The FIFA series is by far EA's flagship product. It has a huge fan base and the game seems to go from strength to strength each year - mostly uncontested. This year however, the re-emergence of PES has started to ask serious questions of FIFA and whether its success can withstand the presence of a very much improved PES 13.
It seems that the answer from EA Canada is a very positive one. FIFA 13 has come out this year swinging and produced a game that has some very good enhancements and some very cool new features. It almost seems impossible considering the improvements we saw with FIFA 12.
I have to say that in the lead up to the release of FIFA 13 I had been playing more and more FIFA 12 in an attempt to remind myself of the areas that I thought needed improving and hoped to see as part of FIFA 13. Honestly the list was short.
The minute you start playing FIFA 13 you immediately see some of the new stuff. The most impressive is the inclusion of the new Skill Games section which is essentially a series of mini-games that you can use to hone your skills or simply play as a distraction from the main matches.
The Skill Games can be accessed directly through the main menu structure and you can pick and choose the type of game to play or just run through a series of games randomized for you. There is quite a lot of variety in the games offered and they range from simple skill moves where you need to navigate through cones or obstacles in the shortest time possible, right down to shooting or passing challenges that require you to think on your feet and accomplish certain targets and goals to progress.
FIFA 13 will award points for your efforts and record your high scores to allow you try and improve at a later time. These games are hugely addictive and you can spend many hours playing through them without even touching a regular FIFA match. This highlights the depth that FIFA games have evolved to.
The skill games are also accessible during the loading phase of regular matches. As you wait for the game to begin you are presented with random skill games to keep you occupied. A brilliant touch.
It looks like EA have introduced the Skill Games into FIFA as an answer to the many soccer based games that have appeared on mobile devices and tablets etc. These games are very popular and EA does a great job integrating this with their excellent FIFA engine to provide the best of both worlds.
The main updates that we saw in FIFA 12, namely Tactical Defending and the new Impact Engine, have been retained and really only a slight change to the way the impact engine works being the only difference. FIFA 13 reduced the amount of silly collisions that seemed to appear in last year's game. So hopefully those comical pile-ups are a thing of the past.
The main update this year that affects gameplay is the introduction of a more complex first touch control system. In previous FIFA games players would almost instantly gain control of the ball once it came to them. Now the ball reacts differently based on the players first touch stats and also on the situation in which the player receives the ball.
So if a player has his back to the ball as it approaches him, there is a good chance that his first touch will be poor and the ball may get away from him a little - allowing for a defender to take advantage. This subtle change makes you think differently about how you attack. You need to focus more on what the ball is doing rather than expect instant control.
Now this takes bit of getting used to and I expect your first few games may feel a little like pinball as the ball simply bounces from player to player. But as you understand the mechanics you'll start to incorporate it into how you play and it really adds to the fluidity and feel of the game.
FIFA 13 brings two other main changes within the game. There is added support for your attacks as your team mates are more willing to get into forward positions to help you out when you break-away. This provides more options as you rein in on goal and almost eliminates the isolated feeling of FIFA 12.
A more effective dribbling system has been introduced that allows you more control when in possession of the ball. This is a trade off with the introduction of the first touch mechanics but you ned to master both to use it effectively.
The ability to take quick free kicks and throw-ins is another subtle addition that again allows for increased fluidity within the game.
A new feature called Game of the Week is awesome. You are able to relive an actual game from the previous Premier League week, with actual team formations and line-ups. You even get in game reports of other scores around the league while you are playing. The game of the week is preselected though so you don't get a choice.
Career Mode, Ultimate Team and the EA Sports Football Club are again included and enhanced slightly to give a more realistic and fluid experience and these can be played online or offline to meet most player's needs.
As FIFA releases go this has got to be one of the best in recent years. The Skill Games are brilliant and the changes to the match gameplay really help to sell the game as a football simulation. Although PES 13 is closing the gap it really does have a long way to go before it is considered a real contender.