FIFA 12 was a revolution in sports games, and the first annual installment in a long, long time that brought drastic changes to the pitch. So what do you do after you revolutionize your own game? While you shouldn’t sit on the sidelines and wait another few years to make improvements, FIFA 13 proves you also shouldn’t steer too far from what made you the best. FIFA 13 has some hallmark changes, of course, but it naturally evolves what made FIFA 12 such a standout. Throw in a hefty challenge game system during load screens, a more refined engine, a ball that’s far less magnetic than ever before, and a real chance for player error and you have another strong offering in the wildly successful FIFA franchise.
FIFA 13 brings out the physical side of football (soccer) better than any of its predecessors. Players fight for the ball, defenders tug at jerseys, and the ball carriers can run into "brick walls" – defenders with formidable strength – if they aren’t careful. Sure, we’ve seen similar in past FIFA games, but FIFA 13 really highlights the attention on strength. If last year’s focus on tactical defending felt a little prescriptive, then FIFA 13 mixes things up by adding minor weight to defenders. Speed is no longer the main contributor to success; instead, strength plays a key role in winning the ball and holding possession.
This refinement around the ball is enhanced by an increasingly-polished player impact engine. While last year’s engine was a step in the right direction towards matching real-life player reactions, it also had some major issues (corrected in patches, but flawed out of the box). Again, strength plays an important role. You won’t just flail around, helplessly rolling into teammates and bouncing off opponents like rubber balls. Everything feels more believable, thanks to the extra heft on your players.
There is an element of unpredictability in early playthroughs, but that’s because the game is more lifelike than ever, and responds in a reasonable manner to your actions. Jump for a header too early and you won’t make good contact; heck, the opponent could grab it first. Send a through pass too far forward and your teammate may slide for the ball instead of taking a one-timer shot. At times this works like a dream and gives you that sense you are taking part in a real-life football game, but other times it seems coined, almost like the result was made before you hit the button.
Unpredictability is always welcome in a sports game, but for a game as subtly nuanced as football, little touches mean everything. Borrowing from FIFA Street, complete dribbling gives you more ball-handling control than ever. It may not be as simple as in years past, but getting past two defenders using slow, controlled moves is far more realistic. This all opens the door for your teammates to offer intelligent support. They’ll make runs along the sidelines or short, curved dashes to open space. If you are holding the ball near your box, your defenders will run back to offer options. Offsides are less common, too, as your teammates seem to try to keep possession and make smart plays.
The gameplay is set on another strong visual backdrop, but don’t expect a huge improvement over last year. Animations are still sharp but the real offering is in match presentation. You’ll get additional commentary from the sideline and better updates of other games in progress. The real surprise here is Match Day, a new feature that attempts to replicate actual football statistics by changing the performance of players in-game based on the stats of their real-life counterparts. If a player is doing well, or poorly, it will be reflected through Match Day, adding another degree of realism to the game.
Career management is also improved and it’s extremely refreshing to enjoy a streamlined transfer system. It’s still a slow process and players’ decisions feel more deliberate, but as you play through a career, you’ll see EA Sports gave plenty of attention to fan feedback. Players will communicate with you more, you’ll pick up on trends in the media, and there are even silly press conferences. Career mode also expands to include internationals. Further refinements are made to Ultimate Team. It’s not a huge change, but there’s enough here to keep those diehard UT fans excited – and, really, this is where many FIFA fans spend the bulk of their time. It’s all held together, like everything else in FIFA 13, through the Football Club, which allows you to earn rewards the more you play. The new Catalogue allows you to purchase things like new boots and stat boosts.
One of the best additions this year is something quite minor, and that’s what you do while the game loads. In years past, you’d have the chance to "warm up" by taking some shots at the net, but this year you get a slew of skill games. It seems EA Sports intended to make these serve as a tutorial, but they are just as addictive as the rest of the game. The challenges take you through dribbling techniques to shooting scenarios, and everywhere in-between. You’ll have to lob a shot over cardboard boxes within a given area, or perfectly line up your shots to hit bullseye targets. There are all sorts of scenarios (though not all are that great) and you’ll compete to earn points and ranks. It’s hard to say that these really teach you anything other than muscle memorization, but their inclusion is definitely appreciated. When the action comes during a real match, you’ll hopefully remember how to gently lob the ball over the defender’s head instead of sending it into the stands.
When you throw all these new features together you certainly get a great game, but it’s not perfect. Long menu load screens return and there are definitely a lot of new mechanics to learn – even for veterans. That’s not a bad thing, of course, but it could frustrate those familiar with how the game worked in the past. All those skill games can be a nightmare, too. Sure, they are not required, but that learning curve is only emphasized during these challenges. Difficulty isn’t really an issue, though, as you’ll pick up the new techniques with time. The problem is essentially the same as any yearly game franchise: the updates to last year’s game are minimal, and waiting another year wouldn’t kill you.
This is the blueprint for how EA Sports creates successful football games, and we didn’t even touch the strengths of multiplayer (here’s a hint: playing with real life opponents is awesome). But if you do play FIFA 13, you’ll probably say it’s the best FIFA game ever. That’s saying a lot, too, because FIFA has historically been as solid as you can get. The gameplay is more realistic, adding weight to the action without feeling sluggish. The modes are refined and streamlined, and the new Match Day has the potential to give football fans a reason to pick up and play FIFA 13 each week, or even every day. EA Sports was successful at tapping FIFA 13 into the real world of football, and for that very reason it should come as no shock to hear it’s the best football/soccer game on the market.