On Sunday Aguero slipped a ball past QPR's keeper to win the premier league for Manchester City in the final minutes of the final match of the season, with a single flick. In football, the smallest touch can have dramatic consequences. EA Sports are hoping to simulate the finesse and unpredictability of those moments in Fifa 13 with the new "first touch control system." It will add an element of uncertainty that EA hope will bring the sim closer to the real sport. In Fifa 13, players will make mistakes.
In Fifa 12 a player of any skill level will instantly trap the most challenging long ball without any apparent effort. Fifa 13 will look at the speed and angle of the ball and take the player's skill level into account when simulating the touch. If it's too tough, the player might fluff it. The ball could hop up few feet as he tries to control it, or spring a couple of feet away from his boot. It's a subtle effect, but that moment of mis-control is all a marker needs to jump in and take possession.
This will introduce some nervousness in defence. Centre backs dealing with long through balls will have to decide whether they're going to try and control it with an eager attacker on their heels, or boot the rock into row N. Going forward, there will be an element of risk/reward to every ambitious ball. EA showed videos of the new system in action at a recent presentation, which made Fifa 12's moments of perfect control seem miraculous and entirely unrealistic. I still had a slight worry. Later, I asked line producer Nick Channon whether the added element of chance could prove more frustrating than fun.
“We'll need to make sure that the game is unpredictable, but it's predictably unpredictable,” he said. “We're not making a random game here. You're not going to randomly lose control of the ball. Ultimately it's about making the game more realistic.”
Channon also confirmed that the PC version of Fifa 13 WILL be the same as console versions this year, continuing a trend started by Fifa 12.
That means we'll also be getting the new close control system too. Previously, players would face the direction the ball was travelling in, now they can open up their body and move the ball laterally. This will let them juke past attackers more easily and allow for moments of skill without relying on the trick stick.
Graphically, based on the short clips shown at the presentation, Fifa 13 won't be making a big step forward this year, but EA sports are steadily adding to Fifa's already excellent animation system. New step overs, stumbles, free kicks, goal line clearances and more will all help players move more realistically on the pitch. The player impact engine added last year has been beefed up as well. Defenders will be able to block attackers off the ball and the battle for possession will be scrappier at close quarters.
The free kick system has also been expanded. Attackers can now trigger crossover runs, fake-outs and lay-offs designed to encourage a twitchy wall to jump early. On the defensive side, more players can be added to the wall, and players in the wall can charge the kick spot with the press of a button. They can also shuffle forward slightly to close the distance between them and the ball. If they do this too much, the referee will start showing cards. The new system should provide some entertaining cat and mouse contests in multiplayer.
Fifa 12 bravely slowed down the pace of the game and introduced a more ponderous but realistic defensive system. As a result, there's a lot more space on the pitch than there were in previous Fifa games. Fifa 12's attackers were never especially good at exploiting this extra room but EA Sports have been working on the AI. Players will constantly be analysing the players around them and guessing who's most likely to receive the ball next. They'll shift position slightly to support team mates nearby who they think might get the ball in a moment's time and make more sensible runs as a result.
As with many of Fifa 13's updates, it's a subtle move gently usher the sim closer to the real sport. None of the systems the developers showed look as though they'll move the series forward as much as 12 did, but it's clear that EA are determined to keep building on their impressive tech to create an even more accurate simulation of the sport. If that means the occasional missed pass and some elbowing in the box, so be it. The real test will come when we get our hands on some controllers and see how it all feels.