There are two instances in which you're likely to see a footballer somersault on the pitch. The first is if he's scored a goal and communicates his joy through the medium of gymnastics, the second is if his legs have just been taken out by a defender and he communicates that he no longer has the ball through the medium of flying and screaming. Both instances are simulated spectacularly in FIFA 12.
For the first time in many seasons, this year's edition of FIFA on PC is identical to its console cousins – the same engine, animations and online modes that console players have come to expect, as well as the new defensive controls and an 'Impact Engine' designed to render player collisions with devastating accuracy.
The Impact Engine is great, mostly. When players collide, either in a tackle or a shoulder-to-shoulder tussle for the ball, the procedural physics system will take into account both players' physiques and simulate the precise result. In big tackles, this means sprawling falls, in possession battles it leads to some slightly cuddly wrestling, and in mismatches the smaller man is comically flattened.
It simulates the physicality of the sport with more realism than any other football game before it, but can occasionally be a bit too exuberant. Players off the ball who accidentally cross paths can find themselves locked in a panicky tumble of limbs. Watching footballers fall over is inherently funny, though, and the layer of unpredictability the Impact Engine adds is well worth the occasional mad moment.
The defensive overhaul is more controversial. Defenders can now 'jockey' attacking players, strafing in front of them with a wide stance waiting for the right moment to tackle. Most defensive encounters are about standing off the opponent, shielding areas of the pitch and blocking sneaky through balls. This is what defending is like in real football, of course, but it's a change of pace from the close harassment and tackles of FIFA's previous years.
This will likely prove unpopular with some players, but if you're looking for an accurate simulation of the sometimes ponderous ebb and flow of a real football match, then FIFA 12 comes close. Occasionally teams will mark each other into oblivion, and there will be nil-nil draws – but that's the game, and breaking through and scoring that elusive goal can feel more difficult than ever in the face of an organised and patient defence.
Until now, football games have simulated a kind of hyper-football, packed full of overhead kicks, snaking runs and raking tackles. FIFA 12 makes the brave decision to slow the game down and bring the action closer to the real sport.
It's all the more annoying, then, to come across the small but infuriating problems that have dogged FIFA for years. A running player can be so happy to be selected that they drop off the pace – a calamity if they're shadowing a flying striker on the way into the box. Player selection in general can still be a bit of a gamble, and free kicks and crossing can feel like a dark art.
But on the whole, it's superb. The sensation of motion and momentum when a team breaks is incredible, and FIFA taps into the strange cocktail of agonising frustration and explosive joy that is football, and does it better than any other sports sim on PC.
Spectacular player collisions and tackles, and a far more realistic pace make FIFA 12 the best football sim yet.