FIFA Soccer 13 (Microsoft Xbox 360)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: 09/25/2012
A lot of people complain that the sports section of the video gaming world is basically a sham, with companies essentially rereleasing games year in, year out, for a solid $60 a year plus whatever DLC they can get us to buy. To the extent that sports themselves don’t change much year in, year out, this is true. When you buy a
football soccer game, the premise is going to be the same for each one, no matter the system or the company. Eleven people from each team are going to come out onto the field. There’s going to be a goalkeeper and likely a star striker or two, defenders that most people can’t remember the names of unless they’re fans of the team (hey, I was a defender–I know how it is), and some midfielders that are known for passing the ball or making the occasional goal. You’ll have two 45-minute halves with referees who will probably make decisions that upset you, cards may be thrown out, offsides will be called, and if we’re lucky, we’ll see a few goals. These aspects of soccer are not going to change majorly from one year to the next, so it’s reasonable to expect that a game based off that sport isn’t going to change drastically in that same time span.
What is important for a sports game is not how much is changed, but that the changes matter. What gamers want is a more realistic experience: a game that’s too perfect isn’t going to be exciting, and a game that’s not polished and balanced enough is going to frustrate players. We want a game that’s relatively easy to control but also realistic. One of the issues I had with FIFA 12 was that if you were defending, it felt unreasonably difficult to get the ball back, leaving me frustrated after a couple of games. I also felt like, as someone who grew up watching and playing soccer, oftentimes in Europe, I played like a soccer player, not a gamer. I saw the field and was looking ahead to different plays, plays that never panned out because both my teammates and my opponents were kind of, well, stupid. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t sure it was any better than, say, Pro Evolution Soccer, or any other soccer game for that matter.
So what has EA Canada done with FIFA this year?
The biggest changes they’ve probably made are to the AI. To put it simply, the other players are less dumb. While there are still times where I wondered what my players were doing, I found the number of times I screamed at my television, telling people to move up, was pretty equal to what I do when I’m watching soccer normally. Plays come off as more natural and fluid, instead of the odd zigzaggy style and sometimes obnoxiously wild dribbling I dealt with while playing 12. I play soccer like the Germans do: a lot of passing, a lot of attacking, and gratuitous use of space. If my team’s AI is off picking flowers when they should be bothering the last defender while I’m setting up a through pass, I’m going to be screaming German curse words at my television for most of the game. FIFA 13 does deliver on that front, giving me the opportunity to feel like I’m actually controlling a team and not a one-man show. Free kicks have been improved dramatically as well, allowing you to do dummy runs for up to three players, if you choose. Furthermore, the addition of the “Player Impact Engine” made a lot of those really awkward collisions go away and makes attacks look more realistic. While it was amusing to peruse YouTube for weird FIFA 12 collisions, it was a problem in the game and it’s good to see that go away. I also felt like challenges felt more realistic, with bigger players being able to do more damage pushing. The only tactical aspect that still seems to be a bit off is crosses. The pass itself is generally not the problem; it’s the reception that seems to be a bit skewed in favor of anyone not directly receiving the ball. This is apparent both in matches and in Skill Games, which I discuss below.
One of the most interesting (and best) changes made to FIFA 13 is that the players are less perfect. This might seem confusing at first, especially given what I’ve written so far, but think of it this way: you are human. You are not perfect. You’re going to make mistakes. If the opponent AI are not likely to make mistakes, this puts you at a severe disadvantage. If you’re moving forward, one wrong touch means a defender earns his paycheck without much effort. If you’re defending, well, good luck. FIFA 13 gives us more unpredictability through their first touch technique, which can lead to beautiful plays… or loose balls. This adds a surprising amount of excitement. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely an improvement.
Career Mode is easily my favorite mode of the game. You can play as a player or a manager, competing in various competitions, including (finally) international ones. As you level up, more career opportunities become available and you can spend the points you get during matches . The first thing I did with FIFA 13 was create a German manager named Sirius Schwarz (if you get the joke, give yourself a pat on the back real quick), manager of FuÃŸball-Club Bayern MÃ¼nchen (more commonly known as FC Bayern). I quickly signed Miroslav Klose and Marc-André ter Stegen, despite little need for them, and went to work. While I wiped the pitch with my competition (not difficult considering that at the time of writing, Bayern currently hold the number one spot in the German Bundesliga and have won every match), I got a job offer to be international manager for 22nd ranking Czech Republic. I stalled a bit, but then realized that would make me Chelsea goalkeeper Petr ÄŒech’s manager, and rushed to sign. I beat first ranked Spain in my first match and haven’t looked back. I love the stories (“Team X is looking into purchasing Player Z,” “Player Z is looking to transfer,” “No Love Lost for Player W” after you beat a team with one of their former players on the pitch, and of course the stories that come out after you win a game while playing someone who has asked you for more pitch time, for example.) The trading system has also been improved, for the most part, with the game being a little smarter about who would in actuality get traded, and I felt like there was more wiggle room when negotiating purchase prices and weekly pay.
