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FIFA 12: A whole new ball game?

Intelligent players and physics lead FIFA out of the tunnel...

In a way, sports sequels are the hardest games to make. It's not like you can introduce characters that will add a new dimension to the series, or take the narrative in a completely unforeseen direction.

The wildest thing EA Sports could probably do for FIFA in that sense would be to rebuild the footballing faces of 1966, wash the screen in black and white and call it FIFA Flashback, or something a little less camp.

Instead, by the very nature of its subject matter, the next iteration of any sports sim will always be a revisit to the same pitch, court, ring or track, with updated names, a graphical upgrade and a handful of game engine tweaks.

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For those who shun the sports sim for the RPG, the action-adventure or the shooter - and, to be fair, even for a section of sporting gamers as well - the annual updates that are inherent to the genre are nothing more than cynical plays for consumers' cash with minimal effort on the developer's part.

For the faithful followers though, when the right tweaks and subtle changes are implemented, the resulting evolution is an important one. It's not necessarily something that would wow passers by, you couldn't put consecutive titles side-by-side and make a non-believer drop to his knees in awesome remorse, it's just a feeling, an almost intangible but hugely significant culmination of gameplay elements coming together better than they did before.

As you probably expected, then, FIFA 12 will be more strides towards the unreachable goal of the perfect football-sim, rather than a last-minute smash into the top corner so powerful that everyone decides to pack up their kit bags and call it a day. The key to its success, however, will come in just how many strides it can take and the impact seemingly small individual mechanical features can have as a whole.

The biggest addition that EA Canada is pushing at the moment sounds, on the surface, typically subtle; a new FIFA Impact Engine that brings realistic physics to player contact.

REFEREE!
Instead of seeing the same trip animation when you clip the back of a striker's heels, and one of a handful of set animations triggered by smashing into the calves of an elusive winger, FIFA 12 should, in theory, never throw out the same collision twice. That is unless you're so clinical that you can pinpoint the exact same weakspot on Christiano Ronaldo's right knee every time. Well he shouldn't be so smug about it all, should he?

This time FIFA takes into account a wide range of variables when it comes to the tackle; balance, weight, momentum, direction and impact area are all factored into your opponent's reaction making the physical element of the game incredibly authentic.

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There's a practical element to the Impact Engine as well though, now injuries amount to much more than a player going foetal next to the corner flag. The new system can determine the torque and placement of a tackle to calculate the appropriate injury. That extends to awkward falls and the chance of self-injury through over exertion as well. Basically, this year, there'll be more ways to bag yourself an injury crisis if you're not careful.

The solution is to think tactically; stronger players are also taken into account and will have more resilience to glancing tackles and plenty of jostle power to fight back with. If England's Walcott is getting cut down far too frequently up front, stick Heskey in his place and watch him plough through the opposition like a wall on poorly greased wheels.

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