Since the very first edition in 1993, FIFA game series has slowly become THE football game, with FIFA 09 being held as the iteration where it took the crown from the Pro Evolution series as the best football simulation. The games since then have seen gone a cycle of revolution then evolution. FIFA 10 saw the introduction of 360 degree dribbling, which proved to be one of the biggest changes in football gaming since 2D to 3D. FIFA 11 refined that system and brought Pro Passing and Be A Goalkeeper. FIFA 12 was a complete game changer and implemented a new way of defending with tactical defending. “Homing missile” defending, where you simply held down the tackle button and waited for the challenge to be made was out, jockeying and making a conscious decision to tackle was in. It took a while to get used to while your brain rewired itself and proved hugely divisive at first but once you got used to it, gamers and critics agreed that the tactical defending system changed both football games and FIFA for the better.
Only, FIFA 12 was a bit dull to play.
Admittedly the Online league system was perhaps one of the most fun online gaming modes ever (Div 1 champion bitches!) and Ultimate Team was dissertation-destroyingly good but because of the new defensive system, FIFA 12 was perhaps one of the dullest FIFA games to play on your own. The new defensive system rewarded acute positioning. Tackling was hard, so the trick was to have your defenders in already there so you didn’t need to make one, Maldini style. Problem was, if you make a system that rewards thoughtful, machine-like thinking, when you play an actual machine in the computer, their ducks are always going to be more in a row than yours. FIFA 12 had gamers who previously played career mode on Legendary difficulty scale it back to Professional just to have an enjoyable game. Or at least I did.
FIFA 09 is held as the iteration where it took the crown from the Pro Evolution series as the best football simulation.
But in the past year, the bods at EA have taken on these complaints and more and shaped up FIFA 13 to be the 'evolution of the revolution', where the new aspects of FIFA 12’s game play has been extensively prodded and improved and sparkling new gameplay features have been introduced. I was lucky enough to play FIFA 13 earlier this week and I best describe the change from FIFA 12 to FIFA 13 as the change in Chelsea F.C. over the summer. Whereas last season Chelsea achieved the impossible and won the Champions League through heroic defending, tactical discipline and the big bastard of a striker up front, this season their looking to smarten up with a more nuanced, expansive game of football.
This year's big change is a reworked dribbling model which includes more erratic first touches. EA Canada's calling 'Precision Dribbling 2.0', I’m calling it “They’ve finally got Messi”. The world’s best player (shut up) has jumped ship from Pro Evolution Soccer to FIFA for the box art this year and for the first time in a football game I think they’ve finally understood Messi. For years the FIFA bods have struggled to make a game were the best players are not simply the ones who are the biggest and strongest. Top tournament FIFA teams are routinely Chelsea, Real and Manchester United because of their strong pacey players. I had a friend who played with Rooney & Evra up front in FIFA 11 to exploit this. The problem with Barcelona is, to use the backwards English coaching stereotype cliché, “their players are too slight”.
It took an experienced FIFA player with mastery over the trick stick to properly make Messi play like the devastating forward he is in real life. But the introduction of precision dribbling 2.0, that could be a thing of the past. At first it's much the same as the tiny touch dribbles in the last game that was mapped to L1/LB. The difference now is contextual: dribbling will now adapt and offer different touches depending on the situation, and who are using, almost dynamically integrating skill moves traditionally reserved for the left trigger. Activated by holding down both triggers, when I took on a PR man for a game of El Clasico, I was bearing down on goal with Messi having to deal with Pepe being his usual prickly self. In FIFA 12, Pepe would have murdered Little Flea, but here with a quick precision dribble I cut inside at a sharp right angle, smashed in a left footed shot top corner and celebrated while Pepe lamented over his now broken ankles.
I best describe the change from FIFA 12 to FIFA 13 as the change in Chelsea F.C. over the summer.
However, when I tried something similar with Nathan Dyer of Swansea F.C, I got to see the new 'First Touch Control' system in action. FIFA 13 introduces more realistic variety around how players control difficult passes. No longer can everyone trap the ball like “that” first touch from Zinedine Zidane. Now the ball bobbles off shins, shoulders and backsides as less skilful players try and get the ball under control. Luckily, it didn’t turn out to be as frustrating as first described to me, it’s more of a case of Dyer needing 4 touches when Messi only needs one, just like in real life. (No offence Dyer.)
Tactical Defending and the Player Impact Engine have had some reworking as well providing for some of the more noticeable animations in the code I played. Last year the basics were in place, but in the new instalment the computer AI and, thankfully, referees will actually understand the pushing and shoving and its effects on the game. Whereas before, pressing the tackle button when neck and neck with an attacker just caused the players to jerk around a bit and the advantage symbol to appear on screen, now defenders can now use their bodies and not just their feet to block attackers, meaning a mistimed tackle button press no longer means you’re eating turf and resorting to bringing out your goalie tactics. The AI now assists you in the angle in which you make your tackle as well so now, big centre backs like Nemanja Vidić are now capable of bypassing the tackle and just barging players off the ball.
There’s a real tit for tat feel with the advancements in FIFA 13, so now the defenders have something to make them better, EA goes off and works on an 'Attacking Intelligence' system to balance it out. Attacking Intelligence which looks to end the days of you screaming at your television ”MAKE THE DAMN RUN!” EA Canada have worked some sorcery and now, the computer controlled players think two steps ahead, analysing entire runs rather than just their next move into space. Impressively, computer footballers are also able to work out who the ball possessor is most likely to pass to next, which made for the offside count in the games I played a lot higher than usual as the computer players lamented at my failure to recognise their smart runs. Oops.
Another big change for FIFA 13 is the changes to arena mode. In the loading time between matches, now there are challenges where you are tasked to whip in crosses, smash in volleys and hit targets all while being scored and ranked against your friends on the online experience leaderboards. There is now a new set-piece system for freekicks, branded 'Tactical Free Kicks'. With the option of having up to 3 men on the ball, you now have a myriad of freekick options at your disposal. Getting Messi to feign and shot, Dani Alves to square it and then Iniesta to chip it over to the space where Messi ran to so I can finish the move with a sublime finish was just one of the things I managed in my playthrough. In your early matches with friends you’ll most likely deliberately giving away free-kicks just to see what my opposition can throw together against you, the new system is that much fun. Expect to see a FIFA 13 version of the famous Matt Le Tissier free-kick before the season is out.
Attacking Intelligence looks to end the days of you screaming at your television ”MAKE THE DAMN RUN!”
EA's have spoken of injecting the "unpredictability" of real-world football into the game and I for one think they have nailed it. There is a popular internet acronym doing the rounds that said FIFA 12 stood for [F]emales [I]gnored [F]or [A]nother  months. Whilst I think that is (only very slight) exaggeration, there is no question that the FIFA series is the game/time waster/dream wish fulfilment/reason for the end of their relationship for football fans across the world. Here is a pre-order link for FIFA 13, I’ll see you online when the game is released on the 28th September.
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