So, what’s in the game?
From the start you get a ton of game options in the menu which really hasn’t changed that much and still easy to navigate. A new mode is EA SPORTS Football Club Match Day, which is a really cool feature that will let you play with the ‘same experience’ as the real world news and gossip. You will hear commentators talk about players who have been transfer listed, who are on the bench, injuries, and any other bits and pieces that can be reflected in-game. Also you will see players who are hot/cold and its effects on their gameplay. You do however have the choice to turn this feature off, but I would really encourage anyone playing to try this feature. You still also have the ever popular Football Ultimate Team which is similar to a Card Collecting Game where you buy virtual packs of cards with players and incorporate them onto a team. You also have extra skill games you can play to kill time (more on this in a moment) as well as many different online modes.
Graphically speaking, the player faces looks a little sharper this year and a little less plastic. But where the game shines is on the field. The Player Impact Engine looks to be more improved with better collision detection and little nuances such as players jumping over sliding opponents or more realistic falls when crashing into each other, and even players grabbing on to shoulders when jumping up for headers. So far, with the new animations, the game looks to be a lot more put together than last year’s version. My only minor gripe still has to do with the lighting effects on the field — something that Konami seems to have a better handle on.
Control-wise, it’s still familiar but the biggest difference I have seen is with the First Touch Control. There really is a difference in feel as a player first gets a ball from a pass as they bring it in, attempts to change direction and keep control of the ball. It’s definitely not like it’s been in years past where you just get a pass and go and it’s not a gimmicky trick added to the game. There is a change when you see a player in FIFA 13 get a ball from chest to foot and gains control to start running versus what you’ve seen before in past versions where a player gets a pass and off he goes. Also, I’ve noticed that one has to be really careful when passing into space as you just can’t pass and hope for the best. If you aren’t careful, you can overpass your teammate, into a completely wrong direction. Also the AI will make many spirited attempts at passing and many times balls that aren’t outright intercepted can bounce in a totally different direction.
There are many mini-games you can try prior to starting your match, which will go a long way into improving your game. Some include teaching you how to lob a shot into the goal with the objective of having you lob the ball over a few boxes and hit a target while getting the ball into the net. You get points towards doing these activities and I think when the game goes live, you can use these to your created player but I will revisit this when the game is released.
The game’s AI seems to be a bit better this year and one of the things I have noticed this year is how well the AI plays on the ball as well as playing near the ball. One of my biggest gripes with the last two iterations was how a player with the ball could run past opponents and, on some occasions, either that was too easily stripped or no attempt was made to take the ball. So far in the game, I have noticed more times when the AI and my controlled player got into tussles trying to get possession of the ball as sometimes occurs in games as well as realistic challenges with slide tackles. I have seen players more aggressively step in front of other players to cut off passing lanes, block crosses and stop shots. But the biggest difference is when shots are taken and balls that bounce off either the goalkeeper or the goal and go back into play. In previous versions my frustration was that when that happened, no other teammate ran forward to make another attempt to finish the goal. Everyone stayed rooted to the spot or started running back down field. This time (and I actually scored many different times because of this), I saw players rushing up to try and finish the missed shot and put the ball into the net.
I jumped right in to the 2 modes I was most eagerly waiting to try: Player Career and Manager Career and to be honest, you can see where EA ripped the pages from Konami’s PES and actually improved the formula.
Player Career – How I Spent my Weekend in Northampton Town
One thing that has always been daunting about playing FIFA games especially as a new player is that the player career mode was unforgiving. You create your player and your stats were always low and you either jumped in and swim with the big fish or you get booted from the team especially if you were trying to make it with a big club like Inter, MUFC, Barca or PSG. This year’s iteration takes a very different approach, one that even PES doesn’t take. You have the option of creating a player and signing him to any club that you choose but the rub here is one way or another, you manager may send you out on loan to improve your skills. As it happened with me, I of course created my player and signed him onto MUFC, and after 2 games, SAF sends my player to Northampton Town FC. I was bummed, I mean I really felt like I was sent out of sight, out of mind but…the beauty of this mode is this. You are given goals to work to.
Unlike PES’ career mode which 1.) sends you to a team and forces you to work your way completely up and 2.) your only clear objective is to do enough for the team to stay in the Starting XI, the club that you play for regardless if you are starting or loaned out, you are given a set of objectives(primary and secondary) to play for. Some can be making a certain amount of goals in a season, keep a certain rating average, getting assists and a few others. As you play of course, any special skills you pull off gets added to your player. That much has not changed, so your player does ‘develop’ as your season progresses. My player build started off at 67 and after 5 games, my player’s overall skill is 70 and I am getting a few unlockables along the way. This is a much different take than other past FIFAs as you are responsible for your player’s growth and yes, the manager still controls the game including tactics and line up. As the season has progressed, I saw the call for internationals and of course, my player is nowhere near ready to go, but seeing the announcement, made me want to play more so that eventually my player does get called up. This is a mode that PES has been touting for years but in one fell swoop, EA may have this right after doing the right amount of tinkering with.
