Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Having taken a look at the improved Impact Engine, and gotten to grips with Complete Dribbling and First Touch Control, the final instalment in our FIFA 13 spotlight preview miniseries focuses on the changes that EA Canada have been making to the attacking aspects of the game off the ball.
"One of the biggest bits of feedback we got from the community was that they wanted more options in attack," Gameplay Producer Aaron McHardy tells me. "Our focus has been on making things more realistic, and improving the AI to an extent where it will take things into greater consideration and react to ball position, player position, the flow of play, the defensive line, those sort of things."
That all sounds rather nice, but what does it actually mean? Well, we're told that entire chunks of code have been rewritten when it comes to player positioning and the reactions of AI players relative to those around them. Videos of the game's development testing software show off players bending their runs to avoid defenders, looking for gaps, and hunting for space.
One of my own personal grievances with the series for a while has been the headless chicken nature of triggered runs. You tap the left bumper and the players ahead streak off in straight lines, not really mindful of their surroundings. It's something that McHardy admits has been lacking somewhat in the past, and stresses that the team are working to really allow for a fluid attacking game this time around. Part of this, he says, is down to the fact that the AI will now analyse the entire length of a run.
"Previously, you'd trigger a run from A to B and that would be it. But now the AI takes the obstacles in the way into context. If a player moves to block that run, your player will change course and that end point will move to compensate."
But wait, there's more. Previously, in FIFA 12, centre forwards and strikers had the spatial awareness of a marrow, but now the AI will take the depth of the defensive line into consideration when plotting attacking runs. We'll apparently see strikers bending their runs to compensate for offside traps, with wingers cutting inside and moving into channels.
"Tactical Defending led to defending gamers standing off, maybe nudging that shoulder bumper to harass with a second player whilst they sat back to mop up," says McHardy. "But it also opened up spaces around the pitch. Now we're giving you the opportunities to take advantage of that space thanks to the improved AI, combined with the finely tuned dribbling."
The development team is also keen to highlight the increased options available to the player, with greater activity off the ball, and player movement set in motion early on to allow you to player a quick counter-attacking game and open up tactical options.
"We've implemented this system where the AI will start thinking two plays ahead," says McHardy. "Let's imagine the ball's on the left hand side of the pitch, with your left back. As soon as you start bringing that ball infield, your right-sided players are going to start making moves forward. So it won't just be the players closest to the one in position looking to get into space, but potential receivers beyond those players too."
I ask if this means we'll see the tactical options for pressing, width, pass distance and so on, and fine tuning settings for work rate and attacking/defending intent really make a noticeable difference. "Absolutely," comes the reply. "It'll still be an accessible game, you'll still be able to pick up and play, and have a good time and explore the differences between teams, but now if you really want a team set up to play a certain way, we're pretty sure you'll be satisfied with the results in FIFA 13."
I argue that in the past FIFA has seemed a series that shares more in common perhaps with the Premier League than continental football, with the emphasis on physicality making it difficult to play in a style truly reflective of a team such as Barcelona. Mc Hardy respectfully disagrees , but admits that there was work to do following last year's game.
"I'm not sure we're necessarily a Premier League sort of game in that sense," he responds. "We certainly don't set out to do things specifically in that fashion. There were things we wanted to implement, the Impact Engine being a major one, and that had some effects that we're learning from. But yes, I think that this will be a game that allows players to explore a very fluid, attacking style of possession play."
The idea of giving players greater options to explore has also been integrated into dead ball scenarios for free kicks. You'll now be able to position up to three players over the ball, queuing up dummy runs, lay-offs, and essentially try to fake out the wall. To combat this, though, defenders will be able to time their jumps and reform if there's still time), and you'll be able to add and remove players from the wall. You'll even be able to creep the thing forward sneakily to make it slightly more difficult for your opponent, although in typical risk/reward fashion, if the ref sees you then you're in trouble.
"There is an element of gamesmanship to the free kicks now," grins McHardy. "The little battle between the kicker and the wall is far more involved this time around, and with the extra passing options available to the attacking player, there's lots to be aware of. That creeping mechanic is a little fun thing, but it's risky. Try it too much and the cards will start coming out."
Speaking of gamesmanship, we asked about the dive button found in older FIFA titles, but McHardy's opinion is simple. "It's something of a point of contention," he suggests. "The work we are doing on the referee intelligence is hard enough as it is, in trying to pre-empt the many outcomes of the Impact Engine. Plus we all know the frustration that comes from seeing it happen in real life. There are plenty of more important things for us to be working on improving at the moment."
Amen to that. As we've said before, this all sounds lovely, but we want to check those important things out for ourselves, and we're chomping at the bit for some hands-on action. We'll be taking a further peek at E3 next month, so watch this space!