FIFA 12 hands-on preview
EA Sports is calling FIFA 12 a revolution, not an evolution, due to the number of changes being implemented this year. It’s not your standard yearly FIFA iteration, that’s for sure.
At the top of the list are several gameplay innovations – including a new Player Impact Engine, Tactical Defending and Precision Dribbling – and each of them add a new dimension to the gameplay, changing completely how we experience FIFA.
The first two – Tactical Defending and the Player Impact Engine – have the biggest effect on how FIFA 12 feels. Tactical Defending is especially important, because, while in the past EA Sports has made several improvements to the attacking side the game, the defensive side has been sorely neglected. It’s always felt dissatisfying.
The studio appears to be laying the blame for this on the ‘call second player’ button. Rutter, producer on FIFA, has compared it to a heat-seeking missile, making a joke out of the way a second player would charge towards the opposition player as if he was locked-on. “We wanted to change the way the defenders worked because it wasn’t particularly well balanced. It was kind of mindless”, says Rutter.
Tactical Defending is a system that considers positioning and harrying to be much more important than pressing. You can no longer call a second player, so if you pull a defender out of position to attack an oncoming player, you better get the ball otherwise you’ll leave yourself exposed. Your AI teammates will react and attempt to plug the gaps, but they’re nowhere near as effective without you pressing Square to hurry them up.
This changes the experience in two important ways: it makes defending much more satisfying, because you genuinely have to think about what you’re doing, now that you can’t constantly press the opposition. The other thing it does is make the game feel much more open. Talented players now have a chance to breathe, go on runs and use their skill – so less chasing but more flair.
The adverse affect, however, depending on your mentality, is that you’re much more likely to have high scoring games – at least that was the case with our games. Sure we had plenty of tight 1-1 games but we also had several 6-4 and 4-3 games. It was great to watch, genuinely exciting, but it wasn’t realistic. It’s hard to tell if this shows that we can’t defend – now that we don’t have our cheat button – or if the defending is just too loose. Most likely it’s a bit of both. We’ll adapt to the new defending and hopefully EA Sports will improve the AI. If they fail, expect lots of fun, high-scoring games. (Do we want them to fix it?) Overall we approve.
We definitely approve of the new Player Impact Engine. “Looking at gameplay we had a lot of work to do to improve the physicality of the players”, says Rutter. So the answer to that was to spend two years developing an engine built to make smart decisions about how a player will react to physical contacts.
What this means is that if a player comes into contact with another, the engine will look at what limbs have collided, and the nature of their collision, before deciding what the outcome will be. So, players won’t always fall from the slight challenge; they may stumble and lose their balance but they can ride it out. If a player comes in with a slide tackle, they will go over in the way you would expect. Another benefit to the Player Impact Engine is that players’ legs now rarely go through other players’ legs – which, you know, is always a good thing.
The Player Impact Engine is designed to make FIFA less scripted and give it a better sense of physicality. The scripted nature of previous FIFAs has been disappointing, making it hard to get excited about individual tussles, but now it feels genuinely unpredictable. The engine creates several incidental moments throughout a match, things you won’t expect to happen. The ball may fall loose in the box, for example, and two players may go for it and collide, forcing the ball to come and hit another player; it could then fall for a player for an easy chance. It’s the things we’re used to seeing in Pro Evo but less so in FIFA.
It also creates genuinely funny moments. Two or three players may get stuck in a tussle, and all of them may fall like a sack of potatoes. It’s almost slap-stick, but that’s what real football is like. It’s a little too erratic at the moment but EA Sports still has some development time to tighten it up.
The other big change, precision dribbling, is also a welcome feature. This basically gives you a better feel of the ball when in control, and it ties in with Personality+ (introduced in FIFA 11) by having certain players feel distinctly different when in control. Someone like Messi will take lots of touches and shield the ball well while Berbatov will try his little flicks. It’s now more enjoyable to be in possession when around the box. You feel more in control, as though you have a better chance of making exciting things happen.
The three big changes are sensible and significantly alter the FIFA experience. It’s not a new game though. For all the calls of revolution from EA Sports, it still feels like the same FIFA that fans have loved in recent years. Fresh enough to make this a vital purchase, but not enough to make it feel alien to fans.
There are other nice little touches throughout the game too. The Player Impact Engine’s ability to determine exactly which body parts are involved in a tussle is now used to create more accurate injuries. The new Pro Player Intelligence is also a nice addition. This basically builds on Personality+, giving the AI much more awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of the players.
It’s especially noticeable at set pieces. A poor player will have less vision, so there is a haze on the screen to reflect this, making corner taking harder. We can’t understand why being poor automatically makes you short-sighted, but it is effective nonetheless. Pro Player Intelligence also works in open play; an example would be star players such as Kaká being much more likely to pick out pin-point passes as they do in real life.
Not all revolutions work out. History is littered with examples: England ditched its monarchy in 1649 only to reinstate it in 1660; Russia exchanged Tsarist tyranny for the terror of Stalinism. However, if you ask us, we suspect this will be a happy revolution, and we certainly won’t be calling for the cheat button to be reinstated.