Review by Nathan Ditum.
The problem with reviewing a game like FIFA 13 is that you end up writing notes like 'the physicality is less predictable' which, when you take a step away from the context of an iterative virtual sports title, make a kind of negative sense that could potentially be weaponised and deployed as part of a disruptive first strike invasion scenario.
Understanding the headline changes made to FIFA 13 requires a specialised vocabulary and a knowledge of the promises and weaknesses of last year's game, and the game before that – and amongst it all the key question of 'am I playing a game of football that is good?' can be surprisingly elusive.
So let's make it easy – the answer is yes you are, although you're also probably less convinced than ever that the changes made in the 12 months since you last bought a copy qualify FIFA 13 as a standalone game with a standalone pricetag. This is a situation not helped by the game's own increasingly animated attempts to justify its yearly cycle of self-destruction and rebirth.
Last year EA looked at us all with a straight face and expected us to not only understand but also to care about 'Precision Dribbling', 'Tactical Defending' and the 'Player Impact Engine' – labelled, categorised evidence of progress, giving a name to the things you're paying for.
The sloganeering continues this year, with inevitable tweaks made and others features added for good measure. 'First Touch Control' refers to the introduction of an error-rate when receiving the ball, with bobbles and imperfections effecting even elite players. It's a contrived spontaneity, but welcome despite occasional moments of what feel like random injustice.
'Match Day' is less a feature and more a self-trumpeting noise, an overlay of stats, form guides and real-world fixtures that tie FIFA 13 into the outside ongoings of actual football. And as its name would suggest, 'Complete Dribbling' – a way to square up to defenders taken from the recent FIFA Street reboot – goes beyond last year's Precision Dribbling and into a whole new realm of footwork hyperbole, presumably building to next year's ability to sashay around individual blades of grass.
More instructive are the changes made to the existing feature set. FIFA 12's change of defending system was divisive, removing the option to home in like a studded missile in favour of a sterner risk-reward timed challenge mechanic. The risk-reward remains, but has been predictably and not entirely successfully watered down. Tackles are now guided directionally by the game, and it's easier to recover lost ground if you mistime one. The net result is that the game is noticeably faster and less considered than last year, with matches dominated by wave after wave of attack and counter-attack, and very little of the probing and thoughtfulness that characterised FIFA 12.
Elsewhere there are minor victories and defeats. The new skill training exercises that pop up while matches load do a better job than any catchphrase of demonstrating the depth and complexity of FIFA's shooting, running and passing systems. On the other hand, the already-sluggish menus now teem with the accumulated burden of additional features and options.
All of which leaves us more or less where we were last year – with the finest football game currently available, unmatched in terms of its mechanics, but which is also crying out for some serious redevelopment. In its current form FIFA has reached a plateau, and either the game – or the way we pay for it – are due for a major overhaul.
A still excellent football game that has been overburdened by features and is hungry for some real innovation.