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FIFA 12: The revolution you've been waiting for?

Hands on: We kick-off the next football sim season...

To look at, FIFA 12 is no different to FIFA 11. At least not to our highly-trained eyes.

The lighting is the same, the character models look the same (although when you're dealing with a group of men wearing the same outfit how different can they be?) and, while cyber-Cech might look a bit more like his real-life self, when your camera is somewhere in the top tier, that's not going to make a tonne of difference.

At first glance, then - and we should point out we played pre-alpha code - it'll be very easy for FIFA sceptics to claim EA Sports has put out another DLC-worthy update rather than a brand new iteration.

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But when producer David Rutter briefed us on what to expect from this year's football sim, and why he believes it's a massive step forward for the franchise, there wasn't a whole lot of talk about graphics.

Instead, FIFA 12 rests on three "revolutionary" gameplay pillars. Each one sounds more important than the last, but, you need to get your thumbs on the thing to determine whether the sum of the parts equates a coup on FIFA 11's throne or just some added upholstery.

Pro Player Intelligence, for example, is very much an addition that does most of its work under the hood. It should, however, mop up any qualms people have about static team mates day-dreaming when they ought to be dashing into space.

It's an extension of last year's edition where characteristics from strength to shooting accuracy were more uniquely defined. This year, by dropping some actual intelligence into the mix, EA Sports has created AI players that actually work as a team.

Most importantly, they work to their team's specific strengths. The likes of Heskey and Crouch, will spend more time in the box than anywhere else, for example, while the rest of the team will do their best to aim crosses at their noggins.

A player's vision is also a major factor this year. Most midfielders might only be able to see the obvious pass right in front of them but the stellar few can be more creative. Beckham and Fabregas for example, are able to see options all over the park, spreading balls into space for players to run onto and create chances from nothing.

With most of our hands-on being played against human intelligence, we can't comment on how effectively the A.I attacks when in opposition. Computer controlled team-mates are noticeably more helpful though. We had far more support than any previous FIFA when moving forward as players ran into space for the through-ball. We also noticed team-mates making more effort to support us in the box during one-on-ones.

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MAGIC FEET
The second pillar of revolution, Precision Dribbling, adds to the 360 dribbling of old. Players can now move in the tiniest of spaces and turn at the tightest of angles with Cruyff like finesse. That is if they have the ability to do so in the first place, we assume.

With this, EA Sports wants players to spend more time making little movements at the edge of the box, looking for space to break into. It's a common approach in the real game (anyone who watched the Champion's League Final will have seen Barca do it for about 90 minutes) and Precision Dribbling certainly makes it possible.

Now players have the ability to hold up the ball more effectively while they wait for team-mates to make use of that new Pro Player Intelligence to run into better positions for the pass.

Combine the precision dribbling with a new tackling system though, and you're left with an even more significant gameplay change. The Press button (X/A) is now the Contain button, meaning a defender won't zone in on an attacker and immediately go in for the tackle. Instead, he'll guard the player with the ball and follow him, waiting for you to make a well timed press of circle for a standing tackle.

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