The FIFA franchise is unique in the world of video games. Coming back with a new title each year, all surrounding the same sport, yet never feeling tired or boring - it consistently impresses.
Each year in the build-up to the FIFA launch we try to second guess what sort of changes will be made. For FIFA 13, we genuinely had no idea, because last year’s was so incredibly airtight we just didn’t know what really needed to be changed.
In fact there is a lot that is new, but this time around FIFA 13 is more about the sum of its parts, than one big significant change. Think of it a bit like the new iPhone - feeling just as familiar as ever, yet better in every way.
Modes, options and career
FIFA has succeeded where other sports games have failed. It has created a gameplay style so fun and addictive that you need no interest whatsoever in the sport in order to enjoy it. On the flip side, if you are a football addict, there is a level of detail here that is unparalleled.
Start up the game, and the EA Sports Football Club makes an immediate return. This lets you contribute to club rankings online by gaining points for your favourite team. Those who played FIFA 12 and are returning to the same team will even find they get a bonus in the form of extra credits to spend on their team.
The detail then goes even further, with FIFA 13 connecting to the web to download current information on teams. It will then adjust commentary to reflect them, even picking up on timing in the season, rivalries and form that parallels current league standings. A newly added Match Day update system can also be incorporated to show which teams and players are doing well and which aren’t. Everything within the game will then tie into this and alter its statistics and play style accordingly.
Don’t forget either that this is before you have even played a game of football. In fact there is so much information here that you could easily spend an hour just perusing the menus before you even had a match.
The player vs. goalie loading screen in FIFA 13 are absent here, replaced instead with clever skill games. These are highly addictive and much more useful at improving you as a player, rather than simply taking shots at a CPU goalie. We massively improved our lob shots just by playing through a few of them.
Next up is the catalogue, which works in tandem with those credits we mentioned earlier - like a big Argos of football. You get to choose from all sorts of accessories, kits and player skill boosts to buy using credits earned by playing the game.
Then there is a full manager or player-based career mode, which is just as detailed as in previous games and lets you take even the worst of players to the top of the premiership, should you have the time and skills.
The huge multiplayer suite from 2012 is also thrown in, which syncs nicely with all the live data and stats. Then there are quick matches and the opportunity to rewrite history of your favourite club by playing recent games it might have won or lost in real life.
In fact, there is so much there that for a real football addict it's now just as much fun taking your own favourite team to the top of the leagues as it is watching them on television. You get access to so much data and statistics - with EA doing loads based around what has occurred for real - that FIFA 13 becomes a slightly skewed computer version of real life events, shaped by you.
We particularly like the "game of the week" function, which uses the match-day data to pull in info about a recent game and lets you play it through yourself. It is a great way of quickly diving in and out of FIFA and lets you do away with some of those losing woes by thrashing the opposing side.
A bit like Call of Duty, FIFA now offers so much content on one disc that there's more than enough game here to play it daily until the next iteration arrives. What EA has added really just completes an already polished package.
FIFA 12 was notoriously difficult for those who hadn’t played it before, even if you were familiar with football games. Its brutal defending and quick turnaround between midfield and attack meant you could easily concede, or score, a lot of goals very quickly. Then again it was also a game where a nil-nil draw was just as likely, especially when playing against friends.
Again, passing is still the name of the game here, coupled with quick thinking on the attack and manipulating the game's complex physics engine to your advantage. Things go one further, thanks to the new "First Touch" technology.
At first something you might not entirely notice, this subtle change - which affects how a player will control a ball when he first comes in contact with it - is brilliant later on. Players fumble the ball, headers miss and passes bounce off your team into the opposition's feet. Constantly frustrating, but adding a really exciting random element into gameplay, First Touch is very refreshing when it works properly.
The AI has had a bit of a rethink for FIFA 13, no longer conceding goals for apparently stupid reasons. This is an harder game than FIFA 12, and should provide a fresh new challenge for even seasoned gamers. One noticeable AI fix, for example, is that players on your team will now hold back if you are going to pass an offside ball.
New and improved ball control, which lets you pull off all sorts of tricks when "on" the ball, is another change which, again, seems small, but once nailed can change the way the game is played.
Simply put, you now have a lot more control over the finer points of your player. Precision dribbling is still there, but thanks to First Touch, you can not receive a pass, turn and then run head-on into the opposing team. Instead you need to slow down and control the ball, which encourages you to formulate better attacks and take advantage of all the intricacies of FIFA 13’s ball control.
What really made us notice this was that our typical attacking strategies had to change very quickly for FIFA 13. Rather than rushing the goalie with a load of players, or just passing about and using crosses to get the ball in, we now needed to have much more flow to our style of play.
We felt it necessary to give this a mention, simply because FIFA has just tried to do something different here, if it works or not however is really up to you when you play it.
Essentially Kinect and PlayStation Move have both been built into the game - the former much better than the latter. Kinect gives you the ability to bark voice commands at your players as well as to offer them a bit of support, mid-game, like a coach on the sidelines. You can even switch to different tactics without having to stop gameplay. In practice it feels odd, but once you get it, it’s definitely a nice addition.
We will say that our Kinect experience was a tad glitchy. If we had the volume up higher, the in-game commentary would frequently be recognised by Kinect as us swearing at the referee. The result was that we would have players being sent off and even be given a warning from the directors of the game post-match. This may have been because we didn't calibrate Kinect, as the game asked, however.
As for PlayStation Move, well things are a lot more backwards. You use it to move players around the screen and select where they are going to pass. It works just how it sounds really, with a conventional controller being a lot better.
In the end, FIFA 13 adds polish to an already incredibly shiny product. It feels like a title in which the sum of its parts makes it a much better thing, but that when initially booting up the disc little has changed.
Graphically there has been a big leap in the right direction and the physics engine is now, without doubt, the best we have seen in a sports game. Then there is even more realism and stats for fans to enjoy.
In fact the wealth of content on the disc alone is enough to keep you occupied until the next one arrives. Then again, so was FIFA 12. So for us, this game has to be for the true FIFA fans, of which there are, of course, many. It definitely adds a lot, but if you just want a football fix, then maybe the update isn't worth it.
If, however, you are new to the game, or simply have to have the latest and greatest, then FIFA 13 is exceptionally good. Grab it now and get playing.