Judging by EA’s buzz around FIFA 13, it seems that the
juggernaut franchise is in a polishing year. No, htat’s not the same as “it’s
the same game with a roster update.” As the team pointed out in last month’s
unveil details, there’s lots to look forward to in this year’s game.
During EA’s media briefing yesterday, the publisher provided
more insight into the experience, especially in regard to EA Sports Football
Club. If you’re playing FIFA 12, FIFA Street, or the Euro 2012 DLC pack, your
XP will carry over into FIFA 13, and it will – depending on your XP level –
unlock a variety of club-centric content, including vintage kits. But while
that’s fair and good, gameplay is key.
How does it feel? We jumped into a round as Manchester City
against another writer playing as Barcelona to try it out. The first thing we
noticed? First touch. Trapping the ball with the precision dribble button will
be key. Generally, our play style concentrates on ground passing more than
through balls, so the sorts of wild “hooking an aerial pass” applied less than
quicker one-touch passes (perhaps we should’ve picked Barcelona, too).
But it’s immediately evident to anyone who regularly plays
FIFA that something different is afoot here. Some of those crosses and the
occasional aerial through pass were a bit overhit, and Agüero had to do some
extra hoofing to trap and secure the ball before it fell into Pique’s
possession. “Dynamic” is a word that gets thrown around cheaply these days, but
there’s a real unpredictability to securing a pass in FIFA 13, and frankly, it
feels more realistic.
It’s also hugely beneficial to defense. Because the AI is
just as sharp on defense as the highly touted “thinking two steps ahead” on
offense, we felt comfortable letting the AI-driven defenders put pressure on
wing attacks while we controlled Vincent Kompany to get himself in front of a
darting Leo Messi run and thwart it by getting his body in between Messi and
the ball. The physicality helps, too. Since Barcelona consist of smaller
players who are more adept at spraying passes around the pitch, Man City’s big
defenders could thwart attacks. Plus, the physicality of Tevez and Agüero up
top meant that even in a tough challenge, big players can –with proper steering
– get around smaller defenders. Will it be tweaked before release to prevent
everyone from lining up big target men all the time? It’s probable. But for
now, the rough and tumble of play feels really satisfying.
The touted teammate AI tweaks feel great, as well. With a
tap of the “send a teammate on a run” button, we noticed that distributing the
ball to a striker or attacking midfielder was easier and more responsive than
in the past. They seemed to predict pockets of space more readily than in the
past, and in the moment one was caught offsides, I knew it within a millisecond
of releasing the pass. The animation is fluid and conveys player body language
The refined dribbling has been touted as carrying some
influence from FIFA Street, and it’s evident. If you squeeze both trigger
buttons to initiate the dribble, you’ll find that there’s a certain degree of “roll
around” that your player will do on one foot, not totally unlike FIFA Street’s
Panna system. It’s mildly reminiscent, so don’t worry about FIFA 13 coming off
as too arcade-y.
It’s still pre-alpha, though. That means that in the loading
screen, players popped in after the ball appeared, and sometimes, we couldn’t
see our shooting meter. Also, Joe Hart left goal during an attack and never
came back to his post. Does that mean you need to panic? Hardly. Especially in
the case of goalkeeper AI, we were reassured that it’s being addressed. This
version of the game is expressly designed to provide an idea of how FIFA 13
will handle. We’ve been reassured that we’ll be seeing a more updated
work-in-progress before GamesCom, so we’ll definitely be reporting back on what
we see. But for those of you who’ve logged in dozens of hours on FIFA 12,
you’ll be happy to see what’s in store for this year’s game.