FIFA Soccer 13 Preview: New features and calculated unpredictability

FIFA 13 is arguably the most realistic sports game we have ever seen. Arriving this fall, EA’s upcoming addition to its prime soccer franchise aims to raise the bar higher than ever, and leave competitors in the dust (or in this case, in the grass). But how does EA plan to stay ahead of the competition? This year it’s all about tons of new features and calculated unpredictability. We finally have a sports game that captures human error.

Electronic Arts recently invited PSU to check out the next iteration in the FIFA Soccer franchise at the beautiful EA Canada studio in Burnaby, British Columbia. While we didn’t spend hands-on time with the game – FIFA 13 just isn’t far enough along for that – we were instead briefed on exactly what FIFA will look and play like through a very long, in-depth presentation.

First and foremost, FIFA Soccer 13 is all about capturing the drama and unpredictability of a real-world soccer (or “football,” if you’re fancy like that) match. What does that mean? That means that now more than ever, soccer games will feel less robotic, less calculated, and more natural.

You may interpret that as a bad thing – don’t worry, we did too at first. What’s important to understand and remember is that EA is taking extra care in making FIFA 13’s “unpredictability” add fun to the game – not frustration. The FIFA franchise will now evolve with the inclusion of five game-changing innovations: Attacking Intelligence, Complete Dribbling, 1st Touch Control, a newer Player Impact Engine, and the all-new Tactical Free Kicks.

Attacking Intelligence is what EA is naming their overhaul to individual player AI. Also aptly abbreviated to “AI,” the new Attacking Intelligence will reroute player positioning by having each player analyze plays in-progress to create new attacking opportunities. Individual runners will strive to break down defenses, open passing opportunities for teammates, and attempt to pull defenders out of position by making runs all on their own. The most interesting addition that Attacking Intelligence brings to the table, in our opinion, is allowing individual players to think two plays ahead in order to curve, or alter runs to seize an opening before it happens.

Complete Dribbling now allows players to dribble the ball in full 360 degrees of mobility. Players can now keep their hips facing towards a defender (or keeper) to threaten an attack while moving the ball in any direction. This allows you to dodge tackles, maintain positioning, or shield the ball better. Pair this functionality with FIFA 13’s impressively realistic animations, and this alone is reason to get excited.

Full disclosure: I’m not very good at the FIFA games, as NHL is my sports game of choice. This is why FIFA 13’s new “1st Touch Control” system is such a welcomed addition to the franchise for me, and will be for both pro and novice players alike. This new system is really where the “calculated unpredictability” comes into play. Near-perfect ball control has been removed for every player by creating uncertainty when receiving tricky balls. Different factors such as defensive pressure, ball trajectory, ball velocity, and more, all weigh-in to whether or not your player will properly receive a ball. For example, if it’s raining in-game, and if the ball is falling straight down from the sky, the ball has a much higher chance of slipping off a player’s cleats upon reception; this offers more opportunities for loose balls.

The revamped play physics engine, dubbed Player Impact Engine, is the second generation of the engine used in the past FIFA titles, and adds even more realism to the game. Body size and strength now play a role when forcing opponents into poor touches. Defenders can also utilize their bodies to win possession, as well as push and pull for position. Also, players will be able to get up from falling into a dog pile easier, so that things like this don’t happen anymore.

Last but not least is the new Tactical Free Kicks which gives users the ability to position up to three attacking players around the ball to confuse opponents with fake-outs, passes, and dummy runs. On the flip side, opponents can retort by adding players to a wall on the fly: simply move your player towards a wall and he’ll stand there shielding his package just like everyone else. You can even have your players illegally inch the wall forwards if you choose to, or send a runner to intercept the pass or shot.

The aforementioned features and additions to FIFA are why we’re most excited for this year’s game. EA boasts that this is the “largest and deepest set of game-changing features in the history of the franchise,” and we believe them. If one thing was made clear in our lengthy (about 2 hours) demo of the game, it’s that EA is pulling out all the stops to raise the bar extra high this time. FIFA 12 was a revolution to how we played soccer video games – FIFA 13 is just the much needed evolution to that.