Our dive into all things FIFA 12 last week at Electronic Arts started out with a blistering critique of everything wrong with FIFA 11 by one of the people involved in both games.
The team wanted to deliver more of a revolution than an evolution with the coming of FIFA 12, we were told, but before they could do that they had to go back to last year's soccer game and fix the things that bothered them.
FIFA 11 tackling had a lack of accuracy, EA Canada's David Rutter explained to us. Players stuck together or passed through one another when they collided. In FIFA 12 the impact engine is completely new, using a physics engine based around the physicality of players on the pitch.
In FIFA 12, they said, the players actually collide. Nothing is scripted. Then they showed us.
In action the nuance of what Rutter was trying to explain was suddenly blindingly obvious. FIFA 11 has stall moments, moments when the intersection of one player's foot with another's leg, for instance, would cause the game to momentarily pause to deal with the tangle of digital flesh. In FIFA 12, we were promised, those collisions and resulting bottlenecks can still happen but they will be portrayed in a very real world way. People will trip, fall over, movement and kicks will be interrupted on the fly.
This is possible because the game will be harvesting information about players on a frame-by-frame basis, Rutter said. The game will also be able to tell if the collision can result in someone getting hurt, or hurting themselves.
"If you really run someone into the ground you will be penalized on rare occasions," he said.
When not in possession of the ball you can push and pull opposing players.
More interesting is the game's retooling of dribbling. In the previous version of the game EA took great pride in the fact that a player could dribble a ball around the inside of the center circle. In FIFA 12 you can dribble in a collapsed circle, essentially footing the ball around you without ever moving your player's location.
Up on the screen, this new precision dribbling adds an extra level of detail to the game. In practice it makes the game feel that much more authentic and responsive.
While the game has a lot of other interesting little tweaks, like a new tactical defending system, the ability for game-controlled teammates to use the specific skills of the player they are controller, it's this new dribbling system that seems most important.
Even a novice console soccer player feels like they have the ability, even sometimes the skill, to outmaneuver their opponents and that strikes me as the best way to draw in an audience that doesn't have to be steeped in the rules and culture of the sport to enjoy it.