FIFA 13 (PS3) Review
Written : Wednesday, September 26, 2012
By: Lee Bradley
The thing about football games, indeed any sports game, is that they tap into the drama of the sport. They allow fans to live out their dreams and their nightmares, their hopes and their fears. Forget cut-scenes and set-pieces and all that stuff for a minute, this is where some of the best stories in the medium are told.
What FIFA 13 manages to do is make these stories feel a little more organic. It’s a less predictable interpretation of the sport that allows enjoyably random instances to crop up. It gains as a result. The iterative changes to the core game may not be dramatic, but very occasionally their consequences can be.
"Aerial headbutting: inadvisable."
This is no more apparent than in FIFA 13's revised first touch system. Where once the ball would stick pretty solidly to the feet of your player regardless of circumstance, the quality of your first touch now depends on how fast the ball is travelling, the angle at which it comes to you and the individual stats of that player. There’s no guarantees that you’ll be able to get the ball under control immediately, if at all.
When this was first announced, my initial feeling was concern. What if I pull off a decent pass and the receiving player fluffs it through no fault of my own? Where’s the fun in that? Yet it’s toned down enough that you rarely feel aggrieved at the design of the game, merely the player that screwed it up.
There’s plus sides too. Sometimes an inelegant first touch can lead to an opportunity that you either didn’t see or just wouldn’t have been there if things had gone to plan. There's occasional beauty in the chaos.
Elsewhere the game offers a little more control. FIFA 13 borrows from FIFA Street in its precision dribbling offering you a wider degree of options while in possession. You're able to manipulate the ball while facing the defender in much the same way as EA’s skill-blessed reboot, all before making your move. Indeed, it's a shame this wasn't taken further. While the theatrics of FIFA Street would be out of place, manual trapping would not. It will be interesting to see how far EA takes it next year.
Perhaps it’s a matter of pace. FIFA 13 rattles along at a thunderous speed, with games playing out in a blistering end-to-end fashion. AI teammates now support your runs better too, opening up more opportunities for goals. Steps may have been taken to make the game a little more realistic, but that doesn’t mean that the excitement has gone. Leaning more heavily into FIFA Street’s close control system could take away from the immediacy.
Other areas highlighted by the developers are slightly less apparent. So while work has been done to improve upon FIFA 12’s tactical defending system, which some players have responded to poorly, it doesn’t feel massively different. Fundamentally the same, it’s still a matter of pressing and pressuring before hopefully choosing the right moment to make a lunge for the ball. Those that hated it before will have little reason to change their minds now.
"The skill games are fab."
Still, at least the Impact Engine has been calmed down since its debut last year. While you’ll still see the odd moment of amusing wonkiness, there’s less stumbling and rolling around dumbly on the floor and fewer occurrences where players just go flying off for no apparent reason. YouTube will be most disappointed.
Then there’s the game’s suite of modes. If there’s one area in which FIFA games excel, its in offering a number of ways to play the game, and FIFA 13 is no exception. As ever there's a whole bunch going on, much of which has been tinkered with since their last outing.
The most interesting sections interact with current events in the real world of football. To this end updates will be issued as the season progresses to ensure that player stats are kept updated, and you can play recreations of the weekend’s games complete with accurate line-ups and weather conditions. EA Sports Football Club will also offer up the odd challenge so you can take on dramatic scenarios from past games. The way real-life on-the-pitch action is threaded through the game is seriously impressive. This is EA Sports flexing its considerable licensing muscle.
Career Mode has been fleshed out a bit too, most notably with the opportunity to nab international roles, receive press conference and player feedback, and wheeler-deal your way around a tougher, more complicated transfer market. Plus there’s the addition of that most important of match day rituals - the classified football results.
Ultimate Team also gets an update. It’s a staggeringly compulsive mode that’s part RPG, part Pokemon and part Panini sticker collection. In addition to the swapping and selling designed to help you build towards your dream team, there’s both online and offline leagues, the ability to challenge the Team of the Week and a plethora of unlocks and levelling to contend with. It’s by far the game’s most addictive mode and if you want a rewarding experience beyond head-to-head matches with your mates, this is your ideal entry point.
Indeed there’s little fault to find with the range of experiences offered by FIFA 13. Even Skill Games, a set of challenges that see you navigating increasingly tough training ground exercises and obstacle courses, manage to offer a brilliantly entertaining diversion. You could lose hours making your way through them, despite their origin in simple loading screen distractions.
Similarly, the trophies are solid. Once the purveyor of terrifying lists, EA Sports has cooked up a decent spread of trophies to push you around FIFA 13’s labyrinthine modes and options, with a few chucked in there to reward good play on the pitch. Of course there are also a couple that will take hours to snaffle up, but considering how much time fans invest in the game it’s only fitting.
So with a fast-paced, unpredictable game of football on the pitch and a range of impressive and compelling modes wrapped around it, there’s very little to dissuade you from investing in FIFA 13. A clear improvement over last year’s instalment (how long can we keep saying that before it rings hollow?), it’s undoubtedly the most enjoyable game of football you can have on a console.
With decent commentary that doesn’t immediately make you want to scoop your inner ear out through repetition, plus a dependably diverse soundtrack, FIFA 13’s audio package is solidly done.
It would seem there’s only so much room for improvement on this generation of tech, as both the crowds and the players look much the same as in FIFA 12. Only the next-gen will be able to offer a noticeable improvement. As good as it gets.
The refinement of the Impact Engine, plus the changes to first touch control, makes for a less predictable yet far more stable experience than last year. There are still very few games that offer such thrilling experiences, both online and off.
In terms of breadth FIFA’s set of modes are unbeatable. There’s a staggering array of ways to play the game, which along with a significantly deeper Ultimate Team mode will keep fans engaged for months. Even the Skill Games are great.
There’s little to fault in this year’s list aside from a general air of familiarity. It guides you through the game’s modes and chucks in a couple extra for on-pitch feats and pure dedication. Solid.
Retaining its position at the top of the league, FIFA 13 shows us yet again that EA Sports is the daddy of iterative improvements. It may not be a huge leap over FIFA 12, but it remains the very best football game available on consoles. An easy recommendation.