For fans of the beautiful game, the purchase of a new FIFA has become as much a seasonal ritual as the purchase of their team's new football shirt. It's safe to assume both products will be well-tailored and relevant for a whole 12 months, but when there's talk of one of them offering "revolution not evolution" there's a hollow ring of marketing speak.
In that stale edict there's a spark of truth for FIFA, however, as well as an admission that having conquered its closest rival the series has perhaps become a little complacent. "When we're saying this year it's revolution not evolution, that goes completely the other way to what we've done," says EA Sports' David Rutter, the man who's been at the helm of the series since it worked its way from critical punchbag to critical darling.
"I think that the reason we can take some bolder steps in pushing the genre forward is the fact that in previous years we've built a foundation of quality that's still there, but now we can go, okay, we've got the confidence that we can rip it apart."
The commentary team is being kept under wraps, but it's safe to assume that Andy Gray won't be part of it. As long as Andy Townsend's not involved we'll be happy.
That foundation of quality can't be faulted, and while progress might have been slow, it's certainly been moving in the right direction since FIFA made the leap to the current generation. FIFA 10 conclusively crowned the series, and while FIFA 11 saw it lose a little momentum, it still emerged as king of the football sims. If 11 saw the ascendancy slow, then FIFA 12's bold steps come at just the right time.
It's a game keen to impress that this is a new and fresh FIFA from the very start, with the well-worn front-end of late being kicked into touch and replaced by a series of new menus. Simple and slick blades replace the scramble of before, and there's an increased resemblance to Sky Sports in the graphics that preface each game.
Once the match starts it's a profoundly different experience – and for anyone who's piled hours into FIFAs 10 or 11, initially disconcerting. Its self-dubbed "trinity of gameplay innovations" completely opens up the play and stamps a very different tempo on the game, and early impressions suggest that it's working for the better.
Foremost of the new features is the Impact Engine, a physics engine that replaces the old animation-based system of FIFA's past. Its effect on the game is dramatic: players now jostle and collide with real conviction, an aggressive tackle likely to send someone flying while a stern body-check will likely knock a player on their back.
Pro Player Intelligence is an extension of last year's Personality Plus, and works in much the same way – although now teammates will also play to an individual's own attributes.
It adds another layer of realism to what was already the most authentic take on the sport. FIFA 11's challenges would often see players clipping through each other, a persistent limitation of earlier games that shattered the suspension of disbelief. Now there's a variety and verity to play that, like the best innovations, make it hard to go back to how it was before.
It's a difference that goes some way to warranting that claim of revolution. "The Player Impact System is the biggest change that we've made to FIFA, technologically, since the transfer of FIFA to this generation of consoles," says Rutter. "We've been working on it for over two years, which is a bit of a luxury for us, but we realised quite a while ago that in order to take that stuff to the next level we'd have to do it properly."
"You see the work that the other game teams around the world are doing with their engines," he continues, without naming names (although he does admit to not enjoying Pro Evolution Soccer's new direction with last year's outing).
"If someone's running through an animation cycle and something happens to them, if it's not real-time physics you can't do anything about it – you've got to complete that or branch out. If you branched out, especially in football, the amount of animations we'd have to do would be very problematic, so being able to have a 'maths' solution to it is brilliant."
Its influence runs deep in FIFA 12, not least of all in the True Injuries system. Now, by way of the number crunching that accompanies the bone-crunching tackles, the strength of the tackle and its point of impact are assessed. If a player's hit hard enough and fast enough at the wrong point, an injury will result, its severity dependent on the violence of the challenge or fall.
Over the course of a Career Mode it'll have some intriguing ramifications. There'll be the option to bring a stricken player back before they've fully recovered (and they'll likely protest your decision while the commentary team will acknowledge the situation), and doing so risks inflaming the injury.
There's no word proper on Career Mode, though don't be surprised if Fight Night Champion's recent model provides some inspiration.
After an hour's play, the Impact Engine certainly makes its presence felt, lending a believable physicality to the action, but its real worth will surely be seen in the long run. The bespoke nature of its animations should ensure that come the arrival of FIFA 13, this game will still be capable of throwing up surprises and novel situations.
And in those first few minutes with FIFA 12 it's not even the most striking of the new features. That honour goes to the new Tactical Defending, and more specifically the decision to fundamentally change the way the game is played when guarding the goal.
The light tackle that would constantly pressurise the opposition and move in to take the ball from the feet now simply jockeys them, keeping the defender at a player-prescribed distance from their prey, and it takes another press of the square button to go in for the kill.
It places more emphasis on timing, and does away with the button-spamming that's powered defending in FIFA's past. Lunge forward at the wrong time and it's likely to leave you stranded and create a sizable hole in the defence. Time it perfectly and it's likely the Impact Engine will kick in, with both players colliding with authentic weight.
The last of the "trinity of innovations" is precision dribbling, with a third degree of pace added to the jog and sprint of previous efforts. Intricate and close footwork is now at hand to help slow the pace of a game, with small, light touches allowing the player to shield the ball and hold up play.
Together with the emphasis placed on smart defending it leads to more open matches, and there's been a significant shift in balance towards attacking play. One unexpected and very welcome offshoot of the reworked defending and dribbling is how they both work in tandem to open up the field.
Whereas FIFA 11 would often find itself bogged down directly outside the penalty area, forcing play down the flanks, there are now tools at the attacking team's disposal to take a more direct route, holding up play and waiting for support in the right places. It helps to create a slower, more deliberate pace, and it's now the kind of game that seems just as happy supporting the imagination and flair that typifies Barcelona as it does the defend and counter of Arsenal.
It's a more inclusive game of football, and it seems to have struck a finer balance between attack and defence alongside promising a deeper, richer game. To call it revolutionary would be a push, but it can comfortably claim to be the boldest evolution the series has seen for some time.
FIFA 12 is due to be released 2011 on PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.