Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
In our first FIFA 13 preview we focused on the upgrades that are going to be coming in for the Impact Engine, and their effects on defensive tussling, jostling for possession, contact areas, and fixing a number of issues to do that cropped up in FIFA 12 (and launched a swathe of YouTube compilation vids). Today, it's all about the changes that EA Canada have made to the game engine to shake things up a bit once you're actually on the ball.
The second big buzzword phrase that the developers are touting this year comes in the form of First Touch Control. "When we brought in Tactical Defending last year, it really changed the way you played the game," says Gameplay Producer Aaron McHardy. "You had to think about timing a lot more, when to go in for the tackle, when to shadow and track the player in possession. It was a huge success for us, and we were really grateful for the positive feedback we got from that.
"This time around, we feel that First Touch Control is the game-changing element to FIFA 13."
So what's new? Well, in order to demonstrate, McHardy ran us through a YouTube clip of Ronaldinho taking a 50 yard pass coming in over his shoulder perfectly. "There are only a handful of people in the world that can do that," he says, "and even they would struggle to be consistent under pressure. So what we've tried to do is make ball control a lot more realistic, to factor those skill stats in, as well as the state of play, and create outcomes that are more physically believable."
According to McHardy, there are a huge number of factors that will contribute, with ball physics, wind speed, pass strength, player positioning, pressure levels, and skill differentiation just a few of the things that will help determine what happens when ball meets foot.
"You'll still be able to try and control the ball in a number of ways, but if you're attempting a long pass, or a weighted pass, that ball will bobble up. It might bounce unexpectedly or run on a little bit too far. It won't stick to your boots, and there'll be new tactical considerations to think about when that happens."
This is where we'll hopefully start seeing matches play out in different ways depending upon the skill levels of your team. One of the biggest criticisms I had of FIFA 12 was that the CPU would be able to play its way out of situations in exactly the same fashion whether playing as a five-star team or a lower league outfit. McHardy tells me that this won't happen as much in FIFA 13.
"Last time around, if confronted by a player, the computer would try to dribble the ball through most of the time," he says. "Now, especially if you don't have players that have a really high level of ball control, you're going to see the CPU pass itself out of danger far more often."
It's to be hoped too, that this will see matches play out differently online as well, with tactics, formations, and balances of play supposedly making a far greater impact in the upcoming game.
"Just as Tactical Defending forced you to assess situations and pick your moments in the last game, we're hoping First Touch Control will do the same for possession play in this one," continues McHardy. "Long balls will be risky if you don't have players that can hold the ball up and trap it successfully, and even then there'll margins of error."
We're shown a video of Drogba taking a long pass in FIFA 13, his control slightly imperfect, with one scenario showing how this can be turned into a defensive advantage through interception, and another showing Drogba use the momentum of the ball to flick it on into space. "That's another thing we'll have in FIFA 13," McHardy announces proudly. "You'll be able to do little dinky passes, to clear slinding tackles and outstretched limbs."
The possession game has changed whilst on the ball as well, with EA Canadataking some inspiration from the control scheme that worked incredibly well in FIFA Street.
"Precision Dribbling was a big thing for us last year. But we felt that we could build upon that, to make it slightly more accessible. So now in FIFA 13 you'll have 360 degree close control whilst still facing forward as an option. You'll still be able to shield the ball from defenders, and players will be more stable in those situations now, but we wanted to give people more options in attack."
As a somewhat clumsy man with giant hands, even considering the sublime ergonomics of the Xbox 360 controller, I must admit that I've always found the skill moves in the main FIFA series to be a little fiddly, and McHardy tells me that I'm not alone in this. Again, taking cues from FIFA Street, most of the skill moves will now be directly accessible via the left stick.
"We've taken on certain principles from the FIFA Street stuff, but it's not going to be a carbon copy. It will be easier to be creative, providing you have the players to execute that creativity. We wanted to give players the ability to slow the ball down and then, if you're in possession with a pacey guy like Walcott [McHardy is a die-hard Gunner - Ed.] or Cristiano Ronaldo, you can perform a few stepovers and turn on the afterburners. We really wanted to give players the opportunity to explode past defenders."
Hopefully this won't mean a return to the days of simply booting it wide and ripping teams apart with pace, but the improved level of ball physics, and a focus on the moment when ball meets boot should hopefully help balance that out, particularly if jostling will put wingers off their stride. The potential for a more fluid skill system is exciting too, with greater creative opportunities open to more players surely a boon. Now doubt, however, it will take some getting used to - making hands-on opportunities later this year a mouth watering prospect.
Stay tuned for our final Spotlight Preview tomorrow, which will focus on Attacking Intelligence and Tactical Free Kicks.