A bunch of blokes kicking a ball around a field for 90 minutes. That’s football, in a nutshell. Pretty simple to understand. Except for the offside rule of course - trying to get the definition of that is like playing chinese whispers with amnesiacs.
EA Sports has been on an annual quest to make it just as easy to play its FIFA
games as it is to sit down and watch a match on the telly. Or as easy as getting a super-injunction, apparently. I was able to take a look at an early build of FIFA 12
in action, where several new tweaks to the engine is leading to some more realistic, and accessible, results.
One of the big improvements is in the player animations and game physics. You don’t have to wait for a player’s animation cycle to finish before watching them fall down or do another action - opposing players can interrupt those cycles and make the action look a lot more fluid.
The collision detection’s been rejigged as well, so you won’t see arms ploughing through chests. To be honest though, the camera is panned so far away that these cosmetic differences will only be apparent during replays - what really affects gameplay in a positive way is the way players now respond to challenges from others.
If you’re being attacked for possession of the ball, your player will stick his arms out to stop him from getting close. Normally, your opponent would retaliate gracefully by charging into you like the Juggernaut (bitch), knocking you about and forcing movements beyond your control. This doesn’t happen anymore. Instead, your player reacts and falls depending on the attacker’s weight and speed.
Because you’re not being knocked about like a rag doll every time you have possession, you have a bit of freedom to play around with the ball and make decisions. What adds to this is the addition of what EA Sports calls ‘precision dribbling.’ Putting extremely light touches on the left stick will allow you to gently tap the ball around as you look for an opening or try to slow the pace of the game down.
What also adds a little bit of class to FIFA 12
is the ‘tactical defending’ system that has been applied. It’s a new mechanic built to sort-of replace the neanderthal method of tackling opposing players - at the press of a button, your chosen footballer can mark whoever has the ball and follow him around the pitch (insofar as he’s allowed to within his designated area).
If you get close enough, you can challenge him properly using the automatic animations that were implemented in previous FIFA
games, or be a bit more daring and press the tackle button. It changes the rules of engagement in heated FIFA
battles - rather than charging at players and attempting flying ninja-kicks at their heels, you are encouraged to shadow the opposition to try and get them to make their own mistakes.
Playing as either Arsenal or Chelsea - sadly, no chance to play as Man United’s Ryan Giggs, although I just assumed that he was incredibly busy with other duties - I could tell that the combination of just these three elements is enough to take FIFA
to the next level. Physics tweaks, however small, have a profound impact on the pitch, and I found myself really taking advantage of the light-touch dribbling mechanics and thinking of how best to use through-balls and crosses as a result.
I wasn’t able to play against the CPU, but I was told that there has been a lot of work in the AI for this new iteration as well. Teams now look to advantageous players to pass onto - such as the increased likelihood of crossing to Peter Crouch in the box to make use of his giraffe-like head - and become more aware of each other’s positions to make plays beyond the obvious.
EA Sports is promising more improvements and feature tweaks yet to come - with E3 just around the corner, it doesn’t look like we’ll have long to wait until we hear about what’s next for the football franchise.