The first thing you notice when you boot up FIFA 13 is the number of different game modes available. There’s everything from single games, tournaments, all manner of online options (including season play and a World Cup competition for the best online clubs), FIFA Ultimate Team, Career and the all-new EA Sports FC Matchday which recreates some of the best games and situations from recent and upcoming real life games for you to play.
What isn’t immediately evident is that playing in any of these modes builds upon your FIFA profile in a meaningful way as you earn experience or coins that can be used in a variety of different ways in-game. Most games in FIFA 13 earn you FIFA coins that are used to buy items in the EA Sports FC catalog. These items include things like new shoes or balls for you to take online, and also include perks to other game modes like the ability to scout a gun youth player in career mode, or to boost coin collection in the Ultimate Team mode.
Career mode returns and is just as deep as ever. You can play as either a current real life player, or one of your own creations (welcome to the world Buddy Rioli), or alternatively as the manager. In a players career you get the choice to play games controlling only that player, or to control the whole squad. Even as the manager you can play the games if you would like to. In fact it’s probably better that you do because if you simulate matches you have no control of them once they start – you can’t make substitutions as the game goes on, or make any tactical changes. It’s all automated which is a little disappointing.
FIFA Ultimate Team is part card-game, part on the pitch. When the game starts you’re given a deck of cards that has a player for every position on the field (including subs) and these are the players you’ll control on the pitch. Playing games in this mode earns you coins to spend on packs of cards to expand your squad. Players have limited contracts, can suffer injuries, get fatigued and lose morale but there are cards to deal with these issues.
If you’re hunting a specific player you can go into the auction house and find someone to meet your criteria. There were 900K+ cards up for sale every time I used the auction house, so you should be able to find what you’re looking for – provided you have the coins to pay for it. Indeed this is part of the lure of the Ultimate Team; do you buy packs of cards and hope you get the players you want (or a super valuable card), or do you simply go and buy exactly what you want? This game within a game adds even more replayability to the Ultimate Team mode.
When you’re finally ready to take the pitch you can play in a Cup or start a season and try to earn promotion. The difficulty of games within the cup or season isn’t always the same – better teams will play at a higher difficulty setting – but you can see this before the game starts. In season play you’re given ten games to earn as many points as you can with relegation, safety (i.e. staying in the same league next season), promotion and champion status all up for grabs. There is no league table, just points targets for you to reach. Naturally you get a bigger prize the better you perform, and if you promote you’ll be playing against higher quality teams next season. By the time you reach Division 2 you’d better have a team of gold card players…
When you play Seasons, an online season mode, the set-up is exactly the same – you get ten games to earn points and will either relegate, stay safe, promote or win the division crown. You start off in Division 10 and the promotion target is a rather modest 12 points. As you progress through the ranks though, things get significantly harder. This structure for seasons really appealed to me – I’m not sure if it’s new to FIFA 13 or been around a while – but it kept me interested in the campaigns of both modes for longer than I expected.
One other mode worth mentioning is the all new Skills Games. There are eight challenges to test your skills in a variety of areas including passing, shooting, free kicks and penalties. There are bronze, silver and gold challenges in each game and once you pass all of those you’re given an even tougher test – to become Legendary. Those last challenges taxed my skills to their maximum, which is a good thing. Under the Skills Games banner there is also a very short interactive tutorial to play through, teaching you some basics to defending, tackling and calling in a team mate to assist. Between the Skills Games and tutorial you’ll get a handle on the basic controls, which is a welcome addition to the game.
Ok, so that’s the game modes covered, but it’s the play on the pitch that really matters. In this regard FIFA passes with flying colours… for the most part. Basic controls are intuitive, making the game extremely accessible for newcomers. X passes, square does a lob pass, circle shoots and you perform through balls with triangle. You control the power for all of these by holding the button down longer. L2 is referred to as ‘pace control’, and it allows you to keep the ball closer to you when you’re dribbling. R2 sprints, and R1 adds finesse control to your shots.
Defensively you hold X to keep close to the ball carrier, tapping X does a standing tackle, square does a slide tackle and circle pushes and pulls the ball carrier – be careful with that last one as referees don’t care for it when it’s used aggressively. You can also adjust tactics and team aggression on the fly with the d-pad.
Speaking of poor touches, FIFA 13 introduces a new system for first touch control which makes the perfect handling of previous games a thing of the past. Now, imperfect passes are harder to control, so only the best players can control them adroitly. Less skilled players will have a sloppy first touch which gives defenders just enough time to pounce. The improved physics and overhauled first touch control make FIFA 13 look and play in a more satisfying and believable way.
In my time with FIFA 13 I only came across two issues I would class as significant. Firstly, and as mentioned earlier, online play has been laggy for me. I’m prepared to cut EA a bit of slack on this front because FIFA 13 has apparently had more online users than any other EA game, so perhaps they simply weren’t prepared well enough. If that’s the case, then in time this issue should disappear completely.
The second significant issue is that the game is prone to freezing, during both career mode, and in Ultimate Team, particularly the auction house. The freezing happens in the menu screens, not on the pitch, but you’ll have to restart your system in both cases.
Visually FIFA 13 impresses with fluid play and vastly improved physics. Last year’s game was plagued by physics-related issues (this youtube clip has a few funny ones: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMsCf2l7WHc&feature=related), but such issues are almost completely gone from FIFA 13. They still occur, just not very often. Your fellow attackers position themselves smartly, and make considered runs which you’re obliged to honour with well timed passes. Completing a neat string of passes that culminates in an open shot on goal is extremely satisfying. Player likenesses aren’t perfect, but they’re close enough to look believable.
One knock I have on the visuals is the horrible-looking crowd. When the camera zooms in on a line judge you get to see the crowd up close and it’s not a lie to say they look a lot like pixilated blobs. Seriously, this is the worst-looking crowd I’ve seen in years.
The commentary (provided by Martin Tyler and Alan Smith) is impressive, really impressive. Introductions and conclusions are kept generic enough to apply to a variety of situations, but even so there is a fair bit of depth here. One thing they do really well, especially in career mode, is to discuss ongoing issues a team or player is going through. If a player is feeling homesick, and you see news articles to this effect during Career, they’ll discuss that in the introduction. It makes the overall experience that much more immersive, and kudos to EA for their work here.
The crowd noises are alright, though they’re a bit too generic for my liking. There are times when the commentators know the situation - something like a win in today’s game will ensure promotion, or win you the FA Cup – but the crowd behaves exactly as it does in any other game. I’d love to hear things like the crowd going nuts in the last ten minutes when you’re up (or down) by a goal. The intensity should lift in such situations, and if the commentators are aware of it, it shouldn’t be too hard to make the crowd behave appropriately too.
On the pitch FIFA 13 is a cracking game of football, but to me it distances itself from the competition more off the field than on it. There are a bunch of game modes to play and they complement each other by providing different experiences, forcing you to play as both weak and strong teams. One thing I haven’t mentioned so far in the review is the significance of having the real team and player names, and its impact cannot be understated. FIFA makes excellent use of this through the Ultimate Team mode, and also by recreating the top real life games of the week. Team ratings will fluctuate as the year progresses based on their real life form too. So while PES may almost be able to match FIFA on the pitch, in my opinion FIFA is a much more accomplished title, giving you much more reason and incentive to keep playing. If you’re a football fan you can’t go wrong with FIFA 13.
Review By: Mike Allison