Rather than rely on that knackered old chestnut about offering evolution as opposed to revolution, last year developer EA Canada truly went out on a limb with FIFA 12, and delivered arguably the finest football game ever made. Initially it was a pretty divisive piece of work – as it should have been – and key to that disruptive reception was the game’s biggest innovation: the Tactical Defending system. No longer were you allowed to execute as many risk-free challenges as you could muster. Playing with blind aggression in FIFA 12 resulted in you completely destroying your own defensive line, and all in a few staggeringly brief seconds.
Somewhat predictably, FIFA 13 isn’t set to galvanise its audience in the same way that its predecessor did, but it’s (deservedly) receiving a similar degree of awestruck praise. Play in FIFA 13 is slicker and faster than ever before, but realism is at the forefront again; every little touch of the ball counts, and the implementation of FIFA Street’s Complete Dribbling system was a very wise move indeed. The most valuable new dribbling technique is also the simplest; hold both trigger buttons simultaneously and you’re able to maintain a goal-facing stance when you’re on the attack, or keep your back to your aggressors when you’re trying to maintain possession in midfield.
It makes for a more frenzied and chaotic game of football, and Tactical Defending has been successfully embellished to keep in line with that. In FIFA 12, that system primarily involved nothing more complicated than a lone player sticking his leg out; you had to be cautious if you wanted to avoid fouls, but the lack of variety galled after a while. In FIFA 13 the defending is context sensitive, so (for example) if you’re sprinting behind an opponent who’s approaching your goal, executing a soft tackle will cause you to jostle him or tug at his shirt… rather than just hack him down.
This “Push and Pull” system even works when you’re off the ball, allowing you to stitch players up by stopping them from nailing a perfect receiving touch. The AI has been revamped, and one of FIFA 12’s most frustrating sights – teammates speculatively tip-toeing on the brink of the offside line – has thankfully been lobbed straight in the bin. When you’re on the attack, your team now furiously duck in and out of open space so that they can cleanly receive the ball; thankfully, off-side calls aren’t anywhere near as prevalent as they were in the preview build that we played earlier this year.
The biggest innovation this year is Match Day mode, and it’s an outright joy if you’re a devoted fan of the actual sport. Not only are your in-game statistics affected by how the players and teams are performing in real life, the match commentary authentically reflects it too, and real, optional fixtures are even provided. It’s a football fanatic’s dream, and serves as a terrific side dish to the main course of Ultimate Team; now officially the backbone of the annual FIFA experience. UT hasn’t changed much – it was almost perfect last time, after all – but it now contains the one thing that has been sorely missing since its inception: an approximation of the online head-to-head “Seasons” mode.
The level of presentation is through the roof, and for all of its numerous refinements, FIFA 13 is much slicker than last year’s game; loading times have been significantly diminished, and leaping into an online game is a process as seamless and brisk as you could possibly imagine. Pre-match loading screens now house a selection of brilliant new skill games which allow you to work on everything from penalties to precision long balls; a practice that’s only made more addictive by the bronze, silver and gold medals that you earn by completing them. FIFA 13 is a brilliant (and brilliantly generous) package, and an exceedingly worthy upgrade.
FIFA 13 is available now on Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PC, Playstation Vita, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Portable, PS Vita, iOS and other mobile platforms.
Watch the zavvi-exclusive FIFA 13 trailer below: