FIFA 13 review

The FIFA series is one that’s in a constant and rapid state of evolution. Whether it’s via annual updates or the “even-numbered years” that coincide with World Cups and European Championships, EA Canada has consistently refined the series throughout this generation. FIFA 13 occupies an interesting space in the hierarchy of this progression. Is it a dramatic shift from FIFA 12’s colossal engine overhaul? No. But there’s enough here to make the leap to this year’s game worthwhile.

What’s on deck? Initially, the most evident changes appear in gameplay. On defense, you have more movement and range options to cut off passing lanes. If you’re a big bruiser, you may not even need to push the tackle button to shove an attacker off the ball when a sprint will suffice. And the animations for getting physical are much more pronounced. All of these elements go a long way in giving you better tools to regaining possession.

In FIFA 13, your AI-led teammates are more intuitive about getting themselves into the right pockets of space, and visually, it’s even more apparent when one of them is offsides and struggling to get back in the right place. It’s a vast improvement compared to past games in which they’d stand static and wait to be “activated” into a run. Plus, dribbling feels better, thanks to some refinements to how you trap and shield the ball so that you can weave past a defender. It feels like a much more fluid process than in past games.

Among the numerous new wrinkles to FIFA 13, the revised first touch is one of the best. In the real world, a bad first touch on the ball is the difference between a pass and a deflection over to the other team. That applies heavily in this game. If you hold down the button until the meter maxes out, there’s a good chance your pass will bounce off a teammate and into the other team’s possession. It creates a chaos that adds a totally different dynamic to gameplay, all for the better.

But not everything from FIFA 12 has improved. The FIFA Impact Engine, which debuted a new system of collisions and physicality, has been tweaked to prevent the sort of goofy glitches that create YouTube memes. But while the second iteration reins in the wackier accidents of FIFA 12, the player collisions are too dramatic, and it’s much more noticeable in off-the-ball activity. It looks rather unnatural.

Aside from the on-the-pitch flourishes, FIFA 13 introduces skill games. Gone is the five year-old “player versus goalkeeper” Practice Arena loading game, and in its place are a series of minigames designed to improve your abilities in several avenues of the game. For example, you’ll have to kick a lob pass, land it within a certain zone, and land it inside a plastic trash can to get the maximum points. It adds an arcade-like element to the gameplay, and–for better and worse–it’s rather challenging. Unless you’re a FIFA wizard, the later-stage minigames may drive you completely mad.

In the wake of Euro 2012 and EA’s DLC pack from that tournament, FIFA 13 has incorporated international fanfare and World Cup qualifying into career mode. If you’re playing as either a Virtual Pro or a real-life player, you’ll now see all of the presentation, national anthems, and pageantry of international games within the typical national team call-ups. But it’s manager mode that has gotten the best overhaul. With the option to coach a national team, there’s a fluid balance between managing a club team and managing a country. It’s a lot deeper than past games, and much more fun. Plus, EA has refined the transfer system greatly. You’ll have much more leeway for making deals to sign players, and the AI logic is now smart enough not to sell Leo Messi to Manchester City on the first day of the transfer window.

But even with the smarter improvements to career mode, there are elements that feel awfully copied and pasted or archaic, and it hurts the immersion factor. The game attempts to create a “ripped from the headlines” ambience as you work your way through the season, but there’s something terribly unrealistic about a Middle Eastern conglomerate buying a lower-table MLS team. More context to the presentation would’ve gone a long way. Also, there’s a new “live updates” feature, which means that an announcer pipes in to tell you about other league results (“It’s a penalty for (Arsenal)! He’s stepping up…it’s in!”). But again, it feels forced and artificial.

For the highs and lows of career mode, FIFA 13’s biggest off-the-pitch improvement comes from its online integration. If you’ve earned EA Sports Football Club experience points from FIFA 12 and FIFA Street, all of your XP will carry into this new game, plus it will unlock a variety of content right out of the box, from vintage jerseys to the ability to replay a game you lost in career mode. It’s a great method to reward loyalty and offer tangible, useful content. In addition to stalwart content like Ultimate Team and Seasons, the optional Match Day–the former Live Season feature–is fully integrated into your experience. The mode integrates real-world stat tracking into exhibition matches, EA’s featured Games of the Week, and player performance across every league in the game.

Both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 version of FIFA 13 utilize motion peripherals, but to different means and different results. On the PS3, you can use your Move controller to steer a player around, mark opponents for defense, and set up runs. At least, theoretically. In execution, it’s a jumbled mess with button layout and prompts that are too demanding for casual audiences used to a Wii remote, and too limiting for hardcore FIFA players compared to using a Dual Shock 3. If you have a Move wand, you can try it for yourself, but don’t expect your patience to go the full 90.

On the Xbox 360 version, FIFA 13 touts voice command integration with Kinect, with a range of English dialects that are arguably more diverse than Siri. It’s initially hit or miss–learning and memorizing prompts is as distracting as fumbling with tactics on the d-pad while you’re trying to build up an attack–but once you’ve memorized the prompts, you’ll especially love the convenience of making substitutions without having to pause and go into a menu. And if you’re interested, you can even create custom prompts by wedding pre-rendered phrases to a specific function. It’s a good start for voice commands within the franchise.

FIFA 13 is a blast to play. It’s not a revolutionary transformation for the series, but it does a fine job nipping and tucking many of the nascent features that FIFA 12 introduced. There are some annoyances–the physics engine feels like it’s been overly tinkered, and the shortcomings of career mode’s become apparent when you step out of Europe’s top leagues. However, it succeeds at one key task that it sets out to do: render FIFA 12 obsolete. You can wear last year’s jersey, but you won’t want to play last year’s game any longer.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360.

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