FIFA Soccer 13 Review
As a dyed-in-the-wool soccer fanatic, I sometimes find it difficult to temper my expectations when it comes to both my real life teams and my virtual ones. I fervently look forward to the start of the new Premier League season in hopes that my beloved Liverpool will finally regain their form (fat chance, as if the beginning of this season could have gone any worse!), but also because it heralds the newest rendition of EA Sports’ FIFA series. The last couple of years have been a boon for the franchise, taking some big chances but ultimately improving the end product exponentially. FIFA Soccer 13 doesn’t make the drastic changes to the formula we have seen recently, but the subtle tweaks make for a more accessible footballing experience for casual fans as well as increased depth and new play modes for diehards like yours truly.
The newly refocused player AI makes a massive difference. Last year’s game put priority on more active defensive capabilities; as a result, I felt the overall experience was more challenging than it had been in the past. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but FIFA 13 gives the non-controlled players much more instinctive and natural movement. Whereas before you had to try to “tell” your teammates when to make runs, now they look to run into space all on their own. If you really pay attention, you can actually see them checking their runs so they don’t stray offside. Through balls are more effective, and playing the ball down the wings is far more productive, just like in the modern game. If you watch a lot of top-flight soccer, you know most successful counterattacks result in just this sort of passing. Playing balls over the top, if timed right, are even more advantageous, especially if you take advantage of the new first touch control.
This is the other major change to FIFA 13. Using the right stick allows extra control whether on the dribble or when receiving the ball. So taking in a pass with a defender on your back allows flicks and turns that you see all the time on TV. I found this worked particularly well on the wings, as sprinting offensive players could then push the ball a little further ahead. When playing in and around the penalty box, moving the ball away quickly can draw fouls (Messi is the master at this). The aforementioned long passes over the top yield amazing results; pushing it just that much further ahead of the chasing defender can mean that extra touch to set up a shot. But to tell the truth, a lot of the time I forgot to use it. It is there if you want to take advantage, but I wouldn’t say it’s fully necessary.
You are also given even more control over the ball when it’s on your feet. FIFA 12 started the ball rolling with this, and it was taken even further with FIFA Street. Provided the player you are controlling has the necessary skills, you can pull off some impressive tricks… with practice. Be forewarned, there is a learning curve to these techniques before you’ll look like Ronaldo. However, once mastered, there are few things more enjoyable than successfully pulling off multiple step-overs before leaving a defender in the dust.
The end result of these improvements is that gameplay on the pitch seems much easier than last year. The overall effect is much more fluid and dynamic, which equates to a more accessible experience for those who are more casual fans. Whether you prefer playing a possession game or like to counter attack, I honestly feel like FIFA 13 better represents how the sport actually plays at the top level in real life.
It’s not all roses though… while some improvements were made I still find myself making the same old complaints. Although the game flows really well, long passes feel like they lack control. There are still instances where yelling at the TV “No, you idiot, don’t pass it to him, pass it to HIM!” echoes around the apartment. Crossing the ball accurately from the wings doesn’t feel as natural as it should either. Here’s some free advice: check your runs before trying to whip in a cross. Otherwise, you’ll see them missing the pitch altogether. Even world-class players seem to struggle while crossing at a full sprint. It’s not an easy skill to master, but it should be a little easier than it is.
FIFA 13 looks great, for the most part. New presentation angles and “TV-realistic” shots give the game a more authentic air, not to mention they have been essentially the same for the last couple of years, so the change is nice. Player models aren’t noticeably better or worse than last year and you’ll immediately recognize the big stars. However, I noticed more graphical glitches and choppy animations with the Player Impact Engine. Sometimes reactions seemed very slightly delayed: not enough to break the game, but just enough to be noticeable. Oh, and the crowds look atrocious from some angles.
I still feel like the commentary isn’t as seamless as it should be. I even encountered multiple instances where they would refer to the history of Anfield (Liverpool’s home stadium) when we were playing away. It seems sloppy. However, I’ll forgive this because they have included mid-match reports from other games around the league, which I found entertaining.
The improved AI logic means that the transfer system works the best it ever has. Negotiating for players seems far more realistic as your barter over their worth. Current form is even taken into account, as well as future potential. You can now counter offer when both buying and selling, and players will even take into account playing time (or the promise thereof). Round it all off with Transfer Day deadline drama; it’s exciting even if it is short lived.
The Career mode is improved by this as well with a lot of little touches that make it more engaging. News stories are more frequent and better written this year. Players will lobby you for time on the pitch, and want to renegotiate contracts if they feel they deserve it. However, the most exciting thing is you now have a much more realistic simulation of national team action interjected into the course of the season. As a player, you can work your way up the ladder to earn a crucial first team selection. Managers can manage both their club teams as well as international sides. As you gain more experience, more “big” teams will come asking for your services. This is something that has been sorely missed from the FIFA experience. I’m glad to finally have the chance for my created player to achieve national team glory!
The mini-games you can play to practice before the games are much better this year. Rather than just giving you the run of the pitch while loading, there are Skill challenges you can choose to participate in. As a result, there is a tangible sense of accomplishment when you succeed. I love the RPG elements that have found their way into recent sports titles where you earn XP whenever you play. That translates into purchases made with the EA Sports Football Club. As you level up, you unlock more options: everything from stat boosts for your Pro to alternate uniforms and boots to cool rewards like guaranteeing your scout will find a future star.
The Ultimate Team experience is back, pretty much as you remember it. If you’re into it, this can be great fun. Building your squad is rewarding, especially if you play online with friends. You can buy, sell, trade, and bid on players you want or are missing. Earning enough points to buy that elusive Gold Pack is a thrill, especially when you sort through those cards and see who you’ve got.
Beyond taking your Ultimate Team online, there are a whole slew of new options for those who like to play online. Match Day takes real world headlines and fixtures (even taking into account current player form) and allows you to play along, changing history as it happens. There is also a new Seasons mode, where you can team up with a friend and play through up to 10 seasons, battling for promotion through different divisions.
FIFA 13 has proven to be a difficult game to score. On the one hand, there are some laudable improvements over last year’s stellar entry. The new first touch mechanic can be a useful tool in the hands of skilled players. The more intuitive attacking AI makes the game flow much more smoothly from end to end. I really feel like it makes the game easier for newcomers and casual fans alike. Deeper career modes and a host of new online options give veterans a lot to be excited about as well. But there are still issues that need to be addressed such as long passing, crossing, and smoother presentation and commentary. However, these are minor concerns in the face of what is an overall stellar product. If you’re a fan of the beautiful game then FIFA 13 is a must buy, once again!
Reviewed By: Simon Waldron
Publisher: Electronic Arts
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of FIFA Soccer 13 provided by Electronic Arts.