to clear my lines and take a breather as futile. With EA assuring us that there are plenty more announcements still to come, FIFA 12 is shaping up to be another must-have football game.