Previews

FIFA 12: Small changes, gigantic results

Hands-on with this year's entry...

Fans are the real barometers of a team's health, not the manager towing the company line. We're at EA's Guildford HQ for a hands-on with FIFA 12, as Producer David Rutter confirms the sequel's mantra of 'evolution not revolution' and lauding what he half-jokingly describes as a 'holy trinity of changes': a new Player Impact engine, Precision Dribbling and Tactical Defending.

The assembled journalists and fans react with typical scepticism - only to leave several hours of play later flushed with devotion.

On cursory inspection, FIFA 12 isn't that big a change. Visually, it's very familiar - bar the Sky Sports-inspired new horizontal menu that, finally, scrolls as quick as you'd hope - and the controls are instantly recognisable. Within minutes, however, new subtleties reveal themselves and it starts to feel like a new game.

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Precision dribbling is the true revelation, allowing skilled players to rotate in much tighter circles, or spin 180˚ at pace. It's achieved entirely using player stats and minute left stick rotations, not the slightly forced 'Skill Dribble' of old, where you held both shoulder buttons.

Result? Technique players like Nasri or Fabregas can twist to buy space in the tightest touchline spots, or busiest midfields, really liberating the flow of play.

KEEP IT SIMPLE
The genius is its simplicity. Anyone with an understanding of body weight and real life football technique can use subtle stick prods to drop a shoulder and 'roll' a tight marker - encyclopaedic knowledge of fiddly right stick tricks is no longer required.

The effect is to allow subtle wing play, rather than just using strong, fast players to bomb down the line and hammer in crosses. We scored several Arsenal-like tap-ins, cutting in from wide with players like Walcott and Nasri, using precision dribbling to 'sell' the last defender - leaving him in a position where he daren't tackle for fear of conceding a penalty - and driving toward goal. In short, stick dribbling feels natural yet refined, a bit like vintage-era PES on PS2.

MAKE AN IMPACT
Precision dribbling works in tandem with the new defending system. You no longer hold x for overpowered, Hooverstyle spam tackles, but to jockey the attacker, moving closer or further away with the left stick, and stepping in to tackle when the time is right by pressing x (for a standing tackle), or b (for slide).

Timing and positioning is critical, and should liberate online play where 'pressure abuser' players used to play an unrealistic pressing game. It's also harder to exploit the 'second tackler' option, creating a far more realistic flow.

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With a greater scope for mistimed tackles from off-balance, weighty defenders, the Player Impact Engine shows its worth. Collisions and injuries are calculated in real-time, not using pre-canned animations, allowing for some spectacular body flips, rolls and shoulder collisions.

It's currently tuned to be slightly too spectacular - you don't often see full 360˚ vertical body rotations in real life - but overall, it's very realistic. Tired players will even pull hamstrings from time to time, or twist ankles, once again deterring 'pressure abuse' players who run players into the ground.

What's the fans' verdict at this stage, then? "I can't go back to FIFA 11!" is perhaps the most common cry, with everyone heralding the new dribbling. Then there's the notespecially- small matter of the Kinect integration: its exact guise has yet to be revealed but given that Peter Moore took to the Microsoft stage to announce the feature we're betting it's more than simple menu navigation.

The sensible prediction would say voice integration to deal out team orders and possibly motioned celebrations. Whatever the Kinect features may be, FIFA 12 is already leading a quiet revolution.

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