Year-on-year I’ve claimed that FIFA has improved upon the previous iteration, adding to the terrific selection of gameplay features and modes to create the latest and greatest footballing title. It’s therefore slightly more challenging to open this year’s review as things have had yet another great season and won promotion. FIFA 12 was, without a doubt, one of the best instalments that we’ve seen since the heights of Pro Evolution Soccer on the PlayStation 2, yet FIFA 13 takes it one more step.
Last year was the revolution that the franchise was in need of, with Tactical Defending showing the world just how broken defending was before, Precision Dribbling acting as suitable compensation for attackers, and the Player Impact Engine replacing a scripted animation with a dynamic collision engine. However, having two successive years where vast amounts change within the sporting title would potentially be a disaster. So, this was a graceful evolution similar to cover-star Oxlade-Chamberlain’s progression over the past year.
Let’s kick off with the biggest new feature – First Touch Control. As big of an alteration as the Impact Engine was last year, retooling how each and every player controls the ball has drastically changed the entire dynamic of matches. A combination of position, quality of pass, preparation, pressure and skill all contribute to the calculation of how good – or not so – your first touch will be. 70-yard cross-field passes will no longer stick to an attackers feet like glue, pass-backs to goalkeepers have an added risk, and poor first-touches by strikers can snuff out a goalscoring opportunity; no matter where or how you receive the ball there’s a degree of uncertainty as – depending on the many aspects – players will no longer control the ball perfectly every time. As this happens to all players it affects both attackers and defenders it results in more spontaneous and explosive encounters, where the balance of power can shift in an instant.
AI’s seen an advance overhaul, with strikers making runs into space and pulling players out of position, and defenders following runners and taking up smarter positions for interceptions or preparing for tackles. Many of the annoying traits from last year have been ironed out and the metaphorical computer-controlled shirt is left crisp and smart. Elsewhere, dribbling has been honed to accommodate the changes in ball control so that it compliments it perfectly, and the Player Impact Engine has been upgraded to account for better ball-to-player interaction (meaning more deflected goals) as well as a general player-on-player collisions.
It’s clear then that on the pitch, FIFA 13 improves in every way on FIFA 12. Commentary is vastly improved with talks to the touchline, references to previous matches and player specific talk all helping to add a sense of immersion; referees no longer make terrible decisions with tackles from behind and play more appropriate advantages, whilst goalkeepers are less likely to be caught out by slow-moving shots. Advances in quick throw-ins and free-kicks plus player animation to reflect tactics (such as the goalkeeper ordering players up pitch) just assist on the core gameplay mechanics to create a much smoother and more enjoyable experience. There’s a pace and unpredictability about it that mimics football – and especially the Premier League, to a tee.
It’s not just gameplay though that EA Sports have cast their development brush over. Skills Games – a new mode – offers a series of challenges based on areas including penalties, dribbling, crossing, free kicks and more that will allow you master each aspect. Via a triple tiered system (bronze, silver and gold) you’ll get the chance to complete the tasks set in order to progress and unlock the next level, and with the use of points within them it becomes incredible addictive very swiftly. Their integration is either via the streamlined and redesigned menu or on loading screens as they replace the arena mode from the last couple of years. Their implementation and degree of difficulty is almost spot on as well that ensure it’s a brilliant addition to the franchise.
Ultimate Team cements itself as a mainstay with a dedicated section on the menu and comes with new challenges and tasks in an all new interface. Its integration with the web app will allow you to customise, trade, buy and sell your players and team when at a browser – adding a fantastic level of external participation. It’s essentially the same mode however, so if it failed to grab you before it’s unlikely to do so again.
“FIFA 12 was the best football game in history and it’s just been bettered.”
It’s not all smooth sailing mind: the Player-Manager mode has been removed meaning that you must now decide whether you want to take the path of your created Pro – or an already existing player – or test your skills as a Manager. Whilst I understand that by separating the two they’ve allowed for greater improvements in each: with managers being able to become international coaches, and the way players are treated being far more consistent and life-like, but many, including myself, enjoy both sides of the game and having to now run two independent careers in order to get the best of both worlds is frustrating.
That said, Career Mode has moved forward yet again, with far improved transfer negotiations, manager-to-player interaction and the connection from match to match over a season has a real life feel to it with things like the classified results.
Seasons are back in the online modes and for once were essentially lag free – only time will tell to see if the servers hold up with the millions that will be playing but the early signs have been far more promising than previous years. Pro Clubs has been revamped and a few tweaks here and they will ensure FIFA 13’s online modes remain extremely well used.
My biggest gripe of FIFA 13 is that your Pro has been split into an offline and online version. Although accomplishments are simpler and more coherent in their use, the ability to improve upon your Pro in both a off- and online scene was one of the major draws. So its segregation into two unique entities – most probably for ‘fairness’ purposes – is a grave disappointment.
FIFA 13 is nearly everything fans would’ve wanted for this year’s edition. A smart and well executed improvement upon a utterly terrific football title allowing for a greater variety of gameplay. Amazing Messi runs, thunderous Lampard volleys, and bundle the ball into your own net like Traoré – it’s all possible. Scruffy and bundled-in goals are now as frequent as the screamers and their inclusion leads to far more engaging matches. There’s a fluidity and smoothness that sets FIFA 13 above the rest, and with the wealth and quality of modes available it’s never been better for fans. FIFA 12 was the greatest football game in history and it’s just been bettered.