Football games come around a bit like Christmas (annually) and they can be satisfying; or, just as easily, so disappointing. Fortunately, EA Sports haven’t really disappointed us in a number of years, and it would seem that whatever they are putting in the water over at EA Canada is working. They came up with a solid formula a while back, and they've continued to refine it ever since. I found last year’s iteration missed the mark slightly, but FIFA 13 has everything back on track, and it's better than ever.
FIFA 13 introduces the usual updates with regard to the latest team data, players, and kits, but alongside the expected stuff are a number of new features. A greater emphasis on multiplayer and online integration seems to be the underlying message, including the online World Cup and Club modes. The most noticeable changes in-game are around the enhanced Player Impact Engine (now at Version 2.0) and control scheme, which has enhanced everything from dribbling to first touch and tactical free kicks. This - alongside 500 officially licensed clubs, and over 15,000 players in-game - makes for an impressive package.
EA have continued their development on player AI, which thinks ahead and works harder to implement realistic plays. The AI can therefore now look to capitalise on openings as they occur and be more reactive, and overall a bit more lifelike. The ball control is just spectacular, with the ball being completely independent of the player, and fluid to maneuver around the field. Small touches on the stick are enough to shield the ball with your body, flick the ball around a defender, and explode into the penalty box - it works very well and is a significant improvement over what we saw in FIFA 12.
The first touch system, which has been around for some time now, adds a larger element of uncertainty when receiving balls, with a number of factors such as defensive pressure, trajectory, and velocity making a difference in how much control the receiving player has off the ball. Combined with the enhanced Player Impact Engine, which allows you to jostle and pull players by their shirts, contesting the ball is exciting and dangerous - with injuries not unheard of.
Overall the effect of these changes is that games feel more balanced, and more realistic. I found a great number of shooting opportunities were made available, and it was very satisfying when, using the complete dribbling, it was possible to sneak the ball into the penalty box past an aggressive defender.
In terms of game engine difficulty, I found that FIFA 11 was too predictable, but FIFA 12 went too far and made shooting too unpredictable, and FIFA 13 appears to want to even the score and sits somewhere in between the two.
A solid interactive tutorial mode is present - helpful given the depth of FIFA 13 - and players will relish in the ability to hone their skills. On top of this, Skill Games are included which allow you to beat a number of tests in dribbling, passing, shooting, crossing, and more. This allows you to apply what you’ve learned, much like the licensing systems in many racing games.
The learning curve is quite short for a basic grasp of the game, and most people should be able to pick up and play with some ease, but when it comes to becoming a Pro a significant sacrifice will need to be made and you will need to practice. Fortunately for me, the multiplayer mode is excellent at picking opponents of a similar skill level - and thus I find the multiplayer consistently challenging, without being too hard.
The extensive multiplayer experience, as I already alluded to, includes the usual online quick matches, but also a Club and a World Cup mode. In Club mode you pick the club you have an allegiance to, and play games online to enhance their ranking in an online table - you can pick any team to play with, but your wins and losses count towards your club along with all the other players (Wellington Phoenix were sitting in a hot 2nd place). Thanks to the excellent match-making this works really well.
In World Cup mode, you must choose the nation from where you come, and play online representing the said nation, again with any team, in order to attempt to make it through a world cup style online mode. In this mode there are real prizes at stake, and a real player will be crowned world champion. Basically, if you want a chance to show the world you are the best, get amongst it and start competing.
The singleplayer career mode of course is present, where you can pick a club or international team to coach or play as. It’s great to have international teams included here too, and the club structure is now more enhanced to allow club teams to play in more realistic international fixtures as well. Your virtual pro, a single player you control in an entire squad, can now also be called upon to play in the international squad if your performance is up to scratch, which no doubt is a satisfying experience.
The EA Sports Football Club is effectively the online front, in which you can also spend your hard earned in-game currency on bonuses. These include things like scout credits for the career mode to help find the best players, virtual pro attribute bonuses, match bonuses, and more. Another noteworthy multiplayer mode in the Football Club are the weekly challenges that appear, which present you with real life scenarios from the week's world of football to play, and let you earn points towards your EA Sports Football Club. Evident here is the vast amount of data which EA provide gamers, with real life performance and stats being pulled into the game, and it doesn’t appear as though gamers will be charged for it this time around, which is an enormous plus.
Now it wouldn’t be much of a football sim if it didn’t have a great commentary and really, it’s stunning. The commentary adapts to real world data to give you snippets of info as to what is going on with a player or team currently in the real life league. For example, I was informed that my team had won the three preceding club matches, only unfortunately to lose at my hand. What I really like is the inclusion of more game relevant information, such as injuries. Now if a player is injured the commentators will provide information from the sidelines as to how the player is progressing, or what the suspected injury is. It makes for a more immersive experience, and also means you don’t necessarily need to flick to your team management to check on your players.
The sound effects too are very realistic, with a great stadium feel - though when in the practice arena I’ve found that sprinting produces a strange sound like a scratchy microphone over a bad internet connection, which I can only imagine is meant to be the ball scuffing along the grass - but it sounds bad. Fortunately, that horrific sound effect isn’t present in any of the matches, and therefore is hardly a game-changer.
By and large FIFA 13 is chock-full of content. The online aspects are so in depth now there is no doubt you could play FIFA 13 for all eternity if you so chose, which really represents excellent value for gamers. The refined game engine is a real improvement on FIFA 12 and shooting is now more of an art, than a random occurrence. There certainly is no better time to get into football videogames, or upgrade from an older game, as FIFA 13 has it all and it does it all bloody well. For those that still aren’t convinced, grab the demo and check it out as it provides a good picture of the game engine for you to try out.