FIFA 13 is the latest instalment in one of EA Sports' most successful annual franchises. Truth be told, it's a pretty decent entry. Bare in mind that my last real full FIFA title was FIFA 10, as I had tried FIFA 11 but gave up after a few weeks after realising it was the same game as the previous two iterations bar some minor changes like different animations.
FIFA, as always, is seen as the 'official' footballing sim, and this year is no different. With it being the only footballing game to have a vast number of commentators in a huge range of languages (and this year being the first football game to have Portuguese commentary) it is a very attractive option for players all around the world. In terms of the UK/Ireland version at least, Sky Sports is at the head of the pack once again, as Martin Tyler and Alan Smith take to the commentators box, with Geoff Shreeves providing updates on injuries during matches. Sky Sports also have their advertisements plastered all over the Career Mode hub as well as on the advertising boards around match pitches (as if we don't hear enough about how amazing a brand Sky is EVERY SINGLE DAY on TV). It is the only football game around with full licensing for over 30 leagues around the world and over 40 international teams too. That being said there are some bizarre exceptions to what otherwise is a pretty full and complete listing. Euro 2012 participants Croatia are nowhere to be seen, as are tournament hosts Ukraine. However to counteract this EA have secured licensing for a number of South American national teams for the first time, including Venezuela and Paraguay.
Every year the same discussion appears on numerous boards, forums and social networking sites - "what should I get this year, FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer?". FIFA is often accused of being a game with floaty ball physics and predictable gameplay, but this year it is a little different, and arguably FIFA 13 is the most diverse football game EA Sports have made yet. Actual gameplay is pretty much the same in all honesty. Despite whatever garbage EA representatives spout each year, no there isn't a new passing or shooting engine (I've been hearing that line since 2009) and in general most gameplay is the same as it has been for a few years, in that passing and shooting remains mostly unchanged. But there are two things that make each game a little bit more unpredictable than before this year, and those are the impact engine, which provides much more realistic and dynamic player collisions and ball physics (in terms of balls hitting off players, at least) and the new first touch physics which change how you try and trap a ball under your control. The impact engine was first brought in in FIFA 2012 but (even though I didn't play the game) was being treated as a Godsend by EA Sports, when it in reality provided little more than a few funny moments here and there (most of those being players bending into indescribable positions with each other). However, this impact engine coupled with the new first touch physics change things this year. Now, even at times with the big teams, you can't always one-touch pass your way to victory all the time, nor can you hit ridiculously-awkward long passes towards a player which will be taken down as if the ball was stuck to the top of your player's shoe. Especially with high-balls defenders and attackers alike will often find it difficult to nail down a perfect first-touch which can cause you to give the ball back to the opposition, and smashing a low pass to a team-mate from close range also will be something that won't be controlled very easily. These aren't massive changes (and perhaps they sound pretty pointless) but surprisingly enough these two features together do make FIFA that little bit more different this year and make each game a little more fun than before (and take this from someone who left FIFA and went to PES again because I felt like I was often playing what was basically the same game and scoring the same goals time and time again).
There is one other thing that I have to mention here, and it is the mind-numbingly frustrating AI of FIFA 13. If you're a player who is fairly used to the footballing genre (or even just to FIFA games) you'll probably want to play the game at a relatively-high difficulty. There are tons of difficulties to choose from, so no problem right? WRONG. Anywhere from Amateur to Professional pretty much does what it says on the tin (or menu, in this case). But once you make that jump to World Class, Legendary or god help you Ultimate you'll have so much anger and irritation on your hands you'll be desperate to pick up your copy of FIFA and repeatedly smack whoever was in charge of the opposition AI in FIFA 13 in the face until their nose begins to fall off. No matter what team you're playing you will find it an eternal struggle just to get the ball off of them. They'll repeatedly run rings around you, they'll turn you left to right to left to right until you fall over, they'll start doing a team samba and will follow that by setting up a conga line, they might even just stand in one spot and turn around 360 degrees, but whatever they'll do they won't give you the ball. I understand high difficulty but I almost broke my brand new controller over it within about 2 hours of opening up the game. So swallow your pride if you think you can beat it if you have any breakables around your gaming centre, this is a fight not worth fighting.
One thing that EA Sports have done well over the last number of years with FIFA is develop different modes for players which have almost all been taken with open arms by fans. For a footballing sim some may say "who cares about modes? Don't you just want to play the game?", and that can be a fair point but if you're like me and you've gone from a game like PES (which, despite its faults, is always a fun game to play and is miles ahead of FIFA in terms of actual gameplay and the diversity caused by its game physics) and have come to FIFA you might not be satisfied with simply playing a game on Match Day over and over again. Ultimate Team (where you build up your own squad by buying card packs with points you earn from playing matches) returns and has a number of online and offline match options, including seasons, tournaments and Team of the Week challenges. Career mode also returns (without many changes from previous versions) which allows you to launch a career as a player as you attempt to become the best in the world, or as a manager where you try and bring a club to the top of your continent's footballing ladder, with the additional opportunity of becoming the manager of an international team this year too. At the Match Day section you also have some opportunities to try and connect with the real world of football through FIFA 13 as you can play live matches from the week or upcoming fixtures for your club, all featuring up-to-date player form adjustments which reflect the form of players in real life.
In the online section of the game there are a number of modes to choose from too, although most of these are fairly similar. As alluded to in the previous paragraph you can play Ultimate Team matches online, be they in a tournament or in a season, although these matches can be quite one-sided at times and one wonders how EA decided to match players up in this. For example, as I started out a Season with my 2-star team (with just bronze-rated players) my first opponent was someone with a 4-star team, with almost all players from the gold category. I still kicked his/her ass so I could live with it happening once, but when my next game was someone with a 4 and a half star team with all gold-rated players I gave up after conceding within 5 minutes as one of his/her players ran in a semi-circle around effectively my whole team to score. You can play Seasons games online, where you are put in a division and have to reach a certain points target to get to the next level, although admittedly I was a little disappointed that despite this being a "season" you get to choose your team every match, rather than having to pick one and stick with them for the whole season. There are match lobbies too and special Friendly games which mark matches and progress in games with your friends (but which are still unranked, so the only thing up for grabs is pride and banter rights). For me though, the best mode is the FIFA International World Cup mode, which puts every player in the game at a rating of 85 and every team in the game at a rating of 5 stars, so it is basically a game of even-skilled players and is all down to the quality of each player (...and perhaps the size of some of your players: having a well-balanced side can be an advantage over a team that has mostly smaller or larger players). As I play FIFA 13 with manual controls it can be a little frustrating being beaten by players who run the assisted pass and shooting options ragged, but as in this mode I can choose to play against players using manual controls too (and as we'll both have players of equal skill) it's all down to pure skill.
So there you have it. Does FIFA 13 reinvent the footballing sim wheel? Not by any means. But it is one of the more diverse entries into the series with the impact engine and first-touch features, and while it still can at times feel much like the same, it is that little bit extra unpredictable than it has been for quite a while which makes each match you play that little bit more fun. The game has plenty of modes for you to choose from too, whether you're more of an offline player or whether you like to show off against other players online. A solid entry once again from EA Sports, although one wonders for how long the differing collisions and first-touches can keep this game seeming that different from the last.