Realism that finally feels realistic.

I used to play a lot of soccer videogames. I mean, a lot. But over the last decade or so, I’ve actually found myself playing less and less. There was something about the games of the 1990s, notably the popular FIFA series, which got just enough of the fundamentals right, that it didn’t matter that some of the finer points of the game were lost. But the problem as time went on was that increasing attempts to add realism to the games actually made them feel less realistic. It was a sort of uncanny valley in terms of the simulation, where the added realistic bits were just off enough to keep me from wanting to play at all.

FIFA 12 might have turned me around. The new precision in dribbling and defending, not to mention the real-time collision animations, actually make this game look more like a real match than any soccer game I’ve seen in the last decade. The ball control is very natural and the physical movements are completely convincing.

In previous versions of FIFA, your player’s turning radius was far too wide, leading to dribbling situations that took you well out of the range of safety. It’s like trying to steer a semi around a mini-kart track. Players can now turn the ball on a dime, stopping it right in the face of a defender and repositioning to take off in an entirely new direction. You don’t have to be moving to make the system work, but the fluidity makes controlling the ball on offense much more satisfying.

On defense, players will also have more dynamic and realistic options. You can read the play and react to it now, rather than just mashing away for steals and tackles. Tackles are now launched with a greater regard for time and position. Even the computer controlled players will do a better job of finding positions and intercepting passes. In the match we played, you could really play a position and rely on the other players to make smart decisions when the ball came near them.

Player impacts are astonishingly realistic and you won’t have any more stuttering animations as players transition from blocking to sprinting to sliding. Player movements can be interrupted at any point with convincing animations. Tackle a player and he will literally trip over your legs. Back into a blocking player and you won’t see any embarrassing clipping as his arm comes out of your chest. There’s not a single canned animation to be seen in the game’s real time physics model, which takes into account the way that the human skeleton is designed to move. The new system will also drive the realistic injuries your players might face.

We had one moment in our game where I and another friendly player went after an attacker a the same time and the resulting pile up looked as believable as the yellow card the ref threw my way.

The final piece of the puzzle is less interesting to me but is sure to please folks who are already militantly objecting to my use of the term “soccer.” Called EA Sports Football Club, the new service will allow players to throw their in-game achievements towards the support of one or more clubs around the world. A leaderboard shows which clubs have the most support from the most skilled players, adding another layer to the competitive game.

FIFA 12 will be out this fall.

See all our coverage directly from the show floor.

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