Three major gameplay changes have been implemented in FIFA 12; these are the Impact Engine, Tactical Defending, and Precision Dribbling.
In development for several years, the Impact Engine improves collision variety, accuracy, and momentum preservation. A new advanced procedural animation system is used along with collision physics to produce different results depending on the players and physical forces involved. This affects all players, so even those off the ball may have collisions. The Impact Engine has been cited as a game changer, making FIFA 12 less structured and synthetic than its predecessors, and has been described by producer David Rutter as the biggest technological change to the series since the transition to the current generation of consoles. The Impact Engine also directly affects injuries sustained by players during a match.
The new Tactical Defending system aims to change the approach to defending by placing equal importance on positioning, intercepting passes and tackling. When defending there will be more of an emphasis on slowing attackers down and containing them, and pressuring them into making mistakes. This is intended to be a more manual form of defending, requiring greater timing and precision when compared to the defensive "press" system used in previous FIFA games. The old system, now dubbed "legacy defending", where a button press causes an AI player to home in on the player in possession of the ball, can still be used offline, and in online friendlies and custom unranked matches.
The Precision Dribbling feature allows players to dribble whilst shielding, meaning that the player can still move around the pitch whilst holding players off, rather than being rooted to the spot. Close control has been added below jogging as a way of allowing players to take smaller, more frequent touches, keeping the ball closer and keeping tighter control. Players will now be much more aware of their surroundings. As an example, players in possession near the touchline will understand their position, and keep tighter control of the ball to stop it running out of play.
An improved artificial intelligence system named Pro Player Intelligence aims to make AI-controlled players react to the skills and capabilities of other players with appropriate actions. For example, a winger will be more likely to cross the ball into the box when he has a waiting teammate with aerial ability, whereas he might look for support and play the ball along the ground if that teammate is less of an aerial threat. Players will also make better use of their own strengths, so for example a creative player might look for less obvious opportunities such as playing long accurate passes, where another player in his situation would be more likely to play it safe with a short pass.
Match presentation has also been overhauled with a new default camera angle and improvements to the broadcast-style match build-up. Some in-game cutscenes have been removed, such as those before throw-ins and corner kicks. Instead, a player will simply run to perform the task in question with no interruption.