Reviewing FIFA 13, or any EA Sports game for that matter, has become quite the undertaking as most of the respective sports developers, by and large, have locked into a pretty successful formula, and don’t deviate too heavily from it. Last year’s FIFA brought with it several new features — tactical defending, an improved physics engine, and smarter player AI — but looking above those inner workings it was ostensibly the same game.
Which brings us to FIFA 13. This year’s entry in the franchise doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as its predecessor, but still makes an impressive attempt to keep things feeling fresh and new. Is that enough to entice FIFA 12 owners or casual soccer fans into a repeat purchase? Read on to find out.
Fundamentally, EA Sports has only made one significant change to the on-field play in FIFA 13 with its introduction of realistic ‘first touch’ physics. No longer does the ball lock on to a player’s foot regardless of skill, but instead will awkwardly bounce forward as a “real” rolling soccer ball would do. A triple-A star like Lionel Messi will have far greater success trapping the ball and pushing up field whilst in a mild sprint, but less-skilled players will usually tap the ball a few steps forward before collecting it. This does (arguably) create for a more realistic soccer experience, but it might also detract some from players’ enjoyment of the game.
It’s when EA Sports combines the first touch mechanic with last year’s pro player intelligence that things get real squirrely. Since those AI players are less about risk now, they’ll usually contain their opponent and wait for that first touch mechanic to kick in, and then move in to take the ball away. It forces the player to be more cautious but it also forces gamers away from virtual soccer – into FIFA‘s version of it. Rather than an aggressive series of through balls and breakaways, the game features far more gradual, cautious advances into the opposing fourth of the field. Is it more realistic? Yes. Does it also make the game less fun? Also yes. It’s not a complete deal breaker, but the first touch is surely going to need some refinement going forward.
Aside from that the game is as crisp as ever, and player faces look the best they ever have. Nearly all of the collision problems in FIFA 12 have been squashed, and even the tactical defending has been given some much-needed attention. In addition, shooting, passing, dribbling, etc. are all marginally better versions of what was featured in FIFA 12. Nagging problems like the persistence of “bending” shots is gone, but inconsistencies between player intent and the game’s interpretation of that intent are still there. Needless to say, veteran FIFA players will find that the gameplay is much sharper and more refined than FIFA 12‘s, and that alone makes it worth checking out.
FIFA 13 also boasts plenty of modes to tool around with, including a new online-focused career mode that lets gamers compete against players at similar skill levels, or even get together with 10 of their friends and play a full match. The new, FIFA Street-inspired skill games — a new series of mini-games that test player skill in non-traditional ways like lobbing passes into trash cans — are also fun little distractions between matches, and might just be the most addicting element of the entire game. It’s nothing too revolutionary, but plenty to keep fans busy for the next year.
Getting into an online match, though, is as exciting as it has ever been, due in large part to that refined gameplay. First touch is less of an issue as fellow players will be much more interested in taking risks, and having teammates that cover the pitch in a more strategic pattern is always better than haphazardly switching players, getting one’s bearings, and then defending. Fans that play online are going to love this year’s game.
Menus might not be worth mentioning in a traditionally single player game, but when it comes to FIFA — especially in a career, season, or in FIFA Ultimate Team — a lot of time will be spent slogging through them. Somehow EA Sports found a way to, rather than improve and streamline their menus, make them more cumbersome and tedious. Advancing through a few days in a season, which is made more “dynamic” by news headlines about trades and player loans, takes even more time than in past iterations, and even requires more attention from the player. For those future soccer managers out there this is great, but when it has no bearing on your own team, attention to detail becomes a nuisance. Granted it’s a small gripe, but if there’s one thing we hope the next-gen brings to sports games it’s less time “simming” CPU games.
A lot of FIFA 13‘s positives come from a fine-tuning of the exceptional, yet flawed, experience of FIFA 12, making it a must-buy for fans left uninspired by last year’s game. However, its new features — namely the first touch and unnecessarily comprehensive menus — do detract some from the experience, and unfortunately keep it from making that leap into “perfect” territory. Some will sing the praises of first touch — and to those this may just be one of the best FIFAs yet — but EA Sports is going to need to find a balance between the new mechanic and smarter AI defending if they want to make the game feel authentic without sacrificing enjoyment.
Online play, once again, erases a lot of the game’s problems, but is still a breeding ground for ball-hoggers and showboats. More importantly, though, it keeps those horrendous menus far far away. It’s pretty clear that EA Sports has dialed in the FIFA formula, and we wouldn’t expect major changes any time soon, so be happy that the baseline they’re working with is a solid soccer experience.
Have you had a chance to check out FIFA 13? Feel free to let us know what you think of the game in the comments below.
FIFA 13 is out now for the PS3, Xbox 360, PC, PS2, Wii, Vita, and 3DS. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version for review.
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