Also included in the loading times for Career Mode and as its own separate feature is the Skill Games mode. These are basically tutorials in eight categories: shooting, ground passes, penalties, free kicks, crossing, lob passes, dribbling, and advanced shooting. Each tutorial has four different levels: bronze, silver, gold, and skill challenge. Each level, as the names would imply, is more difficult than the last, and skill challenge gives you a ranking based on how many points you accumulate. There are three achievements that deal with these games, so you can either complete them as you play games or select them from the main menu and try to knock them all out at once. The games that come up while loading are going to be at the highest level that you’ve achieved thus far, so you don’t have to worry about having to replay something you’ve already beaten. Some of these games will drive you absolutely bonkers. For me, the annoying games were the dribbling and some of the shooting and crossing drills. I kind of miss the striker vs. goalkeeper dynamic during the loading screens, but I think in the long run these games are more helpful toward improving a person’s skills and more interesting.
Ultimate Team provides probably a more realistic experience of managing a team, at least as far as developing a team goes. The way that this mode works is that you have packs of trading cards, essentially. It kind of feels like Pokémon, but with people instead of Pocket Monsters on the cards. You collect players, contracts, and what I’ll call power ups (e.g. training, healing, kits, etc.) and try to work that into a feasible team. You’ll have to manage the team’s formation based not only on skill level but their chemistry with other players, meaning that sometimes it’ll actually be better to have a less talented person on the pitch if it means that you’ll work more cohesively as a team. As you play tournament you can collect more packs; alternatively, you can buy some. You can also compete online and play against the team of the week. If you’re really into it, there’s a web/mobile/iTunes app called EA SPORTS Football Club you can use. I actually recommend the web app for managing your team. It’s a little easier to deal with that way, though not much better. The system could probably use a few tweaks to make it a bit easier to find players who have good chemsitry, and it’d be nice if tournament progress saved when you exited, but I like the idea of it and think it could become something really cool in the future.
Another feature available for players is Match Day (a replacement, it seems, for Live Season), which integrates real life soccer with the world of FIFA 13. Player statistics change depending on how their real life counterparts perform during the season and commentary is available for those who would like to listen. You can play the matches of the week and view live fixtures as well. It’s a neat little feature, but not one I spent a lot of time with. The main thing EA seems to have focused on with these features is connectivity, both with the real world and with other players. The online segments of FIFA 13 are good for both casual soccer players and for the more hardcore fans who have been with the franchise for a while, but I personally prefer to stay offline because I feel it’s a bit more balanced (and definitely faster). Perhaps a patch or two and more server support will help with that issue.
FIFA 13 comes out strong with another great soundtrack, with notable tracks being Rock Mafia’s “Fly or Die,” Passion Pit’s “I’ll be Alright,” The Royal Concept’s “Goldrushed,” The Enemy’s “Saturday,” Metric’s “Speed the Collapse,” The Heavy’s “Don’t Say Nothing,” Miike Snow’s “Paddling Out,” Kitten’s “G#,” Reptar’s “Sweet Sipping Soda,” and others. During the game, the crowd sounds pretty similar to what it sounds like at a real match, with the commentators sharing their opinions about the match, injury updates, and scores from other games being interjected from time to time. My main complaint against the commentary is that, though I generally like Alan Smith and Martin Tyler as commentators (Andy Townsend and Clive Tyldesley are cool too), there still isn’t enough variety in the comments made. It seems like every time I play at the Allianz Arena I get to hear about how Bayern used to play at the Olympiastadium and how it was depressing and the Allianz Arena is so much nicer. There’s also a bit too much “the player” and “the team” comments in the game. I hope that eventually we can move toward more specific comments getting made (e.g. an increase in using player’s actual names, maybe comments about team formations and maybe more team history). The graphics don’t seem to have gotten too much of an overhaul, but they were fine to begin with. The cutscenes appear to be a bit more fresh, though it can still be a bit hard to differentiate players that aren’t world famous, and sometimes the facial animation can be a bit weird.
The game is relatively balanced, although playing on Amateur might be a bit too easy for those who have played the game at all. I can easily win games by a margin of 15 points on Amateur, which is entirely unrealistic–unless of course you’re the Australian team and you’re playing against the American Samoa (too soon?). In Semi-Pro, the goal difference is a bit closer, and there’s a possibility of tying a game every once in a great while if you’re really unlucky. There seems to be a jump in difficulty between Semi-Pro and Professional, where it becomes a lot harder to win a match and ties are much, much more common. I suppose that makes sense, but it’s just an odd jump.
couldn’t can’t put this game down. It has a great tempo, improved AI and added features, and is overall just more exciting than FIFA 12 was. I do not generally spend too much time with soccer video games because I often feel like me playing as a soccer player and not a gamer is a hindrance in these games, but this title took away some of that feeling. The AI improvements are probably my favorite change, though there really isn’t much to dislike about the title. From what I hear (I don’t own one), the Kinect functionality is also great once you get the hang of it. I get the impression that people who play FIFA 13 won’t want to go back to FIFA 12, and in that sense, EA Canada has succeeded with the changes they’ve implemented.
Graphics: VERY GOOD
Control and Gameplay: GREAT
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal Factor: CLASSIC
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
FIFA 13 offers more modes than last year’s game and improves upon the older modes. The graphics and sound are just as good–if not better– and it remains an addictive game. The control and gameplay has gotten some boosts, though the balance between difficulty levels seems a bit off. I wasn’t able to utilize the Kinect with the game, but I’ve heard through the pipeline that it takes a bit of getting used to. I’d recommend any soccer fan grab this game and give it a go.