13th Season Syndrome? – FIFA 13 Review

FIFA 13 (2012) – EA Canada

If Messi doesn’t take your fancy, there are custom covers available from the EA Sports website

To the casual eye, FIFA 13 is same old same old; to the extent by which I could probably copy and paste my FIFA 12 review and get away with it. Fans of the series will know however that it’s the subtle changes that make FIFA a different experience each year. The last installment was one of the most vigorous changes of the series yet, with the implementation of a whole new defending system and new player physics. FIFA 13 has brought a whole host of new tweaks to the engine this year to ensure that it remains ahead of Pro Evolution Soccer, but it is noticeable that the gap between the two series, which was a vast gaping chasm only two years ago, has shrunk dramatically. After a quite lengthy amount of time playing FIFA 13, I get the feeling that for the first time in years, the series has taken a step back.

Starting on the pitch (where you are naturally going to spend most of your time), the biggest change comes courtesy of the new first touch mechanic. One of the major criticisms of the last few years is that players from anywhere in the world could trap passes and long balls with an embarrassing amount of ease; EA have attempted to remedy the problem by factoring in more unpredictability. The difference between first time control on FIFA 12 and FIFA 13 is very notable – blast a pass at a team mate and chances are its going to ricochet off their foot, causing you to lose possession. Dribbles go astray and players can knock the ball away from themselves if under pressure from a strong player. Thing is, the system isn’t overly ridiculous, and after a few games you will learn to adapt your play style to keep better control over the ball. After 50 games or more, it feels fluid and a natural part of the game. Elsewhere, there are new animations for tackles, fancy passes and shots, and critically for players like me who like to move the ball around, the attacking AI has been greatly improved – players will now bend their runs around opposition defences, allowing you to thread through balls with more gifted players.

Elsewhere, the focus with FIFA 13 has been to try and capture the real life match day experience of football. Providing you have a connection to the EA servers (which have proved to be as tetchy as ever), players will have their in game stats affected by their real life performance (it’s essentially the paid Live Season feature of past games made free). You can also play real life fixtures which help your supported team in the leaderboard rankings, and challenge mode makes a welcome return to allow you to change history with a presented scenario (for example, come back in 59th minute as Manchester United to beat Tottenham who are 3-1 up). It’s a nice set of introductions, but they aren’t exactly game changing features, and from what I can tell the form boosts have only really affected the top teams meaning the overall focus is quite narrow.

Mario Balotelli – now available complete with patented ‘Angry Man’ celebration

Career mode has also received yet another set of additions designed to improve the experience (a process which has been in constant movement since FIFA 09, and which has generally been for the better year on year). For whatever reason, the Player-Manager mode has been removed completely, leaving you with either the option of either being a Player or Manager. In both of these modes, the headline addition is the introduction of international duties – as a player, improving your performance can grant you a call up to your respective international team, and becoming a prestigious enough manager will get you job offers to take control of a national team in addition to your normal club duties. Being a manger is the more interesting route to take, as you have the flexibility to call up anyone eligible in your national pool to the squad and can then take them to cup glory. Thus far I am waiting for a job offer, but my pro got called up to the England squad after half a season of dominating League One with Walsall, so you don’t have to be exceptional in order to take advantage of the gameplay additions. Elsewhere, the transfer system has been given a much needed overhaul; players like David Silva will no longer ping around the best clubs every transfer window, and now you can set counter offers to bids received from other clubs (thereby getting more money), as well as offering player trades. Perhaps the nicest touch to the career mode is the addition of a voiceover of the classified results after each match, but the little jingle that precursors this gets tiring very quickly, and from what I can tell there is no way to turn the feature off.

The final two additions to FIFA 13 are the skill games and the EA Sports Football Catalogue. The skill games are a collection of mini-games based around certain game elements like dribbling, passing and taking penalties which can be played in-between the loading screens for matches, which help to improve ones skill in the game and become increasing more tricky to overcome. It makes a nice change to simply having the arena to muck around in, however the challenge you will take in-between games can’t be set beforehand. The Football Catalogue is designed to reward players who play a lot of FIFA; alongside XP for doing things, you also collect a small amount of coins, which can be redeemed in game on cosmetic things like historic kits and unlockable celebrations to stat boosts for your Pro or coin multipliers for the returning card game based Ultimate Team mode. There is a new batch of items to collect as you progress to the next XP level, so completionists will be at it for a long time. Returning players from FIFA 12 automatically carry over their Football Club level, which is a nice feature for longtime fans.

Having a good player while doing skill games makes all the difference – check the stats before having a go

All the additions appear to have snuggled into what has proven over the years to be the superior football game recipe then….the problem from hereon in now is where does FIFA go now? For me, the series is in serious need of the next generation of consoles in order to move up to the next level. Graphically, there is little to no improvement from last year, and it baffles me that the crowds still look utterly terrible. I’m also quite annoyed that what EA has given with one hand, they have taken away with the other. The biggest removal is the Virtual Pro feature; while it hasn’t gone completely (you now get an online pro separate to offline to prevent boosting a pro offline and then taking to the internet), the flexibility for creating a pro in Player mode is rigid as hell – once you select a position, the only way to change it is to start again. It’s then the small things that really frustrate me; stuff like Friends Records have been removed, and features such as the fantastically in depth career mode stats from FIFA 09 have still not returned. Finally, there are still ghosts in the system that need to be patched out and the servers really need to be reinforced with concrete to actually work for a period longer than three days.

FIFA 13 isn’t quite the improvement year on year that was exhibited between 11 and 12, and that it why it scores lower than last years installment. Don’t get me wrong, its still a very good title and you will get your money’s worth out of it – but the shadow of PES is growing larger with every passing year and next year may see a shift in balance if the next gen consoles aren’t ready.

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