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FIFA 13 – Preview

A case of evolution rather than revolution as EA look to enhance the FIFA franchise once again.

Few games can pack them in like FIFA, the assembled games press fill every seat in the cinema-size venue as FIFA 13 gets ready to make its debut. We’re in for a lengthy introduction too, as David Rutter’s Canada-based development team takes its time in guiding us through a series of key points.

Like most FIFA 12 devotees the yearly update brings mixed-feelings. What if the style of play is changed just too much? What if the controls are changed in a way that feels just plain wrong? They’re questions Rutter is immediately keen to address, explaining that if the philosophy behind FIFA 12 was ‘revolution’, then FIFA 13′s mantra is more ‘evolution’; a refinement of what already exists and a ‘capturing of the unpredictability of real football.’

A statistic he shares, which reveals that your average FIFA player spends more time on FIFA 12 (57 minutes) than on Facebook (46 minutes) every single day, perhaps best illustrating why anything other than fine-tuning would be inadvisable anyway – it would take a brave company to make too many changes to such a popular franchise.

It’s Aaron McHardy, FIFA 13’s lead gameplay designer, who takes us through each refinement, first admitting to some of the deficiencies in FIFA 12 – the famous “FIFA kiss” for example, or an issue known as “catapulting” which are all directly attributable to unrealistic strength across parts of the player models – before acquainting us with the latest iteration.

As he takes us through an illustrated guide to FIFA 13′s updates he begins by describing how the expansion of one of FIFA 12′s successes, the “player impact” engine, became intrinsic to FIFA 13, the mechanic usually reserved for when defender blocked attacker now being implemented across the whole pitch. Big, strong defenders will now be better able to push an attacker off the ball (without incurring the wrath of the referee), defenders will look to block the run of an off-the-attacker and attackers will no longer have instant control when receiving a pass.

This battle for possession swings both ways however, a defender for example won’t be blessed with Ronaldinho-like control either, rather he’ll now have to clear his lines unless he wants to risk a fleet-footed striker taking advantage of a poor first touch, as EA look to make good on their promise of having FIFA ever closer to real football.

With defenders receiving their share of enhancements so too must attackers, the key aspect here the fundamental change to how off-the-ball players analyse space and eventually pick the direction and timing of their run. Underneath the hood there’s a different system in play this time, and where a player might have made unrealistic “zig-zag” runs before, here attackers stick to their guns and make their run with stronger conviction; even predicting not just what the player’s next pass might be, but even the pass subsequent to that.

Freekicks see improvements too with dummy runs (in triplicate) possible for the attacking team, while defensive options include sending out a blocker and pulling extra players into the wall. What’s dubbed “complete dribbling” also makes an appearance this time, with even complex tricks and skills mapped to the left analogue stick. The chance to face up a defender before shimmying and heading passed with a boost of pace now much more intuitive but with hidden depths to please even the most dedicated of fans.

Worth the wait? By the time the bewildering number of changes to FIFA 13 have been described I’m actually left wondering whether there’s more of a revolution taking place here than David Rutter and his team would have us believe. With so much up for an overhaul, from minor tweaks to free kick tactics, to major work on AI, ball control and dribbling, it seem that either EA are exaggerating the changes or will in fact be presenting FIFA fans with an entirely different animal come October.

Given the pedigree of the team and the quality of past releases it’s fair to say the game is in safe hands and without fail the adjustments they’ve revealed point to a more satisfying game of football in every conceivable way; here’s just hoping it all hangs together as a coherent simulation come release day.

For: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: EA
Publisher: EA
When? Q3/Q4 2012