Review: FIFA 13

The FIFA train rumbles on steadily, and as a new version rolls into town with some staggering opening sales figures you can’t help but wonder just how EA are still finding stuff to add to a series that’s been around since roughly 1938. Well amazing as it sounds, they are. FIFA 13 takes a near-perfect formula and gives it a few vital tweaks, adds some absurdly addictive skill building mini-games, sticks a few new game modes in place and sits looking very pleased with itself.

EA are very clever with bigging up their new features, something that’s pretty important when releasing new versions of a game every 12 months. This year the biggest alteration is the first touch control, meaning that you can no longer guarantee that your striker will perfectly control a ball that you’ve hammered at him as hard as you can. Players with less ability or receiving a less than perfect pass will now struggle to make a good first touch, with balls sometimes bouncing off the player, pinging off in the wrong direction or just needing a second touch to get under control. It makes those quick counter attacks more heart-racing, passing your way out of defence suddenly becomes a dangerous game and midfield battles get all the more scrappy as the tension rises. I’ve heard people complaining about this making life harder and becoming frustrating, but I just found it made things more accurate. You can’t expect players at Walsall to have the same silky skills as Barcelona’s front line, and that’s now reflected far more prominently.

During the games themselves you’ll notice the AI has been polished again, defending more solidly and delivering some devestating counter attacks just as you’re starting to get settled around the opponent’s area. It’s not perfect – I’ll be amazed if anyone ever manages to get an ultra-realistc 22-player AI match going – but for those who will be playing offline mostly, it’s still very strong. The biggest improvement for me though is your own teammates, who no longer sit and watch you launch a speedy attack down the wing, only for your perfect cross to be met by 3 defenders and no attackers. Instead you’ll find supporting players darting into the box, getting into open positions to receive a pass and generally being much more helpful than what we’ve become used to.

In terms of ways to play, FIFA’s Ultimate Team is fast becoming the reason many people continue to buy the latest update each year, and this time round EA have upped the ante even further by introducing something very cool – Ultimate Team Online Seasons. Following the success of FIFA12’s general online seasons (which are still very much present here) you can now take your Ultimate Team online and battle your way against other teams to reach the upper leagues. If you wanted an excuse to spend more time perfecting your team, building up the chemistry between players and finding that golden set of tactics, this is most definitely what you were looking for. There are also Manager Tasks, which give you a series of mini-challenges which don’t do much individually, but complete them all and there’s some hefty rewards on offer.

Speaking of rewards, amongst all this is the new EA Sports Club Catalogue, letting you unlock classic kits, new goal celebrations and other fun stuff by ranking up throughout the game. It’s a nice thing to keep an eye on – as a Villa fan the option to unlock the classic away kit was a great motivation for me – and there’s a great range of things to unlock, some of which impact on your virtual pro or Ultimate Team.

Another neat addition is the live games which take recent and upcoming fixtures and let you play them yourself. Nothing too amazing there, after all you can easily set up a single exhibition match with the relevant teams, right? Well yes, but what if the game automatically downloaded the precise squads used in each match, took out players sidelined by injury or suspension, adjusted player stats based on current form and set up the exact weather conditions suffered in the games themselves? Yeah, that’d be pretty cool. It’s a simple, but totally brilliant idea that will keep you going throughout the season with new games to play week in, week out.

As if all this isn’t enough, EA have been nice enough to sprinkle some mini-game-challenge-things into the mix as well. Acting partly as a training tool, these challenges test your close control, shooting, crossing and pretty much everything else. These popup by themselves when a match is loading, giving you a series of challenges with multiple levels of difficulty. It might sound like a pointless extra, but you’ve no idea how addictive these things can be until you try one out. All of a sudden it’s very easy to become a score-hunting nutter more suited to Joe Danger and Rock Band than a football game. That one quick match you were going to squeeze in before going to bed suddenly becomes a half-hour session trying to get a gold award on the early crossing challenge, and the match hasn’t even started yet. Again it’s a very simple idea, but works superbly.

But then you’ve got the never-ending question with annual updates. Is it worth a punt if you’ve already got FIFA 12? Well as great as the new modes are the only reason you’ll definitely want to dash out for this is if FIFA is pretty much all you play. If you love playing online, love Ultimate Team and want everything to be bang up to date then you can’t go wrong. But this is still an incremental update, and unless you get a decent trade-in price for FIFA 12 this might not quite be enough for now.

But there’s no denying that FIFA 13 is the best FIFA so far, and despite decent competition from PES this year there’s no escaping the fact that for the finest footballing experience on the current gen consoles, this is the place to be.

Reviewed on PS3

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