FIFA 12 Hands-On Preview – Let's Get Physics-al
Written Monday, May 30, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
With a successful franchise like FIFA, one might expect developer EA Canada to simply churn out the same game with a few additional gimmicks and watch the sales roll in year after year. So when we head over to EA HQ in Guildford for an early first look at FIFA 12, we're pleasantly surprised to find that the new aspects being shoehorned into the new game aren't gimmicks at all, but potentially game changing additions that might just be some of the most significant yet, pushing the game ever closer towards the holy grail of authentically recreating the beautiful game in all of its intricacy. Okay, perhaps that's pushing it a bit, but FIFA 12 looks like it's going to offer a fine game of football with a relevant and wholly worthwhile update.
This year EA Canada is touting “a trinity of gameplay innovations” according to FIFA Line Producer David Rutter. Chief among these is the 'Impact Engine', which sounds a lot like FIFA 10's increased physical play and jostling, but it's actually so much more than that, as Rutter explains. In FIFA 11, there were moments that could bring the flow of the game grinding to an unceremonious halt, such as players bumping into one another like sleepwalking automatons or arms clipping through player's torsos “like Dead Space” and so on. In FIFA 12, the Impact Engine heralds an end to such occurrences with real-time physics and collisions accurately mapping the smallest knock to the most brutal challenge.
Precision dribbling and tactical defending make up the rest of the trinity, and in practice, as we go hands-on with FIFA 12 for the first time, these gameplay innovations as Rutter calls them, all add up to make the game feel markedly different from its predecessor. At present, the pre-alpha code we're playing only has Arsenal and Chelsea to choose from, but the player likenesses appear to have been given a slight touch up too, though the game is visually very similar to FIFA 11. Improved graphics aren't really the focus in FIFA 12 however – although the game does look incrementally nicer - as on the pitch the Impact Engine creates realistic tackles, believable, fluid interactions and “nuanced modelling of collisions” says Rutter. This also extends to 'true injuries', meaning that if a leg stretches into an unnatural position, it'll event in an injury as we're shown when Torres is subjected to a nasty challenge that bends his knee joint back slightly too far, knackering his leg in the process.
Of course, your player can also injure themselves if pushed beyond their limits, so if you run a player too hard, he might eventually end up doing himself a mischief and will have to limp off to think about what he's just done. There's still manual jostling in the game too, although this has been improved too thanks to the real-time physics, so again, players won't clip into one another, keeping you in the moment and immersed in the game. At least that's the idea anyway, and as the London derby gets underway at the Emirates Stadium, we get to experience the Impact Engine in full effect. Choosing Arsenal for the home advantage, we get into the ebb and flow of a big Premiership match, but fail to make an impression on the game with a goal, ending proceedings with a scrappy penalty shootout with the same penalty-taking mechanics introduced in FIFA World Cup 2010 and FIFA 11.
With the tactical defending, which allows for closer coverage and better marking of a player, getting a clear shot on goal is more of a challenge, which is in turn countered by the new precision dribbling and shielding that enables you to better look around for the right pass or the player in the optimum position. Holding LB gives you the ability to stop and turn on a dime with your player, keeping the ball at your feet while you consider your options. It allows you to slow the pace, place your passes more effectively and relieve some of the pressure that might be bearing down on you from the opposition's defence. It's another great addition to FIFA 12, that opens up your tactical options and gives you the opportunity to dictate the pace and tempo of your play, although it's worth noting that the game's overall speed appears to have been brought down a notch, placing a greater onus on carefully considering your tactics rather than making a suicidal sprinting beeline towards goal.
Tactical defending meanwhile, is activated by holding the A button to keep a safe distance from the man with the ball, watching for an opening to put in a tackle with the B button or go in full strength for the sliding challenge. It works a little like the shimmying ability in previous FIFAs that let you strafe around your target, but presents more flexibility on defence and gives you more time to think about your defensive approach. Pro player AI also provides a stiff challenge when you're playing solo or co-op against the CPU, so for instance an opposing AI player might try to pick out a teammate in the box who provides a potential aerial threat for a header or volley on goal, and certain players have increased vision on the pitch, meaning that they'll spot plays beyond the obvious due to a larger cone of awareness. Players like Fabregas or Xavi have a higher level of vision for instance, increasing the probability that they'll come up with something special beyond what you may expect, depending on their form of course.
Numerous Arsenal versus Chelsea matches later, and we're hammering goals home, getting right back into the swing of FIFA. The momentum is noticeably better, with the Impact Engine keeping things moving nicely with realistic reactions and challenges rather than jarring, stilted animations. Even comparatively minor additions like quick throw ins and quick free kicks keep the momentum and tempo ticking along nicely, making FIFA 12 feel like a worthy progression for the franchise rather than a hastily reheated annual update. There's the same old kickabout practice arena at the front end, complemented by a brand new menu presentation (finally!), making FIFA 12 feel fresher even at this relatively early stage in development. The Impact Engine is a significant new feature for the franchise, which coupled with the precision dribbling and tactical defending makes for an altogether different game of football. This unusually early look at the game indicates that EA Canada is exceptionally confident about this year's instalment, and based upon our hands-on with the game, there's every possibility that FIFA 12 could be the best FIFA yet. Your move PES 2012.
FIFA 12 is out in autumn 2011.