A big criticism of EA Sports' annual games, and one that I for the most part agree with, is that each new version is often too similar to the last.
The recent exception to that rule, however, is FIFA.
In 2009, the game underwent something of a revolution, an all-new system of ball control (the heart of a game about controlling a ball with your feet) completely changing the way the game was played.
For most series' that would be reason enough to sit on its laurels for years, but now, only two years, in many ways FIFA again feels like an all new game.
In FIFA 12's case, this is down to two major changes that I got some serious hands-on time with at Gamescom yesterday. The first is the game's "impact engine". While it's not an all-new engine, the holy grail of sports game improvements, it is a major overhaul of the way players collide and react to physical confrontation.
This meant that when I went in for a slide tackle, it would actually up-end a player instead of simply triggering a standard "falling down" animation. When running into space, players would actually jostle, rubbing shoulders as they then fought for the ball. And when tackling or falling down, your players wouldn't just flail around for a bit then be able to keep on sprinting; they'd lose balance and slow down, and if they trip and fall down, the ball/opponent will go right by them.
For the most part this was great, but in a few instances it was a bit severe, slight bumps causing players to tumble over like they'd been shot in the stomach (and no, this wasn't a display of Italian theatrics, it looked more like bumpy code). Hopefully things can be toned down a little when the game's released.
The other big change, and one that won't sound as sexy (but will probably end up being more important) is that for the first time in years FIFA has an entirely new menu system. The vertical menus have been replaced with a horizontal menu bar that runs along the bottom of the screen, streamlining the game's sections and snapping along much faster than the sluggish, older system.
Even better for hardcore players, it will remember your most-used features and sections, so for example if you play a lot of career mode, when you boot up the game it will skip the "arena" (ie practice field) section entirely and point the cursor right at "continue career".
Some other big new features, like a community mode (think Facebook for FIFA...FIFAbook) and more segmented online community (split into league divisions based on your skill), looked neat as well, but since you can only get a feel for those when you can sit at home and try them out, there's not much to say on their effectiveness.
For the record, I played on Xbox 360.