Manager Career – Sitting in the Manager’s Chair
I think it’s safe to say that FIFA 11 and 12’s manager mode was the same thing with no changes and I was hoping and praying that this really would have been fixed in this year’s mode. While some fixing has been done, there is still a lot to do but suffice to say this more has a FIFA Manager Lite feel to it. So, everything you know and love is still there. You still need to pick your Starting Xi, wrangle transfer negotiations, set up your scouting networks and the like but this mode is a little more interactive now but not by much. For instance, you can still have times you can talk to the press before games but still there is no reason to do it as it doesn’t have an outcome one way or another with management , supporters or your opponent. Another item I saw that may need addressing is that when negotiating transfers, you have to have almost perfect finesse in moving players whether buying or selling. In many cases, once talks break down, that’s it. Teams will not come back to the table for no reason and because of this you have to plan accordingly. You can have a transfer deal already sealed up and ready to make your next move when negotiations between the player and their team fall because they can’t agree with wages. Be prepared for this to happen…a lot. However, there is a lot of interaction going on with your manager and the club execs during the season so you won’t be bored. And no, you won’t get called up to internationals right away similar in Player mode but you will see announcements about it, this game awards those with patience and perseverance. Another plus too, is that if your team has qualified, you can start your season off drawn for Champions League and Europa League (although the names have been changed due to licensing) and competing at the proper times. Another great touch is how players now will interact when they aren’t getting enough play time, want to sit out a match or even beg to start at the expense of another team-mate and even more priceless is the reaction you get from them AFTER a game.
The Bells and Whistles – The Small Stuff That Count
I think for any sports game made, many can pull out minute details that may have made the game for them. Be it the way a transfer has gone to a way a player does a celebration, FIFA was a love it or hate it game sometimes based on the small potatoes. There are a lot of little things that this game does that I even wish the American juggernaut Madden NFL would do. For instance, when playing a season, before you start a game, you have the choice of getting other scores and news announced from around the league. It’s a nice touch to hear midway through your game that a player on a rival team has gotten a red card or was scored on via a PK. And it happens frequently enough that you stay informed and infrequently enough that it doesn’t take away from the game. Even when a player gets hurt during the game you hear whether or not that player will come back or is out. You even get to hear a full recap of scores post game as well as an announcement of upcoming fixtures.
Another nice and small touch is how much the commentary is improved. Yes eventually you will start hearing the same things over and over, but a nice touch is to hear how well or how bad a team’s form is coming into a game or if a player is on the bench or up for transfer but most surprisingly, how a new transfer may be playing against his former team. For instance, in my Manager mode I picked up Holger Badstuber from Bayern Munich and when I went to play them a few weeks later, I was shocked to hear something to the tune of ‘we will see how this new acquisition will fare today against his old club’ and was pleased that someone thought long enough to put that in there. What I am waiting to hear is manager sackings.
And as mentioned slightly earlier, there is more interaction in the menus. Big stories pop out which may prompt some action from you, audio alerts will pop up from time to time and so on. You can really see that a clear effort has been made from EA this time around to make this year’s game a more polished game rather than a roster upgrade from previous years.
Graphically speaking, the game has been improved; the Player Impact engine has changed the game giving an air of unpredictability to matches and the improvements in the Career and Manager modes has given more meat to modes that were suffering.
The downsides are few but what I saw was:
* Weird day and night cycles especially when players are subbed.
* Every once in a while scoreboard results and audible results didn’t match.
* Inconsistent commentary as the game opens, some games you get a mouthful from Martin and Alan, some games they are deathly silent
* Game saves can get corrupted so save often!
* More audible chants!!! I may make a real effort to get some this year and put them in game
There is still a great deal of improvement to be made and should EA gets complete rights from PES in terms of tournaments then it may eliminate PES completely ( I hope this never happens as competition keeps game makers on their toes!) which reminds me, it is theoretically possible to recreate specific tournaments. You have enough tools to replay the Euros and the World Cup but you don’t have all the bells and whistles to do so until those ‘add ons’ appear.
After having a full weekend of play and eagerness for Tuesday’s disk release, I may not have a need to play PES this year. I can only hope that these improvements carry over into the Vita version although it’s a downer that there is no cross play.
As an EA FIFA fan this is a must play.
4.5 out of 5 stars.