If you were to listen to detractors of the FIFA series, you could be forgiven for thinking that developers EA Sports did nothing other than change the number on the box every year. However, those who claim that each iteration in the series is nothing more than a cosmetic update rather than a fully-fledged game in its own right, clearly didn't experience the huge leap from FIFA 11 to FIFA 12.
Rather than simply tweaking the format with FIFA 12, EA altered it from the ground up, putting an emphasis on the defensive aspect of the beautiful game that drastically upped the realism, giving football fans the greatest video game representation of their sport they had experienced up until that point. So with that being said, does FIFA 13 see EA Sports once again take a risk with their best-selling franchise, or is it the lazy rehash of its predecessor that it's accused of being?
This year, EA Sports have focused on the "unpredictability" of the sport. The new first-touch system, where players will either control the ball with deft footwork or panhandle it into the eager feet of the opposition, means that players with high ball control are now more valuable than ever, and the difference between taking control of a world class team such as Barcelona and a league two team such as Chesterfield is glaringly apparent. This new system also impacts upon the kind of goals that can be scored, with a skillful player being able to juggle the ball in the air whilst running, before impressively volleying it into the back of the net.
Defensive gameplay has also been improved, with players no longer being able to tirelessly pursue their opponent simply by holding down the A/X button; the result is that blocking off the opposing team from entering your six-yard box is now almost solely reliant upon your timing when challenging your opponent for possession of the ball, and your marking of their teammates in order to ensure that they are unable to make any crucial passes.
However, some old problems do remain, as goalkeepers are still prone to making infuriatingly bad decisions that can lead to cheap goals, and the first-touch system can sometimes lead to players controlling the ball unrealistically poorly at crucial moments in a match.
Aside from the on-pitch action, FIFA 13 still comes packed with an almost overwhelming amount of modes. New additions include Live Fixtures, which allows the player to play out the week's matches for themselves, and Skill Games, where players can test their ball control, passing and shooting (among other things) in a variety of challenges similar to that which would be found on a training ground, with high scores being uploaded to the online leaderboards.
Old favourites also return. Ultimate Team, the virtual trading card game where players can buy/trade footballers with credits that can either be purchased or won, remains as strangely addictive as ever, Be a Pro mode allows you and up to 10 of your friends to form a football club that you can then proceed to storm the leaderboards with, whilst the Career mode allows players to take control of either a created footballer or manager, playing/managing your way to the top, which this year finally includes the option to represent your country on an international level. However, here's where FIFA 13 falters slightly.
FIFA 13 gets rid of the option for players to use their 'Virtual Pro' (the created footballer that players use in Be a Pro mode) offline in the career mode. This is to counterract the offline boosting of players' Virtual Pro stats, and while it does a good job of that, the result is that players will now have to raise their Pro's stats both online and offline. Reaching the World Cup with your Pro in the Career mode and propelling your team to victory, only to then go online in the Be a Pro mode and be lumbered with a sluggish, inferior version of the international hero you take control of offline is simply less fun than the method employed in FIFA 12, where you could use your Pro in the Career, Be a Pro and Exhibition modes.
Also, on a related note, EA's Game Face feature, where you upload two photographs of yourself in order for your likeness to be digitally recreated on your Pro, left me looking like the sole survivor of a nuclear attack/Karl Pilkington, as evidenced in the image below.
However, despite the few questionable alterations and recurring complaints, FIFA 13 continues to justify the series' popularity among football fans. It plays almost perfectly on the pitch and, with its abundance of modes, gives players enough reason to keep playing right up until the next iteration in the series. Far from the lazy update detractors will have you believe, while FIFA 13 isn't the giant leap that FIFA 12 was, it is instead yet another glorious step in the right direction that is worth the money of anyone who has even a passing interest in the sport.
CraveOnline received one copy of FIFA 13 for PlayStation 3. Before starting our review we had spent an ample amount of time with its various modes both online and offline.