Fifa 12 brought a new mentality to the current world’s one number football franchise. It brought a defensive mindset, one in which the Italian style score-one-and-defend was a legitimate and (for the patient) highly successful approach to the game.
Perhaps it was too legitimate. At times it felt as though attackers were being cheated. Defenders were almost always more powerful during jostles, back line positioning was far to superior to that of the forwards and tackles would have the accuracy of homing missiles. If you like the slow and steady build up play school of football (which I do) then Fifa 12 was undoubtedly the king of the beautiful game.
New year, new Fifa, new outlook. Fifa 13 places much more emphasis on your attacking options, but does so in such a way that it doesn’t undermine the Tactical Defending additions of last year. Rather than decrease the gameplay’s defensive functionality, the EA Canada team has heightened that of the offense. The result is a game in which both attacking and defending feel equal, no longer do you feel as though you’re working against an invisible twelfth man when approaching goal.
What it comes down to is scoring options. Off the ball player positioning has seen a marked improvement, with players now supporting the man in possession as he drives forward from the halfway line on the counter attack. It’s all so different from last year which would so often see you get to the edge of the box out wide with Real Madrid’s Ronaldo, only to find that real-life goal machines such as Higuain and Benzema are still back in your own half and seemingly not at all bothered in being part of a goal.
The extra support means you can be so much more creative in your build up play. Three attackers versus four defenders no longer means having a speculative shot from outside the box or overly relying on the one-two mechanic to pass through the defensive line. Now it means running in and out of offside positions to try and catch the defenders asleep, it means driving into the box only to lay off a deft pass followed by a defter pass, it means holding the ball up and waiting for a winger or central midfielder to provide extra support.
Or, as ever, it means going it alone with Tevez as Silva and Aguero spread themselves out wide in a bid to stretch the defence and provide the Argentinean with extra space to work within.
It’s not just the positioning that aids in attacking flair, it’s also the changes to the shooting and goalkeeper behaviour. Keepers no longer feel as though they’ve covered their gloves in the most powerful industrial glue known to man and now drop the ball, deflect it and knock it back into danger zones much more frequently. It adds a greater sense of realism and unpredictability to play, and the effect is even more pronounced in wet weather.
The result is more rebounds and goals that arrive through avenues and means that you’ve never seen before, and might never see again. Some might argue that the keeper’s behaviour makes the game too difficult to predict, that some teams might win when they don’t deserve it due to an individual error that you’ve no control over. I say: that’s football and in this case the loosened approach to keeper AI improves realism at the sake of traditional gaming mathematical precision. Sport is not an exact science, it’s a best-guess could of thing and that’s what you’ve got to do here.
Shooting is more spectacular than it has ever been, with long range drills from the likes of Gerrard, Robben and Sneijder more likely to go in or be spilled back into a dangerous area by the keeper. In addition you’ve got the deft dinks to the bottom corner and the difficult-to-master chips that you’ve had before, but now they look better and feel easier to control.
Despite all of these attacking upgrades, the games we’ve played so far against human players have not been any higher scoring than they were in Fifa 12. It speaks volumes about the quality of the balancing act EA Canada has pulled off. Yes, attacking feels more exciting and dynamic, but the defensive side of the game is still very much intact and provides an apt counter.
Tactical Defending and its focus on disrupting passing lines and forcing players out of position is still an effective tactic and it’s still possible to play the old Italian way and win. The difference is that things now seem fair, no longer does it feel as though the defending team is being assisted by the magical twelfth man who processes the perfect foresight to predict the attacker’s movement five seconds before it has happened.
More than ever, Fifa 13 is a game that provides a balanced toolset and asks you to interpret how you want to employ it.
You’ll also need to employ how you spend your time in game, with new bite-additions vying for your time. Game of the Week allows you to go back and play the best games from the past few days of real-life fixtures, complete with the same starting line-ups, player form ratings and pitch/weather conditions. It’s hardly a game changing feature but not being able to play a key player because of injury, in the same way you’ve just seen on TV, does add familiarity and a further connection between the virtual and physical worlds.
Ultimate Team has seen some improvement to the menu designs and has found even more ways to increase its ability to create addicts; namely tiered challenges that take an enormous amount of time to complete but can result in valuable bonuses.
Skill Games are a new addition altogether, and act as both tutorial and mini-game style distraction. They are designed to test your shooting, dribbling, passing, penalties, free-kicks and most other individual aspects of the game. Things start off disappointingly easy and get ridiculously hard. By the time you’re chipping shots from an impossible angle, over a wall of boxes and hitting a tiny target in the top corner of the goal you’ll have developed the kind of skills that will be spoken about in fearful whispers among the game’s online players.
In a nice touch, Skill Games pop up during pre-match loading – ridding you of the associated boredom in a manner that’s much more appealing and fun than the simple you-versus-the-goalie set-up of the past few Fifa’s.
So, the big question then: is Fifa still the best football game around? The short answer is, yes. It still flows the best, looks the best, has the most interesting and varied set of game modes (both online and offline) and possesses that feeling of pomp and pageantry about it that its competitor lacks.
Speaking of the competition… our review for that is just around the corner.