Developers: EA Canada
Publishers: EA Sports
If Konami's mission over the years has been to strive towards giving the player an unprecedented amount of control over the on-pitch action (something that they finally, satisfyingly achieved with this year's iteration), the EA Canada's insanely popular, and vastly more expensive series has always been one aiming to capture the spectacle, the drama - making everything around the player feel utterly authentic.
Two different approaches have produced two very different, and equally impressive games this year. FIFA 12 saw the arrival of the Impact Engine, which had an immediate effect on the way matches played out. Although the physical properties of the players now led to more realistic encounters, too often we'd find games bogged down in the middle of pitch, with players often falling over one another in a heap. Though still not perfect, the amount of swearing at the Impact Engine has gone down with reference to this year's game.
If EA were mainly focused on overhauling the defensive side of things last year, then this year it's all about attack. Indeed, we actually rather wish they'd spent a little bit of time tweaking Tactical Defending to allow players to vary the distance between the oncoming player and the controlled defender, but it's a small quibble. Impressively, the offensive AI has been noticeably improved. Creative options going forward are more varied than ever before, thanks to overlapping wingbacks, teammates moving into channels automatically, bended runs attempting to break the offside trap, and wingers scything into the penalty area on the diagonal. It's still frustratingly difficult to score across the face of goal, but moving the ball around is a joy. And we've not been able to say that about a FIFA game in a long time.
The dribbling side of things has been given a little pep-up too, and players can now front-up, FIFA Street-style, just by holding both triggers. Combined with close control, the player is offered more freedom and opportunity than we've previously seen before in a FIFA title. Free kicks and corners are still an utter shambles, with the latter in particular based more on luck than tactical skill, but open play sees some welcome changes that might not be hugely apparent at first, but do make a difference. When it comes to the team management options, once again your tactical sliders appear to have little to actually do with the gameplay itself and we can't help but feel that FIFA could benefit hugely from implementing a PES-style drag-and-drop system when it comes to formations, but the we've been saying that for years.
It's worth noting that the difficulty spike between Semi-Pro and Professional hs been smoothed out, and that lower league teams won't start dazzling you with rainbow flicks - a gripe we had with last year's game. Indeed, due to the exaggerated emphasis on player stats brought about through First Touch control, it's a much harder proposition to play as a less technically gifted team. Indeed, the First Touch control is likely to prove a little divisive. Whereas Tactical Defending was all about giving the player greater control, this is about taking it away, and making the game more unpredictable, and while that might be more realistic, it's not necessarily more fun.
Married to a game speed that ticks along like an amphetamine-stuffed roadrunner with a bundle of dynamite up its bum, playing FIFA 13 can sometimes feel like a bit of a detached experience. There's such a thing as feeling too slick, and there are shades of the old, less-admirable days of pinging the ball to your fastest player and dashing down the wing. Moreover, at its lowest points, inn FIFA 13 it can sometimes feel like you're fighting the AI. Whipping in an inch perfect cross that will beat your first man but fall beautifully onto the boot of your second will often come to nothing as the game steadfastly refuses to let you switch players. The sticky assisted options can lead to some horrific defensive howlers. Goalkeepers are a bit too fallible again this year as well, with punch attempts often going hilariously wrong , and aiming headers is a beguiling art at best. Sometimes you'll score the finest goal imaginable, sometimes, under the same circumstances, with the same players, and the same angle and pace of delivery, the ball will sail over the bar and into the stands.
It's a shame, really, because everywhere else there are improvements to further your sense of authentic immersion. Live Seasons return, relatively unchanged which is no bad thing at all. Ultimate Team is now arguably on a par with the Master League as offering a phenomenally addictive long-term experience, that will utterly delight anyone who ever bought a pack of Merlin's Premier League stickers. Divisions, seasons, cup runs, and more now feature, and the ability to play on or offline is as welcome as ever.
To EA Canada's credit, Career Mode has seen some changes. As a player you'll see yourself loaned out to lower league clubs to develop your attributes through consistent game time. As a manager, international offers are now an integral part of the system - you now have an agent yourself - and improvements to the transfer system, clearer targets, more interaction with your board, and a greater sense of a hands-on approach to things do make it an actual prospect this year, rather than the snoozefest it's previously been. Oh...except you'll be playing Ultimate Team. Or Seasons. Or going through the Live Matches that reflect the actual fixture list in your country. Or doing today's EAS FC challenge. Even with the additions, Career Mode is still the one mode you'll never play for more than the time it takes you to realise that there's no general Virtual Pro, you have to create separate ones for offline and online play. <Tears out hair.>
Elsewhere, the new Match Day features are very welcome, with the commentary (though still not perfect) managing to instil some sense of context and occasion, to make each game perhaps feel a little bit different, even if the action on the pitch doesn't quite reflect that. A sense of progression is something that keeps you addicted to all of the game's numerous modes, and then there's the overarching umbrella of Football Cub, which offers rewards for your investment in the form of vanity items, and boosts for your Pros, Managers, and Ultimate Team. But FIFA 13 is at it's best providing a virtual representation of the televised tribalism that you see on Sky Sports down the pub. It allows you to pull on a virtual shirt and get behind your team, however you see fit. And that matters.
It's nice to see some little skill games replace the general Arena as matches load up, and indeed it's a pleasant surprise that the loading times are halved, and the netcode at launch has been perfectly solid for us so far. FIFA 13 can't give you the opportunity to imprint your version of the beautiful game onto a virtual football pitch, and it still doesn't offer huge differentiation between the playing styles of top teams, but it does let you support, champion, challenge, and succeed. You always feel like you're working towards something, whether it's a Premier League trophy running parallel to this season, changing the fortunes of your team; or perhaps working your way up the divisions in Seasons; or maybe managing the nation of your choice; or building your dream team in FUT. It has its foibles and its flaws, but FIFA 13 really is a cracking game, and one that offers something completely different to its Konami counterpart.
- Huge depth in quality content
- Attacking AI makes for greater opportunities going forward
- First Touch control encourages skill and tactical thinking
- Feels noticeably automated at times, which can be frustrating
- Can sometimes feel like you're actively fighting the AI
- Still no huge sense of identity to teams in terms of gameplay
The Short Version: Crammed with content, and with social features galore, FIFA 13 is still probably the best choice for the loyal club fan. And though the lack of control on the pitch might put off some, the subtle changes to the gameplay make this a better prospect than last year's effort. Hugely compelling off the pitch, but it might not be the king on it any more.