It's easy to be sceptical of a series that is updated every year with a "brand new" version. After all, what can be done in a year? Is that really enough time to create new features compelling enough to justify dropping another £40 into EA's already plump pockets? Some would argue not. Indeed, there are some who believe the whole thing is a ruse--a way for EA to gouge as much money as possible from its customers, while releasing what is essentially the same game every year.
But it's not like EA have had an entirely bad track record with this stuff. The introduction of the tactical defending system in FIFA 12 fundamentally changed the way the game played, and--in my opinion at least--for the better. But when I saw what EA had in store for FIFA 13, I came away disappointed. Improvements to the Player Impact Engine, AI, dribbling system, free kicks, and first touch seemed more like a nice set of tweaks than the "revolution" that EA was so proud to proclaim.
And yet, when I finally got my hands on the game, it was difficult to be anything but impressed. Those very things I was so ready to dismiss as mere tweaks were, in actual fact, the very things that made my time with FIFA 13 so special. While "revolution" might be overkill, it is a markedly different experience. It is the very first FIFA I've played that feels, and looks, like actual human beings are kicking the ball.
Players responded just like I'd expected them to. Huge long balls and over-zealous passes weren't just magically controlled with seemingly unholy skill; the ball would creep away. Sometimes it was a little knock on. Other times it would veer wildly off course, or land at the feet of the opposition. It was in those little, or sometimes large, mistakes that unpredictability was introduced. Not randomness, though--just a sense that players were no longer computer-generated dream machines, but real, fallible human beings.
In the attack, they would move with a smoothness I'd never seen before, ducking, weaving, and dummying the ball in an effortless sweep between defenders. This wasn't the result of some fancy new skill system, but a simple tweak that meant players could face one direction while dribbling the ball in another. It was simply how I'd expect real players to handle the ball, and it lead to some spectacular goals that never felt artificial or forced.
I saw players performing confident runs I had never seen in a FIFA game before as they anticipated chances by moving into space, steamrolling past defenders to gain the upper hand. They would shield the ball, too, using the same dribbling tweak to defend, rather than attack. And all of these things just happened. There was no complicated button scheme to remember, or settings to adjust (although the new dribbling mechanic can be manually activated by holding down the two triggers), it all just worked.
What really sold it me, though, was not in the doing, but the watching. As I reluctantly handed over the controls to another eager journalist, I sat back and watched as each match unfolded. Goals were scored, mistakes were made, and voices were raised. And it felt good. There was a fluidity to the game that made it as close as I've ever been to seeing a virtual match resemble a real one. That is why FIFA 13 is impressive: not because of a gargantuan spec sheet of improvements or a suite of shiny new visuals, but the feeling of excitement in that--just like this year's Premier League finale--damned near anything could happen.