Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Remember that PlayStation commercial for Uncharted 2 a few years ago? The one where the guy’s girlfriend thinks they’re watching a movie, but he’s actually playing the action-adventure game and she’s unknowingly spectating?
That sort of happened to me the other day with FIFA Soccer 13 . The wife was working away nearby, then came into the living room to find out what was going on. After 20 minutes of sideways glimpses of the screen and listening to the unmistakably British-accented commentary, she wanted to know why I had suddenly developed an interest in soccer.
The reality is, I’d been plugging away with Wisla Krakow – the team that represents my family’s home town in Poland – against their bitter rivals, Gdansk. Or at least I think they’re rivals. Like the wife says, I’m not much of a soccer fan and I certainly don’t keep up on European inter-league drama.
This episode, however, was a great example of just how realistic EA’s franchise has become. If you’re not paying close attention, it’s easy to mistake it for the real thing.
FIFA 13 is a further step toward that perhaps unachievable replication of reality – it’s as real a soccer game as there’s ever been. EA Canada has been cranking out nearly perfect entries in the franchise every year for at least the past three years, and the latest instalment is no exception.
New this year is something called “first touch control,” which is the marketing term for “better passing.” After taking fan feedback on last year’s game, the developers went in and adjusted the passing mechanic to make it a little more unpredictable. Now, unless it’s a perfect pass, the player may have trouble handling the ball, which is how it works on the real pitch.
It’s a subtle touch that can’t be fully appreciated unless you go back and play FIFA 12. In retrospect, passes do feel a little too perfect in that game.
Teammates’ artificial intelligence has also been spruced up so they’re smarter now. While it’s nice to get that Rambo-one-man-army feeling by single-handedly obliterating the opposition, it’s also a relief to know that you don’t have to do everything yourself. If you fail to knock the ball loose from that attacker headed for a breakaway, the odds are at least even that one of your teammates will have your back.
Other than that, the key to an annual sports franchise – especially one as successful as FIFA – is to refrain from messing with what works. When the steak is good, it’s a good idea to instead focus on the sizzle.
New sizzle this year includes Match Day, a feature that “rips from the headlines” by adding real-world injuries, suspensions, team form and gossip to the game. Players and teams will see their stats change based on real-world performances, so gamers can play right along. It’s hard to judge how this will pan out over a full year, but it’s an intriguing addition.
I’m also quite enthralled with the Ultimate Team mode, which is like crack for your inner billionaire-who-decides-to-build-a-footie-champion. The mode starts you off with a crappy team that you can build and improve. You do so by winning tournaments and completing challenges that award coins, which are then spent on collectible-card-like packs.
The packs contain new players, uniforms, logos and one-time consumables, such as fitness and morale bonuses that improve players’ statistics. You can also buy and sell players online with other gamers. And yes, you can spend real money to get more coins. EA has every possible level of game addict covered here.
FIFA 13 also supports motion gaming in the form of Kinect on Xbox 360 and Move on PlayStation 3. I tried the Move, which lets you point your controller to where you want your players to pass. The less said about this option, the better – you’re going to want to stick with the traditional controller.
Perhaps the biggest problem with FIFA 13 is that it can be somewhat impenetrable to new or casual fans. I spent considerable time with last year’s game, but haven’t played it in months. Still, figuring that it would all come back to me, I made the mistake of starting up the new game by logging in with my EA account, which recognized my profile from last year. After being immediately dumped into the action with no tutorials, I was left scrambling to figure out how to shoot.
The pause menus weren’t much help. The controller set-up told me which button to press in order to shoot, but definitely not how to do so with any semblance of accuracy. I had to go out into the main menu and through the training drills to refresh my memory.
The bewildering number of menus, options and features is likely to turn off all but the most ardent fans of the sport or the franchise. It’s therefore easy for casual players to get the feeling of dis-inclusion – a sense of, “oh boy, this is going to take a long time to figure out.”
If the patience is there, however, FIFA 13 is definitely worth it.