Genre: Sport Developer: EA Sports Publisher: EA Sports Classification: G Release Date: 31st Oct 2012 Platforms:
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The best football players in the world are still fallible. They miss open goals, they fall over for no reason, they punch the ball into the goal... they're human beings. Yet, for years we've accepted it as par for the course in FIFA that when a player gets passed the ball - whether they're playing for Barcelona or the Central Coast Mariners - they always receive it flawlessly.
Well no more. FIFA 13 introduces a new first touch system which adds an air of unpredictability to the entire affair. Players receiving (or intercepting) passes in FIFA 13 will find the ball now acts according to the same physics system used to determine how a goalkeeper saves a shot on goal - which means that if you're not controlling your balance and momentum you might see the ball get away from you more often than you'd like.
The implementation of this system is particularly wonderful when curbing the habits of players who overly favour the long ball - if you can't use the L1+Triangle chip-through-ball combination with 100% control any more, you'll be more likely to only use it when you know you have a defender beat. Coincidentally, if you try a cheeky long ball but you're still beaten to it - perhaps the defender didn't have quite as much momentum in your direction - you could still wind up with the ball, as the other player might not get an optimal touch and you might streak away unhindered (but you probably won't).
It's phenomenal to think that a small thing like "unpredictable first touches" would have such a massive impact on the game of football, but it dramatically alters not just how you play - it alters how you think about your game of FIFA. Previously I'd pick Barcelona, I'd string together a chain of quick passes and I'd put the ball out to the wing for David Villa to streak in for a goal from the corner of the 18 yard box. Then I'd do it again when I next got the ball - but maybe this time it'd be Iniesta. Or Xavi. Or Messi. Let's face it, Barcelona has options. Now though, you can't guarantee that pinballing down the field will work - so you hold the ball a little, you wait for your players to find space and then you shoot the ball through to one of the 10 best football players in the world.
Still, it's not a flawless addition. FIFA 13 goes some way to represent the difference in quality between the world's best - the Real Madrids, the Manchesters (United and City) and the Milans (AC and Inter) - compared to the world's 4.5 star teams. The Bundesliga teams, the Liverpools and the many Hams all have frankly abysmal control over the ball when compared to the 5 Star teams - if you play a game as FCB and then switch to Liverpool, you'll think you had a stroke the way you control the ball. Matters get worse as you go down in 'quality' - by the time you reach the A-League your guess is as good as mine as to where the ball is going to go after a pass.
Obviously it's the first implementation of the system, so there are some kinks to be ironed out yet. I'd like to see it scale - so an A-League vs A-League match should look like any other game of football (with slightly more sun and slightly less goals) - and only when you pit the Brisbane Roar against Chelsea should it look like The Generals vs The Globetrotters.
The attacking AI has been improved alongside the first touch mechanic - a necessity, as players require expert thinking from their teammates more than ever now. Attacking players will move into space, avoid falling for the offside trap and draw defenders to create gaps when they get the opportunity now - meaning that on offence the game looks better than ever, and defending a solid attack can be a thorough challenge.
Elsewhere, AI can be quite... erratic? In my time with the game the referee has made some unbelievably questionable calls, which is certainly somewhat realistic but also wholly frustrating. One of them saw the whistle blown and play stopped to look after an injured player, down in the back field. The catch? I was standing half a metre from the six-yard box, the keeper was out of position and I was just about to score. The game ended in a nil-all draw, and I lost in the penalty shootout. I like to think that after the game a judge would call what I did to the referee a justifiable homicide and I'd be lauded as a hero, not a villain.
The injury situation is far more pronounced as well. I'm not sure if it's a symptom of the upgraded Player Impact Engine - which sees players jostle and fight for the ball harder than they ever have before - or if I simply wasn't pushing my players as hard as I could have previously, but I'm seeing an injury every other game I play.
Some of them are ignorable - it seems like when players reach the lower 25% of their stamina they're more susceptible to pulling a muscle if forced to exert themselves, and they'll pull up lame in the middle of a run. You keep the ball away from their part of the field for a couple of minutes while they walk it off, and sooner or later they're back in business.
Others are not so easy to brush off - broken ankles, twisted knees and... bruised elbows are all reasons I've had men force me to replace them early. I guess bruised elbows means they're definitely fighting for the ball, at least. This increased chance of injuries means you have to be a little more conservative with your substitutions - and forces you to take a real gamble if you near your sub limit late in the game.
If I had to point to the biggest letdown in the game, it's easily the commentary. Commentary is a bit thankless, because when it's good you'll never notice it's there - it's only when it is bad that it becomes impossible to ignore. The way the commentators talk about the game at hand as if it's actually happening in front of them offers no semblance of illusion - it's all too obvious that these are lines being played in a sequence when Clive Tyldesley talks about 'this team' and 'that team' - only mentioning that it is Sydney FC playing the Newcastle Jets at the very beginning of the match.
Outside of match-to-match improvements it's clear the team has put a lot of effort into getting more people into the game. FIFA Ultimate Team now actually tells you what the hell you're doing in-depth, instead of chucking a bunch of cards at you and letting you work it out. It's still questionable as to whether it's worth your time (and inevitably money) - but at least it's not befuddling any more.
Career mode has had significant improvements. No longer will you spend countless hours muddling about in the "Arena" - all your skill improvements are gained in-match now, so you've got to deliver on the field if you want to get any better. This means you're better off making sure you're playing for a team that wants to put a brand new 17 year old you on the pitch, or you'll never get better.
The Career mode now lets you get national attention as well. This means that if you choose to play a coaching career, once you're good enough you'll be approached by a number of international associations looking to have you coach their team. As a player it means that if you announce your nationality as Australian you'll almost instantly be over-qualified for a starting spot.
Seriously, after my first game (for Sydney FC) I was called up to national duty against Mexico.
FIFA 13 - by way of first touch control, improved Attacking AI and skill-bridging features - is the best football game on the market. As it is, a soccer title not using a physics-based first touch system looks robotic to me - I can't go back to FIFA 12 having played its successor. Thanks to a few janky player collision interpretations, some frustrating AI decisions and a sub-par commentary it's not the best football game it can be - but that won't stop me from playing it for hours and hours and hours and...