The FIFA series has had a very good run lately. In recent years, each release has improved upon the former, and just when some felt nothing more could be done, the team at EA Canada has found ways of doing so. FIFA 12 aims to improve upon the defensive side of the game and increase the overall realism that has been so well implemented over the last few years. We had the opportunity to sit down and play around with the near-final build of the game and see these adjustments firsthand.
For starters, the focus on the defensive side of the sport is clearly evident. Upon starting up the game and going through the obligatory "How well do you play footie?" introduction, you are tossed into a tutorial that lays out the new defensive system. Returning this year is a dedicated "standing tackle" button. In recent FIFA games, the standing tackle was replaced with "press," where players applied pressure on their opposition but didn't actually perform a shove to win the ball. While the pressure option is still there, it has been remapped and renamed "contain," alongside the second defender press button, which let you call upon a teammate to aid you when trying to cut off an attacking player's possible passing/dribbling options.
Because of the changes with the defensive layout of the controller, longtime fans may be a little clumsy with the controller at first. But like most things, after a little practice, it should feel like second nature. Of course, if you prefer to remap the controller to be more in tune with last year's game, that option is there as well. Other additions and modifications have been made on the defensive side of things: there's better containment, players will actively try to block incoming shots, and trailing defenders can and will try to grab attacking players in the hopes of slowing them down.
Alongside the changes to the defensive approach to the sport, player animations have seen a drastic change, and the defensive side of the game really shows off these new animations. In particular, if you happen to miss a standing tackle--especially when attempting one at fast speed--your player will more often than not completely lose balance and either fall to the ground or stagger before finding his footing and continuing to run. While the animations are much more realistic, this build did show some of the shortcomings of the AI, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.
Collisions are bound to happen, but these situations occurred more than a few times while playing. These ranged from having two computer-controlled players running into each other--which then allowed a striker to walk into the penalty area and fire an easy goal--to defenders falling on their own accord when trying to clear a ball out of their own penalty area. Little AI lapses of judgment like these happened regardless of the difficulty setting or the clubs that we played with.
Other aspects of the game have seen noticeable improvements. The FIFA series has always been among the best to deliver a relatively authentic sporting experience, and that tradition continues. The improvements to expect range from subtle additions to the pregame introductions, players will visibly show their pain if sustaining an injury and perform quicker throw-ins. In the case of throw-ins, if the out-of-bounds ball is within a reasonable distance, players will attempt to rush and grab the ball to restart the action immediately.
Also, for our European readers, I strongly suggest playing a game using Vancouver's BC Place Stadium, which is one of the few authentic Western Hemisphere stadiums included in a FIFA game. If you haven't seen or heard about the complaints from fans on this side of the Atlantic about the use of American football (or in this case, Canadian football) stadiums for footie, playing in this stadium will show you why. The guys at EA Canada did an incredible job of very lightly leaving the yard lines from the stadium turf, which is how the field should look once it opens in October.
Of course, there are many additional things being done by EA Canada in the hopes of yet again delivering fans a sports experience unlike anything other. The defensive side of the game will certainly be fine-tuned prior to launch, but its improvements, coupled with the more realistic animation system, are something that longtime fans have been asking for. While we've touched on a few things, fans can expect to see much more once FIFA 12 hits stores at the end of September.