It's safe to say that football games aren't exactly my area of expertise. Case in point: when I first sat down to sample FIFA 2012 on PS Vita at an EA showcase last week, I noticed something odd about the commentary. Initially, there wasn't any - just a bouncy slice of the licensed pop you get on the menu screens. Five minutes into the match, Martin Tyler (I think) finally piped up and started chatting about Bayern Munich's attacking capabilities. Which was rather odd, given that I was simulating a Liverpool vs. Everton derby.
I mentioned this to one of the developers standing nearby, thinking it might some form of bug. And then he pointed out that I was wearing someone else's headphones.
Like I said, it's not my area of expertise.
While I'll be the first to admit my shortcomings as a footie pundit, I do know a clever idea when I see one. Leaving aside the fact that it looks utterly gorgeous, the Vita edition of FIFA 12 pulls off the unlikely feat of bringing something genuinely new to the party - a feature that could only work on Sony's new handheld. Some bright spark noticed that the rectangular touchpad on the rear of the console is roughly the same shape as a goal; as a result, you're now able to manually aim your shots by tapping the relevant area of the pad.
As gimmicky as this sounds, in practice it feels like a revolution - to my inexperienced hands, at least. In the past, the angle and height of your efforts were determined by your angle of approach and the strength of your button press, plus a modifier or two for good measure. Now, all of that is condensed into a single simple tap - although the length of your press still dictates the force of your shot.
I may be a relative outsider when it comes to football, but even I can appreciate the satisfaction in scoring because the ball went exactly where you placed it: into the far corner, just beyond the keeper's reach. I'd imagine it's an approximation of the feeling you'd get when scoring a goal for real; I have to imagine, unfortunately, because I was predictably crap when I played football at school. Although I did occasionally "save" penalties by stepping face-first into the path of the ball (I wasn't in goal, but this was allowed when I was six).
Among my fellow hacks, who probably know about these things, there was some concern that this new trick might make the game a bit too easy. I'm not convinced that this will be the case, however; as you steer yourself into a scoring opportunity, you only have a split second to assess the situation and then translate that into the relevant finger tap. Even if you do make a smart decision, there's no guarantee that your shot will go where you aimed - the game uses a subtle on-screen marker to denote the intended target, but player skill appears to be just one of many impacting factors.
It's also worth mentioning that you can also use the main touchscreen to dictate passes, through balls and the like. I found this option less inherently useful as it requires you to remove one hand out of its usual position, although it's fair to say that since my comprehension of passing strategy has barely evolved since my aforementioned, face-tingling playground days, I'm not in the best position to judge its overall utility. Still, the front screen certainly comes into its own during set-pieces, when you have the time to carefully plan your shot.
Even if you're still dubious about the value of these tactile controls, you're free to disable them entirely. Do that, and you'll be left with what looks to be a near-exact facsimile of the home console game - only in portable format. A more thorough judgement will have to wait until we've got our hands on the final code, but that'll be a job for next year, and for someone who knows the beautiful game.
For my part, I'm just impressed by the innovation. The touch controls are smart, neatly implemented, and extremely gratifying to use. And most importantly of all, they offer something unique to the Vita. If the 3DS had a single game that showed off its individual charms in such a concise way, the platform would be doing a lot better.