From the moment you first set foot in one of FIFA Soccer 13's beautifully detailed stadiums, it's clear that EA's latest football outing isn't the revelation that its predecessor was. Sure, it's still feature-packed and entertaining, but where FIFA Soccer 12 revolutionised and updated the classic FIFA formula in some wonderfully inventive ways, FIFA 13 merely maintains it. Its long list of improvements--enhanced physics, AI, player physicality, a better defending system, a tweaked Ultimate Team mode, and a new Skill Games mode--are welcome and well-implemented changes. But on the pitch, it's hard to tell that you're playing a dramatically different or better game than FIFA 12.
Indeed, some of FIFA 13's new marquee features are mere tweaks of those introduced in FIFA 12, one of which is the infamous player impact engine. It has been overhauled in an attempt to reduce those odd, fumbling, and sometimes-hilarious collisions that players made as they bounced over each other on the pitch like rag dolls. But while there's certainly a noticeable improvement in the physics system, with far less slipups, it's not infallible; there's still the odd glitch here and there as players do inhuman backflips over others and flop along the pitch like weird anthropomorphic fish.
Better are the changes to the dribbling system, which have been inspired by the work done on FIFA Street. Now you can swirl the ball around a player's feet using the analogue stick, teasing defenders with cheeky dummies, stops, and skilful flicks. Pulling off such manoeuvres is so very satisfying, and this system works great with another tweak that means players no longer have to face the direction in which you want them to dribble. This makes play look and feel much more natural, letting you actively shield the ball or ensure that you're always facing the goal when zipping around defenders for the perfect strike.
Getting a first touch on the ball also has an added air of realism, thanks to a new system that attempts to stop the uncannily skilful control that players had when receiving a ball. Now factors such as the height of the pass, its speed, and the statistics of the players themselves are taken into account when players receive the ball. Without the guarantee of player control, you're forced to rethink passes and strategies in order to keep possession. A fast long ball into free space might seem like the best option, but when there's a strong chance the ball could pop up, be a miss-hit, or simply run away from a player, it's suddenly far less attractive.
The on-pitch action is some of the smoothest and most enjoyable the FIFA series has created; the AI makes better, more intelligent runs, and the tactical defending system now takes into account player size, meaning larger players can strong-arm the ball from weaker ones, or fight off defenders better. It all makes containing, jockeying, and whipping a leg out for a tackle feel much more fluid than before. Silky manoeuvres and swift runs down the pitch are much more realistic, while goals look spectacular, thanks to some great visuals and highly stylised replays that replicate the magic of watching a match on TV.
FIFA 13's smoothness comes at a price, though: it's difficult to shake the feeling that you're not always directly in control of the action. Players race across the pitch like a finely tuned machine, creating spectacular-looking goals that sail into the back of the net with ease--too much ease. It's still all too easy to make quick runs down the centre of the pitch past reams of defenders, or score from a devastating volley off a set piece. Yes, this smoothness results in some great-looking plays. But it stands in stark contrast to the gameplay in this year's much improved Pro Evolution Soccer 2013, which makes you work harder to put one in the back of the net, and satisfyingly so.
When it comes to the action off the pitch, FIFA 13 sticks to what it knows, improving on existing game modes. The majorly addictive Ultimate Team mode--FIFA's mix of role-playing-game-like card trading, Top Trumps, and football management--has seen numerous tweaks that make it even more compelling than before. In addition to the usual trading and swapping of cards, there are new seasons to compete in and devilish manager tasks to complete, all of which unlock new items for your team, as well as give you access to bigger and better players.
Modes like Head to Head Seasons, Online Friendlies, Virtual Pro, and Manager all return largely untouched. There are some additions, though, including presentational tweaks that make menus easier to navigate, the ability to get international jobs in Manager mode, and a refined transfer system that's more competitive and gives you much more freedom to sign new players. The biggest and best change is the inclusion of up-to-date real-world statistics for teams, which are updated weekly, and can be taken into account before the start of each match. Wins and losses in the real world are displayed, along with increased or decreased attack, midfield, and defensive stats, depending on the team's performance and injuries. Even the commentary is tweaked to coincide with any changes--albeit with generic phrases--highlighting injuries and your team's recent performance.
Tying the whole thing together is EA Sports Football Club, which keeps track of any experience points earned and ties them to a real-world team of your choosing. It's exciting to see your favourite team rise up the online leaderboards thanks to your efforts and those of fellow fans, and there are numerous challenges based on real-world events for you to complete, which also help boost your team's standing. This year's addition to Football Club comes in the form of a shop, where you can use money earned from playing the game to purchase vanity items like new boots, kits, and goal celebrations. As with most vanity items, their value isn't immediately apparent. But when you take your team to compete online, those little things that make them stand out from the crowd suddenly become a big deal.
Even more of a big deal are the new skill games, which replace the old keeper-vs.-player loading screens of the past, and are accessible via the practice hub too. You're now treated to bite-sized challenges, such as having to score as many goals as possible in two minutes in various scenarios and places on the pitch, or kick a lob pass into a certain zone. These quick challenges are lots of fun and help to teach you some of the fundamentals of the game. They get very tricky too, which makes them addictive, and you may find yourself spending more time completing the challenges than playing on the pitch.
While the skill games are an excellent addition--barring some throwaway Move implementation that lets you aim passes passes and paint runs for teammates using the Move Controller--they're also the only major one. FIFA 13 is mostly a collection of subtle tweaks and ideas that, while an improvement, aren't all that essential, particularly for casual players. And there's no getting away from the fact that PES has made serious strides in its gameplay this year, offering up a very credible alternative to EA's footballing juggernaut. But until PES can get the rest of its act together, FIFA Soccer 13 remains the best football game on the market--beautifully presented, in-depth, and a hell of a lot of fun.'