Preview: FIFA 13 – E3 2012
FIFA’s changes to their annual titles have never usually been much to shout about, you know the changes will be minimal but effective, and you know that other than a small handful of features, the most noticeable change upon playing will be smoother gameplay and another slight step in the direction of footballing realism. To us FIFA fans it doesn’t really matter, we’ll buy the game anyway; the changes will spark a little discussion, and usually improve the game greatly, if only subtly at first.
FIFA 13 has used the same template and built on the last engine, tweaking features and throwing in some clever adaptations on the last game. This year EA have been speaking to us about their ‘big five’ elements, including advanced AI, smoother free kicks, an entirely new first touch, new dribbling and continuing to build on their player impact engine. I’m sure that all of this sounds the same once again, and that this review could have been copied and pasted from the same time last year.
The truth however, is that FIFA appear to have hit the nail on the head, though it’s not going to be to everyone’s liking. As well as building on their ‘big five’ elements, the team behind the scenes have greatly improved the subtleties of midgame performance, as well as including a few clever little features; FIFA 13 will allow you to use your Kinect practically, for in game substitutions when you just can’t win the ball back to make your way to the pause menu, or just give you the smallest, most trivial sense of achievement as Martin Tyler and co respond appropriately to you “the manager” as you rant about offside decisions that the referee got spot on. It’s not going to help you climb the Head to Head table, but it’s certainly a fun little piece of kit.
“Every system is going to be better, there’s nothing that stays stale just because we’re not selling them here at E3, everything’s changing, everything’s going to be better.” – Santiago Jaramillo, Producer for FIFA
First touch system
As for FIFA’s more practical adaptations, the new first touch system is the most noticeably realistic change that the team have decided to make. In FIFA’s past, the first touch was far too easy to adopt and control and upon randomising Crewe Alexandra versus Argentina, you’d find that Crewe’s back four could pluck the ball out of the air as well as any of Messi, Aguero or Tevez. Indeed you’d be surprised to see even the latter three players kill the ball as it drops blindly over their shoulder in any real game as well as they could in FIFA, and EA have responded appropriately. Taking into account all the necessary context, (velocity, spin, and the angle at which the ball drops, as well as physical surroundings, you try taking the ball down on your chest whilst Nemanja Vidic or David Dunne are barging into the back of you) and have created something quite special.
No longer can your centre back risk taking a touch from a goal kick if a striker is lurking, you’re going to need to get rid, and screams of “that’s unfair” or “this is bullsh*t” will be heard throughout living rooms across the world as Angel Di Maria or Scott Sinclair fail to bring the ball under control after a little dink behind the back four. It’s going to take some getting used to, but is brilliantly realistic too. For those of you who enjoy playing as the minnows, as we do, we asked Santiago Jaramillo, a Producer for FIFA whether or not this new first touch system would greatly separate your Wayne Rooney’s from your Luke Rooney’s:
“So what’s really changing is not so much based on the attribute; more than anything evaluation of how difficult the context is in terms of ball velocity, ball rotation, the player awareness, all that stuff, and determines how difficult this ball is to control. And then say, there’s a ten percent difference between how well Messi would do compared to another guy, so there is personality in there, but when it’s an incredibly difficult ball to control, then even Messi is going to have a heavy touch.” – Santiago Jaramillo, Producer for FIFA
FIFA’s next feature to brag about is one of my favourites, and that’s in the advancements that they’ve given to the AI, which they’ve called ‘Two Moves Ahead”, and although it’s described best by its own name, I’ll give it a go. You’re playing as Arsenal through the middle with Alex Song and there are a couple of options in Arteta and Wilshere around you. In this new addition to the Franchise, Gervinho and Walcott will spot these possible passes and react accordingly, waiting not for the initial pass, but weighting their own runs and positioning against the passes you could play. And this all makes for a much smoother experience, no longer are players dithering around and looking for the ball, instead there’s more movement and more fluidity on the pitch. Player’s now hold and even curve runs against the back line, shimmying with them if they find themselves straying offside; finally it seems, the AI have caught up with the pace, the movement and the vision of you the player.
FIFA have not left it here either, and have amped up the intelligence of the defence in response to this, your fullbacks will spot runs and even cynically block players off the ball too; it’s not entirely in the spirit of the game, and I can imagine there will be countless claims for indirect freekicks from frustrated gamers as a result, but it’s an element that had to be included, and I’m glad they have done too; the entire experience feels much more genuine.
New & Improved dribbling & impact engine
FIFA’s new dribbling system reeks of realism too, and if you watched Barca at all this season, you will have seen that Messi more often beats his man through the drop of the shoulder and electrifying pace than he did by spamming step-overs or flicking the ball over his man with elaborate pieces of trickery. EA have responded accordingly, and with new and closer ball control you can now beat your man by selling body language and taking advantage of the relevant stats for your winger.
The player impact engine is rather similar to last year’s edition, with a small number of effective changes. As well as improving the minor but frustrating events whereby competitors would get stuck on the floor as the ball sits dead beside them, or be flung ten feet into the air after getting up for a challenge, players can now roll off of each other before attempting to get up.
On top of this, too often would you find Alexis Sanchez or Aaron Lennon go shoulder to shoulder with Rio Ferdinand or Pepe, before beating them for pace and finding their way through on goal. FIFA argues that if such a contest was to ensue; if Ferdinand or Pepe could keep up with their smaller and weaker fellow footballers, if only for a moment, they would be more than capable of getting their body in the way and seeing the speed of their competitors drop as result. Equally, FIFA have built on their older engine, and if you can get your striker in between the centre back and the ball, you won’t have any problems blitzing them for pace. As well as this, you’ll have more control as you battle for possession, whether you’re willing to push or pull the man to the floor (whether on or off the ball) and pick up a cynical yellow or step off and watch them run, the referees have a much better understanding of the entire contest.
We even had a word regarding the absurd advantage rule that tainted the previous game as advantages where wiped off as you took a step towards the opponents goal, before being robbed of the ball and the free-kick you should have had, and although we didn’t get the definitive response I’d be looking for, we were told that the intelligence of the referees was constantly being worked on and silly anomalies were being ironed out. Here’s hoping.
FIFA’s final addition to their newest game in the franchise is a new free-kick system that vastly improves and increases the options for the dead ball situation, an element that has been quietly overlooked for the past few years. FIFA recently introduced the option to lay it off, which whilst one dimensional was also blindingly obvious, especially when playing with a friend on the same Xbox. Aside from a little shuffle in the wall when the man standing over the ball lays it off a couple of yards, it was easy enough to defend and involved little imagination. If you weren’t going to shoot, the process of passing the ball through or round the wall was rigid and incredibly basic, with FIFA’s new free-kick system, the attacking side can now send men running over the ball, dummying from the left or the right, before executing lethal strikes or smart moves as the wall shuffles and readjusts; the defensive operation has improved in parallel, and tacticians can now add or remove men from the wall, as well as readjusting and holding position as your opponent sends player after player running over the ball.
FIFA 13 is everything that you expect it to be, and much more, the traditional responses and improvements have been made, and FIFA have excelled as they build on old systems and design new ones. The referees are smarter, the players are smarter, the free-kicks are smarter and the whole game benefits as a result. With FIFA 13 you will once again find yourself immersed in an environment that sets the bar for sports games all over the world. EA have delivered again, and come the 27th of September you won’t be disappointed with this newest instalment.