While Electronic Arts has suffered a seemingly endless string of PR nightmares over the years (most recently for slapping a new cover on FIFA 12
and releasing it as FIFA 13
for the Wii), some of their yearly sports titles have managed to deliver on a level that leaves them virtually immune to the criticism the publisher receives. FIFA
has been one of those titles in recent years, with gameplay that straddles the line between realism and accessibility beautifully, as well as an absolutely ridiculous amount of game modes.
This year, EA Canada set out to not only expand the ways that you can enjoy FIFA 13
, but also to address issues with the core gameplay itself. The results have been even better than expected, and the result is one of the deepest sports games ever made.
(Xbox 360 [reviewed], PC, Playstation 3)
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release: September 25, 2012
First things first: there is an endless amount of content here.
It's almost overwhelming to turn on FIFA 13
and see all of the things there are to do. Inevitably, most people will gravitate toward a few game modes and try the others out a couple of times before moving on, but the sheer number of game modes and ways that you can play FIFA 13
left me unsure of where to begin.
Career mode returns, along with tournaments, the popular FIFA Ultimate Team mode, a variety of online modes, and new game modes such as online seasons. Virtually every mode can be played online or offline, and no matter what mode you play, you will earn experience toward your football club of choice as you contribute your own earned experience to compete alongside fellow fans against those of other clubs around the world.
As you play FIFA 13
, you level up and unlock rewards in the new catalogue such as celebrations, career mode boosts, historical teams, and so on. This emphasis is part of what is an obvious effort to bring all the modes together and make them part of one cohesive package, rather than feeling like several vaguely-related games that are simply duct-taped together.
Without knowing exactly where to start, I gave the tutorials, drills, and skill games a try. While tutorials are the bane of the antsy gamer's existence, I've always enjoyed tutorials as both a way to learn an unfamiliar game and a way to brush up on unused skills in others. Since I haven't played a FIFA
game since FIFA 10
, I checked them out. They were quite limited in a way, with tutorials being restricted to defensive controls, but they were helpful nonetheless in helping me acquaint myself with important mechanics like jockeying and the improved push/pull techniques.
To work on my offense, I had to head to the new skill games, which ranged in quality from just okay to absolutely addictive. Your efforts are scored as you progress through bronze, silver, and gold level challenges that add difficulty and help you improve your grasp of offensive techniques. All of them gave me a basic understanding of my options while controlling offensive players.
Still, I was disappointed that there isn't anywhere in the game that walks you through the improved dribbling controls, especially because a lot of the advanced maneuvers are pretty complex and aren't best experimented with in an actual match. Unfortunately, if you want to get the hang of them, you have to go to the practice arena and simply work them out for yourself. Furthermore, where's the button for flopping, and how do I fake injuries? "If it's in the game," my ass, EA.
For a single-player fanatic like me, career mode was the thing I was most excited about, and FIFA 13
doesn't disappoint. I've always enjoyed franchise modes and their equivalents in sports games, and the way the FIFA
series marries player and manager careers is brilliant, allowing you to take over as a manager once your playing days are done, as in previous iterations.
This year's improvements to career mode are noticeable, as you now have expanded international options both as a player and a manager (managers can helm a national team full-time now), and AI as well as options when it comes to player transfers have been updated, as well. Apparently in the past, the AI would value players like pieces of meat according to a flat assessment of their talents, and now a more realistic approach allows AI teams to view their players as more or less valuable according to their contributions and role on the team. Nothing ruins a good manager mode like wonky transfer AI, so it's an important change.
EA has put a lot of effort into promoting the Ultimate Team feature in many of its sports games, which is clear in FIFA 13
. The mode is overflowing with options, as you can take your team into one-off matches, tournaments, or complete seasons against either AI or online opponents. Promotion and relegation are a part of Ultimate Team leagues this year, just to add a little pressure to the proceedings. You can also take on the "Team of the Week" for a chance at extra coins, should you be able to defeat them. Of course, you can buy packs to improve your roster or add boosts to your team, which is as addictive a process as ever.
All of these game modes would be worthless, of course, if the gameplay itself wasn't great. Fortunately, it is. First Touch Control works beautifully, as players will occasionally mishandle passes realistically. This means that turnovers occur more naturally instead of happening most of the time through tackles, especially at the higher difficulty levels, where the AI doesn't hold on to the ball as long. The gameplay is still very responsive, and although the tricker dribbling techniques can be hard to master, they work well when used in the right situations. Simpler techniques like shielding the ball and making fine movements with pace control work well.
EA Canada has made it clear that they don't want players to play like collections of ratings, but like actual people with personalities, flaws, and strengths. For the most part, they seem to have succeeded. After playing with Lionel Messi in the skill games, I picked the Chicago Fire of the MLS to play a few matches and the drop-off in my player's abilities was noticeable, to say the least. Furthermore, player personalities seem to emerge as you play more with or against specific teams.
can be a very challenging game if you are new to the series or play at a high difficulty level, but various settings allow you to avoid the always-annoying proposition of being stuck between two difficulty levels. You can adjust everything from the way the AI's defense lines up to how accurate their passes are to get the matches to play more like you want them to. You can also add difficulty without changing the AI by altering the amount of assistance you get on shooting and passing.
Player creation has not changed much, and you can still make a reasonable facsimile of an actual person to control in either online seasons or career mode. The creation centre allows you to download created players, teams, and tournaments from others, but in typical EA fashion, you can only download so many and have to pay extra if you want to expand the number you can have.
The presentation is polished, as always. The first-string commentary team of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith return, and they do a good enough job of calling the action. You'll hear repeated phrases, of course, but unlike other sports games where the flow of the game stops regularly and you hear the same anecdotes over and over, matches keep them busy enough that most of what you hear is what's happening on the pitch moment-to-moment, anyway. During the new Match Day mode, they comment on real-world happenings, similarly to the way that the NBA 2K
talking heads do in NBA Today mode. Crowds sound suitably realistic and add to the sense of immersion during matches, too.
In a sports game, gameplay should always come first, and EA Canada really delivered on that front while also improving and expanding many features of the game, too. Whether you call it football or soccer, if you have even a tiny amount of interest in playing "the beautiful game" in videogame form, you won't be sorry that you bought FIFA 13
9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title in its *genre*.