Football games – and all annually updated sports titles, really – used to be received with justifiable cynicism, but FIFA’s steady rebirth has played a substantial role in forcing all sports game developers to raise the stakes every year. Gone are the days in which a few new player animations, roster refreshes and cosmetic menu shifts were enough to justify the existence of a new boxed product, and whilst FIFA 13 isn’t pertaining to be the careful revolution that FIFA 12 was, it’s unquestionably shaping up to be a very different game. And it’s looking all the better for it.

EA’s presentation last week was solely restricted to showing off new gameplay amendments – there was no talk of Ultimate Team, no mention of whether the EA Sports Season Ticket will return and no revelations about the single-player campaign – and the biggest change this year involves the new “First Touch Control” system. Line Producer David Rutter reckons that this is a change as fundamental as Tactical Defending was last year, and the system aims to “capture the drama and the unpredictability of real world football” without descending into infuriating randomness. “Everything that happens, has to make sense…”

During play, First Touch Control forces you to consider several new factors when you’re executing a pass. The speed of the ball, which direction it’s coming from and who the recipient actually is (and in which direction they’re travelling in) all play a part in what that player’s first touch will be like. In addition, a new “Push and Pull” system is in place, which allows you to jostle and tug at the shirt of an opponent, even when they’re not in possession of the ball; allowing you to effectively screw over your foe’s perfect first touch before it’s even occurred.

FIFA 13 is considerably faster than last year’s game and in addition, your team’s pathfinding skills having been massively improved. When you were in possession of the ball and started approaching the goal in FIFA 12, any change in direction would result in your strikers instantly backing out of a run; now they’ll aggressively commit to it. We experimented with this repeatedly, and not only did our players no longer pensively teeter on the brink of the offside line, they constantly ducked in and out of space in order to cleanly receive the ball. This did result in a few more legit offside calls than were welcome, but also one of the silkiest goals that this reviewer has ever scored in a FIFA game.

Tactical Defending is still here, although the inherent gamble of it has been downplayed a tad. For example, if your defender is in an inappropriate position to make a tackle, he won’t blindly stick his leg out regardless; he’ll adapt and do something a bit less disruptive. Commendably, FIFA Street’s Complete Dribbling system has also been pinched, gifting you with (amongst other things) the ability to suddenly burst around approaching defenders at speed. You can also use this technique – executed by pressing both trigger buttons simultaneously – to control your stance in possession as well; you’re able to maintain a goal-facing position when attacking, or keep your back to your aggressor when in mid-field.

As always, you get the sense that the creation of each new FIFA game is a process that’s akin to toying with a house of cards, and at the moment (for one thing) it’s way too easy to give the ball away when you’re attacking. That said, with several months of development time still remaining, the creases that need to be ironed out are surprisingly few and far between. FIFA 13 isn’t set to rattle the series’ tight foundations in the same way that FIFA 12 did, but merely polish, extend and embellish the thoroughbred brilliance of that game. Another year, another FIFA. Amen to that.

FIFA 13 is currently expected to launch on Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Playstation Vita, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Portable, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and other mobile platforms at some point towards the end of 2012. 

Watch zavvi’s exclusive trailer for last year’s FIFA 12 below:

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