EA has made so many strides forward with the FIFA series in recent years that it was hard to see how they could possibly make this version of the yearly update any better. Somehow though, EA managed to make some vital improvements to the series, increase the pace of play, and make the A.I. smarter too. However, very much like the injuries that magically show up when players are called-up to their international squads, FIFA 13 suffers from a few niggling problems that keep it from being the perfect game EA was hoping they made.
The game looks amazing as ever with all its ridiculous splendor thanks to the FIFA licenses and real life stadium models used in the game. At this point though, there is not much more you can do with the graphics until the PS4 and Xbox 720 release at some point. EA has gotten better with the player facial models, but there are still big name players that look like the most generic person on earth. Considering there are thousands of players in the game that´s probably going to happen with many of them though. EA has updated the presentation a bit by adding the ESPN logo to Barclay´s Premier League games and giving FIFA 13 a more television friendly look, I do still enjoy having two different sets of commentators because they help each match feel special in a small way. The introduction of a sideline reporter for injury updates and an in-studio announcer for match updates adds a small touch of realism that is crucial to this year´s presentation.
Another very welcome edition to the presentation is the inclusion of EA Sports Football Club´s “Match Day.” Ultimately, it is nothing more than a mixture of things they have added in the past, but the fact that weekly form updates are free and you get to play along with your favorite club´s season (Champions League and Europa League games excluded) is something very much needed in this era of gaming. This update even was introduced to the announcers because they talk about a team´s form, player injuries, and what they need to do during this point in the season. Again, it is something very small but it adds so much to the presentation of the game.
None of this means squat though, if the on field action is sliced cheese. Surprisingly, FIFA managed to make some impressive worthwhile additions to the gameplay. Namely, the smartening up of your teammate A.I.
No longer will your team seemingly wait for you to call them into action, now pretty much every player makes “smart” runs into attacking areas and asks for the ball as well. This is really great for going forward and scoring goals, which happen at a more frequent rate now. The problem this causes is that FIFA loses a lot its realism because most games end up 3-2, 4-3, or 5-4, instead of the 0-0, 1-0, or maybe 2-1 that happens most often in real soccer. Not that this is totally a bad thing, its just the build-up play seems to run on auto pilot at times when someone is playing by themselves. I have been playing FIFA 13´s Pro Club Seasons Mode a lot with some friends and the “auto-pilot” maneuvers seem a whole lot less frequent when most of the team is being controlled by a human rather than by the CPU.
However, don´t fret because FIFA´s two other main additions this year balance out the new smart A.I. The first addition comes via FIFA´s other game introduced this year “FIFA Street.” In that review, I mentioned how I wanted to see EA bring the new way of controlling the ball over to the main series and EA Canada has done just that. Now players can hold the two triggers down and slow down the pace of the ball and also shield it away from the defenders so that it makes it easier to plan your next move. Unlike FIFA Street though, the defenders don´t give you all day to figure out what to do, so you still have to make on the fly decisions. It is nice to be able to finally feel like I can pull off a few moves without feeling that about 95% of the time I am going to lose the ball because I did not do the move in the right direction.
The other huge addition to gameplay is the introduction of “First Touch Control.” This makes FIFA much more dynamic because it gives the ball freedom. The ball no longer just stays glued to someone´s foot when they receive a pass or get ready to take a shot. Now players must be very precise when they choose a through ball or a simple pass. Players that are used to just holding down A and watching the ball go right to a teammate will find this tactic useless in FIFA 13. If players pass the ball to a teammate too hard they might see the ball take a hard bounce off a teammate´s foot or if the pass does not have enough power it may get intercepted by a defender. The same thing goes for shots, if players use too much turbo and then start trying to shoot; the ball might go over the net or actually wind up with a defender because the ball got away from you. Who knows, it could also help make scoring a goal much easier as well.
Obviously, this also affects defenders as well and even the goalkeepers too. Anyone that uses their Pro on the defensive side (I usually play Central Defense) has to understand the ins and outs of the first touch control too. You can´t always run up to the ball as in year´s past and you have to be very careful if you choose to weave through oncoming attackers instead of just hoofing it out of the box because it could easily lead to a blundering give away. Overall, I really felt first touch control worked pretty well in the game and added a nice sense of unpredictability that FIFA has been lacking. Now, you really don´t know, just like the players in real soccer, what will happen when a player touches the ball.
Defending in this year´s game has also been tweaked a bit, allowing more range of motion while in the jockey stance. Players also seem to take any chance they can to go for a block or deflection, very much like what you see on Saturday´s and Sunday´s during league action.
The biggest problem with this year´s FIFA is in the highly touted “Player Impact Engine” introduced last year that brought a whole new wave of physics into the FIFA Series. Players might not bump into each other awkwardly anymore, but there are still plenty of more realistic follies here. There are plenty of times where players just fall down for no reason, also about three or four times I gave up a penalty because one of my A.I. controlled players barely bumped an attacker in the box. There are also plenty of times where someone bumped me without touching the ball and nothing was called. Not to mention, there are plenty of goalkeeper blunders, especially the glitches that cause the goalkeeper to not move as a ball passes by him or when goalkeepers dive at balls that could easily have been scooped up causing the ball to just sit there in front of goal waiting to be slammed into the net. The biggest issue is with defending because the new physics make it to where almost any defender with some momentum pretty much always wins a challenge when coming from behind a player. It is a nice tactic to use against the CPU, but when human opponents use this at an unnerving rate, it feels as if scoring is a battle of attrition. I don´t know how many times I probably should have been free on goal and for some reason my player started slowing down and the defender easily as pie catches me from behind. I understand the Impact Engine is still a work in progress, but it seems EA fixes several problems and a few more pop up in the next game.
