Birth, death, and taxes. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, these are the consistencies in life – unavoidable occurrences that simply happen to everyone. What’s the fourth one, you ask? An annual FIFA game. Every year, punters the world over question the need for an annual instalment in EA Sports’ FIFA franchise, yet these same people are the ones who caused FIFA 13 to sell 4.5 million copies in five days. In the United Kingdom alone.
For most people, the choice of picking up FIFA 13 relies on the advances that is has made over its predecessor, FIFA 12. In my previous sports reviews this year, I made a point of highlighting the changes that had been implemented over the 12 editions, and that won’t change in this review. Importantly, FIFA 13 more or less dumps the physics engine that resulted in so many hilarious yet frustrating faceplants in the previous edition. The physics is still there, even better in some respects such as the feel of the football itself, but it’s all been drastically toned down to avoid those realism-breaking blunders. Player collisions, however, still feel a little silly, as some near-identical tackles can feel weightless while others feel clunky and scrappy. Not in a realistic way, more in a undercooked-physics-engine way.
The interface is truly fantastic. I could not picture a better, more intuitive UI for FIFA 13 than the one we’ve been given. The hexagon-based aesthetic style encapsulates the sleek, mature feel that 13 is going for, with every sub-menu intuitively placed. I’m one to get lost in the menus of games like FIFA, which can go on for fifteen levels of sub-menus, but in 13 that didn’t happen once. Also included is gloriously feature-packed match-day integration: players and teams will change in form, rosters are updated every time you log in, and you can play any team’s upcoming features at the click of a button. Well, a couple of buttons, but you get the drift.
That brings up a bit of a beef I’ve had with all of this year’s sports games. It seems as though you turn your console on, load up the game, and still have to wait half an hour before you can actually play. Every time I start it up, there’s the same warning that FIFA 13 has an autosave feature, then it has to invite me to purchase an EA Sports Season Pass, download rosters, update fixtures, update form, fuck, shit, wank, bollocks. Yeah, it’s necessary, I appreciate that, but surely there’s a better way of doing it. A less intrusive way. The time between loading the game up and actually starting to play soccer is truly ridiculous. Download as much as you like, FIFA 13, just don’t let me see you doing it. I also have slightly question the authenticity of the updated rosters – as an Australian, Sydney FC’s recent signing of Alessandro del Piero has got me hugely excited for this year’s A-League season. But where is he on FIFA 13? Not at Sydney FC, that’s for sure. Even after updating the rosters.
As you’d expect from the latest iteration of an annual franchise, in-game is looking to be a fantastic improvement over FIFA 12. Everything looks nicer, sounds nicer, and plays nicer. A TV broadcast aesthetic has been introduced, with the entire in-game visual experience feeling far more like a proper television broadcast rather than a video game. This is an idea that has seen implementation in every year’s FIFA instalment, but it sticks out like a sore thumb in 13. A sore thumb that feels strangely excellent.
Now is when I really want to do a link about “sore thumbs” and the actual gameplay in FIFA 13, but I can’t think of anything clever, as my thumbs never got seriously sore. I wasn’t even finished talking about the in-game engine. Commentary is strides ahead of its 13 compatriots. The touchline injury reports and match-day goal announcements are a great touch. It never feels forced or overly game-y, due to a noticeable decrease in the number of times that terms such as “that is great work by the defending team” are used. And if you’re seriously into match-day integration, commentary for “live fixtures” include semi-real-time commentary, with comments being made on things such as the teams’ current, real-world league standings and player form.
First touch has also seen a total overhaul, with even the Messis and the Kakás making a mistake every now and again, allowing a patient defender to steal the ball regardless of attacker. That said, with a skilled enough player behind the control pad, the most lowly footballers can jink the ball over a defender. Given that first touch has felt under-appreciated by the developers in previous FIFA games, it’s nice to see it receive the attention it deserves, turning it into a formidable tool in the arsenal of any top FIFA player.
Apart from the physics engine, the other of last year’s big inclusions to the FIFA franchise was tactical defending. This year, the offence has received the same treatment. No longer will you make a break through the defence only to wind up with no support players – this time, players will make smart, calculated off-the-ball runs. Offensive AI, both of your support players and the opposition, has been very noticeably improved, with off-the-ball movement simply leagues away from any other soccer game. Automated runs will even curve so as to avoid being caught offside – last year, the player would virtually stop in his tracks and turn around. On the other hand, considering that FIFA 13 is going for realism, I noticed that the goalkeepers often got themselves into situations that simply would not happen in real life, for example by coming out too early or not being hasty enough in an effort to save the second attempt. Far too many goals that I’ve observed in my time in FIFA 13 were as a result of a second striker heading the ball over a downed goalkeeper on the rebound, with the keeper not making a significant attempt to even get up and bat the ball away.
An all new skill mode has been implemented this year, and it’s fantastic. A number of different difficulties of challenges for skills such as dribbling, passing and shooting are available for you in which to hone your abilities. Even more brilliantly, these skill modes replace the old beat-the-keeper loading screens from previous iterations, making even better use of the extensive loading time than before. On multiple occasions, I would still be playing the skill challenge well after the game had already loaded. I love a game that makes good use of loading screens, and they simply don’t get much better than this.
With all the features and content packed into FIFA 13, it sure is a game for any sports fan. There’s so much more here than just match day games. I do question the real-money micro-transactions to add extra customisability to the game though. Yeah, it’s the best game in the franchise, but I’d be downright tearing it to shreds if it wasn’t. Additionally, FIFA 13 adds more than just an extra layer of polish. Sure, there’s no huge, game-changing additions as there was in 12, but it’s more the subtle ideas that have been implemented under the hood that make FIFA 13 a worthy entry into the series, and one worth a try from any soccer fan.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of FIFA 13 by EA Sports. The platform it was reviewed on was the PS3.