FIFA 13 Xbox 360 review

Selling over 4.5 million in five days, FIFA 13 is clearly a money-spinner, but is this year’s outing an improvement over last year?

When you religiously release a yearly update of any game, you’re always going to run the risk of running out of ideas on how to make it better. Will this year’s updates be enough? Will it be different enough to warrant another purchase? Will the fans rebel and accuse you of milking that cash cow dry?

These are all concerns that EA’s FIFA could easily run into, and has on many occasions, but this hasn’t stopped it selling in ridiculous numbers, and even stiff competition from Konami’s PES hasn’t been able to affect the football juggernaut. Still, there’s no denying that any series with so many yearly releases, even FIFA, can suffer from over-saturation, and now we’ll see if FIFA 13 can earn its place on your gaming shelf, with last year’s release being consigned to the trade-in pile.

Touchy, feely

As with all FIFA releases, it’s all about the new features when you come to investigate whether the game is any good or not, and unless the development bods have severely screwed up and fudged the existing game engine, the core gameplay will usually be safe. Thankfully, this year this is the case, but there have been several new additions to the game, many of which are pretty damn fine.

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Perhaps the most interesting, and important when it comes to the actual gameplay, is the addition of the first touch system. A clever, yet subtle tweak, this new control-mechanic utilises individual player stats to decide how well a player will receive a pass, and how well they’ll control it when they do.

Whilst this may sound like a trifling matter, in actual practise, especially when playing against another person, it can greatly change the flow of the game, as it’s often not a guaranteed thing that your passes will connect as you’d expect, and if that perfectly placed cross will be controlled as well as it was delivered. It adds to the overall realism, and gives the individual player skills more room to shine. It’s now more important than ever to nail that desirable player transfer if you want to craft a team that can handle all situations. Yes, it can cause frustration when things don’t go your way, and much throwing of controllers may abound, but it does add an extra dimension to the game.

Also improved and altered is the dribbling system, and this has been opened up a little allowing for even more control, even when you’re running at speed. Whereas FIFA 12 often punished players a little too much for daring to try and control the ball when sprinting, here it’s a little more forgiving, which is very welcome, especially when you’re trying to push up the wings for a cross, or you’re trying to power through the defence, right down the middle.

Thinking man’s sport

If there’s one central gaming mechanic that FIFA has rarely ever got spot on, regardless of how good the releases have been, it’s the AI. This is a very difficult thing to get right when it comes to plotting the individual thought processes and actions of 21 men on a football pitch, all reacting to each other’s and the player’s actions, and a game as complex as football certainly doesn’t make it easy. AI in the past has run into all issues, from poor goal keepers, ropey passing and play selections and predictable tactics, and FIFA 12 was no different. Of particular note was the constant lack of support from the AI, which often left you high and dry. I lost count of the number of times I made a superb run up the wing to power in a perfect cross, only to find the AI had, for some reason, neglected to give a damn, and was still hanging around outside the box. The manager wouldn’t be happy…

FIFA 13, although not perfect, does address this somewhat, and the AI now seems to take much more notice of what you’re doing. Rarely have I been in a situation where I’ve been unable to capitalise on a good pass, fine cross or wide open space, and it makes the game much more enjoyable, which is good news for solo players. Yes, as always, the game is far better when played with friends, either on your couch or over Xbox Live, but if you prefer to play alone, you’re covered better than in the past. Crank up the difficulty, and you can have some truly brow-drenching match ups.

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If it’s in the game…

FIFA has always been king when it comes to presentation and polish, and FIFA 13 takes this to a whole new level. The sheer amount of options, extras and snazzy inclusions on offer here is staggering, and if nothing else this is a game that gives you plenty of value for your cash.

All of the features we saw in FIFA 12 are back, but many have been refined and reworked to enhance the whole experience. The career mode is back, and this is accompanied by the Ultimate Team mode, which allows players to challenge the team of the week, earning rewards, and both are excellent, time-sucking affairs that you’ll still be deeply involved with this time next year.

The new array of mini-games and challenges is an aspect of the game that really surprised me, and I wasn’t expecting them to be such a prime diversion. These can be played during the loading of a real match, and are randomly selected, or you can play them at your leisure on their own. Each has rating, so you can earn XP, and they’re varied and addictive, ranging from hitting targets in the goal mouth, to scoring whilst being hassled by defenders. Think Wario Ware football, and you’re almost there.

A very nice addition to the game is the working in of real-world stats and information. FIFA 13 actively follows the real football world, and will alter stats and form depending on real games. Not only that, but you can actually replay matches that have happened in real life, complete with the correct form and conditions. The Game of the Week option lets you replay a highlight match from the previous week, which is a nice touch and yet another little addition that will further endear the game to hardcore football fans.

Another new inclusion this year is the EA Catalogue. This uses XP as currency and allows you to buy all sorts of items, from new football boots, balls and shirts, to skill rewards and buffs, such as improved defence of goal keeping abilities.

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Taking home the silver

FIFA 13 is a classic example of a game that knows its audience. You’ll rarely find a game so packed to the rafters with content and modes, and the attention to detail, from individual player likenesses and abilities to complex managerial duties in career, is simply astounding.

True, FIFA iterations rarely offer anything that’ll blow your mind, with refinements and tweaking being little more than touch ups to an already solid platform, but this year the extras and improvements have come together to create one hell of a football sim.

The core gameplay, the most important aspect of all, is solid and plays more smoothly and realistically, and myriad of game modes, deep and immersive career and real world integration makes this a truly full package.

In fact, despite the usual grumbles of the game itself not being all that different from last year, and that the AI, whilst clearly improved, not being as good as it could be, FIFA 13 is an excellent release, and is, for another year at least, the premier(ship) football game to own.

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5 out of 5