The thing that probably bothered me the most is the fact that headers inside the box have become a test of “who can press the button fast enough as soon as the ball goes in the air.” The physics have made it to where the ball is no longer glued to a player´s head when its coming in the air, so now as a result, you have to keep tapping the button hoping you can beat the defender to at least get to put a head to the ball. It really does nullify the traditional way of playing soccer, where you use speedy wingers to cross balls into the box. So, you are almost forced to play everything on the ground and hope you find openings in the defense because of this. It is a really bummer because EA has actually fixed these issues with headers in other parts of the pitch, but now it rears its ugly head in perhaps the most important part of the playing field.
Finally, those that play a lot of FIFA online more than offline will probably be upset to know that the game is a much different experience in the online platform. For starters the game is much slower, the A.I.´s smart runs are almost non-existent, the A.I. in general is dumb during online play, the first touch control is more wonky and the physics are much slower due to some small lag problems. There have been many times when I thought I pressed a button to get the ball out of a danger area, but the game does not recognize it fast enough and it results in a turnover. As I mentioned earlier, I have been using my Pro in the defensive side of the pitch and I am actually pretty good at reading the play on the field. However, there were many times I know I pressed A or B to get the ball out of the box and it simply just stayed on my foot or the defender ran into me and grabbed the ball anyway. There really should be no reason at all why there is such a big difference in how the way the game plays online and offline. I should also note that the single-player online Seasons Mode has been changed for the better but the amount of time it takes to find an opponent at various times is rather annoying.
Aside from Match Day, there is another really cool reason you should keep your system connected to the EA Servers, and that is the new EA Football Club store. Now players have a reason to keep gaining XP Points because they can cash in those credits for extra trinkets like special kits, soccer balls, shoes, and even get to replay career mode games. I really enjoy the latter option because it means I get a mulligan when I lost the first game of my season. The EA Challenges that follow the real day to day league happenings are back as well and they are always fun to try and accomplish.
Probably the only thing that is truly new in this year´s game is a nice small addition similar to the Training Camp mini games that have been in the Madden NFL franchise for years. They are called Skill Games in FIFA and they are quite fun and serve as a pretty good tutorial on how to get better at the game. Once you get past the Silver level on most of these though it gets ludicrously hard, so have fun trying your hand at those.
I´m just going to say this really quickly before I cover the career mode and then end the review, I don´t have a KINECT and I refuse to play the Ultimate Team stuff because I find it silly to play a sports trading card game that really only exists as a cash grab for EA. I think EA did this correctly in only one game, NFL Blitz, because they allowed you to actually play real games and you won cards as a reward for beating your opponent. Not to mention, I´d rather not play something that could have my account become part of a phising scam at some point. I have read and heard from personal stories that the KINECT features work really well in FIFA 13, I always thought that getting to make your own subs and change players around on the fly without menus would be a nice idea. I am glad to hear its worth using KINECT in the game.
The main new thing added to Career Mode this year is the ability to play for your national team as a Pro or Manage an International Team alongside your Club. It seems like a very natural progression that should have been introduced years ago but I guess it is better now than never. You feel the intensity of this process a lot more as a Player because if you are battling to get your Pro into the club team and then have to do the same in your national team it can be debilitating to your psyche. Managers will still get messages from players and have to deal with how to go through the entire qualifying process too. I really enjoy playing in the Career Mode, but I wish it was more streamlined and up to date. The constant headlines and menus make it seem dated. It would be nice to see some video and perhaps analysis or something. I´m sure they have better ideas than I do, but it really does feel out of date in some aspects. I love the addition of the fake Champions League and fake Europa League and the ability to customize them as you see fit. I made mine as realistic as you could to this season´s club competitions. The transfer A.I. has also been improved as well, so you won´t have Lionel Messi going anywhere or crazy transfers like that. However, you still do have some transfers that shouldn´t happen as soon as the transfer window opens. Overall though, EA did add some life to the career mode by putting in the national team call-ups and the mode overall is still fun to play, though there have been many reports of Career Mode Saves corrupting.
Overall: EA made some nice enhancements to this year´s title with small things like the skill games, international team call-ups in Career Mode, and the EA Football Club Store. The two big additions “Smart A.I.” and First Touch Control really improve the gameplay in a positive way too. However, the fact that there are still glitches in the Player Impact Engine that can lose you a game and that online play is completely different than offline play is quite staggering. That´s why I am just gonna say this, it is a very good game and people that mostly buy FIFA to do Ultimate Team and Career Mode should get this because even Ultimate Team has gotten Head to Head Seasons this year. People that only play online might want to rent this and spend the 10 bucks for the Online Pass to try it out and see if they like it first before plopping down 60 dollars.