Tackling and defending are also far more difficult thanks to the precision dribbling mechanic and what seems to be an improved AI. Harried attackers will turn away from oncoming threats, covering the ball with their bodies or threading it through to teammates running into space.
Tactical defending and jockeying compensate for this somewhat. There's a face button for causing defenders to shoulder or grab the shirt of the player they're trying to close down, although it's worth tempering the use of this feature, as hammering it consistently will prompt the ref to blow for a foul. Then there's the handy 'contain' feature, which sends the closest AI-controlled defender to cover the player with the ball, meaning that you don't need to constantly switch between players to break up an attacking threat in the box.
The new defending system will be jarring for players who used to rely on holding the two 'pressing' buttons to close down opposition attackers, although ultimately it forces you to adopt more realistic defensive behaviour. (And if you really, really hate it, you can switch to the old system through the menus.)
Away from the pitch, FIFA 12 feels robust and streamlined at the same time. The menus are less fiddly and loading times have been shortened considerably. FIFA 12's Career Mode, which once again bundles the choice of being a player, a manager or a player/manager into one neat package, is a huge improvement over last year's model. The transfers system is both easier and more fun to use and feels a lot closer to the dramatic reality than in previous iterations.
Manager and club star-ratings work in tandem in the transfer market; if you manage Manchester United, for example, don't need above a two-star manager rating to attract good players to your five-star club. You can also use your transfer budget and wage budgets interchangeably, giving you more money to sling around in the transfer window. The fantasy football element has been reduced somewhat, although the odd big buy is still possible and the AI still tries it on occasionally (Ł6,000,000 for Thomas Vermaelan? Pffft!).
You can choose to 'stall' deals rather than being forced to decline or accept huge offers for your best players right off the bat, and this can prove an absolute boon. Managers also receive missives from players who feel they aren't getting enough time on the pitch, and can make the decision to give them more playing time or bench them, which will have an effect on their morale and whether they announce to the press that they wish to leave.
Transfer deadline day is a far more dramatic component in this year's release too. The brief, one button-tap experience of ending the transfer window has now been drawn out to an eight-stage advance countdown. As the window to buy or sell players closes, you can use the in-game news to keep track of which players are coming on the market, which clubs are picking up new talent and how much money is being spent. The effect of watching the transfer window close is quite dramatic and fun.
Elsewhere, the fan service from last year is still in place and largely unchanged. The creation centre, ability to edit teams and players, import your own music and chants and replay and upload your finest moments on the pitch are there if you want them.
Graphically, FIFA 12 looks absolutely solid. Players look more like their real-world counterparts than ever, though the crowd in the stands is still a blurred mob. The soundtrack is as exact as in previous years, although Andy Gray is no longer doing commentary - players instead have a choice between Martin Tyler and Alan Smith or Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend depending on the context of the fixture.
The changes to commentary may have been forced by circumstance, of course, but the majority of FIFA 12's considerable updates to gameplay were not. The point of evolution is to improve in order to adapt and dominate one's environment, and FIFA 12 has done this - it keeps the best elements of FIFA 11 and builds on these already impressive foundations. The changes to the gameplay may not suit all players initially, but then evolution isn't always painless.
What it is, though, is a step forward, and after playing FIFA 12, going back to previous entries in the series seems almost unimaginable. It's another step closer to reality, and this time it's a very welcome one.
9 / 10