Any game that gets an annual release is bound to fall victim to that overly-simplistic-updates-fatigue. This is often the case with sports games, and fans of the reigning king on the pitch, the FIFA series from EA Sports, know this frustration all too well. So when Aaron McHardy, gameplay producer for FIFA 12, labelled this year’s major changes a “revolution,” instead of an “evolution,” it’s not too hard to see why long-time fans remain cautiously optimistic in the hope that we’ll see something completely new this time around.
“The trinity of gameplay features,” a term kicked around EA Canada’s office quite a bit lately, is all about filling in gaps from previous years’ games. For instance, FIFA 11 was heavily focused on offense, but lacked a deep defense system. In addition, just about every FIFA game affords players two distinct running speeds —jog or sprint—but there was very little subtle movements that are far more common in real football (soccer) than constant full throttle breakaways. These changes may sound relatively minor on the surface, but seeing and hearing it in action reveals some rather substantial gameplay changes.
For the longest time, players had the ability to essentially hold down one button to automatically attack. “We really wanted to change that this year,” said McHardy. As such, the new defending system is much more realistic, as players will need more skills than just the ability to hold down a button. The old “press” function is replaced by “contain,” which puts the defender in jockeying position, and you’ll maintain that position until you flick the left analog stick towards the ball holder. The game’s A.I. will never commit to the challenge on its own, so the decision is at the discretion of players. “We wanted to put that decision, that element of timing, into the gamer’s hand,” he continued.
“FIFA for a long time was very automated,” McHardy said in regards playing defense. “If you can run straight at the ball you can get possession.” The new system is tactical, and requires players to think about and anticipate each touch of the ball carrier. You can still call in secondary contain, but don’t expect your teammates to lung in right away as they’ll jockey for the ball, too.
When you add in the new precision dribbling system, there is potential for some intense 1-v-1 situations. Players now have the ability to keep must tighter control of the ball, including shielding and slowing down in traffic as needed. “It now makes the top of the box interesting,” explained McHardy. “You can now navigate better, shield and wait for teammates to help, or try dribbling around [defenders].”
The inspiration for this new system comes from real life players. “Abou Diaby had the ball, he took the ball to his right foot, turned on the spot three to four times and took five touches and barely moved a yard,” McHardy said. But if you did that in FIFA you would end up halfway down the pitch, he noted. The dribbling system is all based on context and is essentially automated. If you are in traffic on the sideline, where it’s often difficult to navigate, your player will slow down and perhaps shield the ball to look for a teammate. You can even dribble while shielding, which isn’t necessarily new but was previously ineffective. All of these subtle dribbling movements can quickly be bypassed by pressing the sprint button, so you can still fully utilize breakaways.
These first two changes sound great, but what makes FIFA 12 appear like a genuine revolution is its new physics engine. “This is probably one of the biggest changes we made since we rewrote it for the next gen consoles,” offered McHardy. “We’ve been working on it for a couple years. It does a lot of cool things for us now, but it lays a really good foundation for years to come for FIFA.”
While last year’s collision system was decent, despite some odd body detection quirks, the new Impact Engine will act much more like real life. The old system couldn’t accurately detect collisions; instead, it was basically managed through a limited number of animations. There is new sense of momentum and resiliency. Instead of tripping up when a defender barely tags your hip, you’ll keep running towards the net. McHardy said think of it as player’s joints and body parts are all present in the game, so it goes beyond just colliding with your opponent’s leg. Instead, you could collide with their shin, resulting in an injury. The injury system, owing to the new Impact Engine, is much more detailed than in years’ past. True injuries will basically harvest all the information on your player, and if you put them in a match before they are properly healed, they run a greater risk of sustaining further injuries.
These are only a few of the major gameplay changes to FIFA 12, however. In addition to the above, you can expect a completely reworked menu system, new lighting conditions and cameras, and further player ability refinement. We should get some hands-on time with the game at E3, so check back soon for a full report.