The beautiful game can't get much more beautiful than it already is in EA Sports' gorgeously appointed marquee football series, and the way it played 12 months ago wasn't too shabby either. But despite the potential for the game to stagnate this year as the console generation drags on and only minor refinements are possible, FIFA 13 proves that there are plenty of avenues left for the biggest annual sports franchise on the planet left to explore.
On the pitch, new features are more like tweaks to the formula than headline changes, but they are welcome ones. First Touch Control means that even the best players won't always bring the ball to heel in exactly the same way - now it has much more to do with their individual stats and the way they receive the ball, so someone like Ronaldo can stop a buzzing knee-high aerial pass dead pretty much all the time, but heaven help Gary Cahill if he receives anything wayward or complicated while it's raining and he's jogging backwards after a sprint.
Elsewhere players now provide more supporting runs, and there's a new close-control system that's a bit like FIFA Street, so holding both triggers down allows you to put your foot on the ball and hold defenders off while you wait for someone to dash into space. Along with last year's updates like Tactical Defending, Precision Dribbling and the Impact Engine, it makes for a fast-paced, intense football simulation that captures almost every aspect of the sport. Whether you like zipping passes around with the best teams in the world or slogging through a league season with Bristol Rovers, you should be well catered for.
A Game of Two Halves
Off the pitch, EA has been extremely busy. The optional Match Day Experience means that squads are updated weekly to account for changes in form while commentators allude to big-money transfer dealings or injury problems. You can also take part in the Game of the Week - a dazzling or controversial encounter like QPR vs. Chelsea from the other weekend - and there are numerous other nods to the Sky Sports style of modern football presenting, like touchline reports from Geoff Shreeves, Alan McInally phoning in results from games happening in parallel, and even classified results being read out after a round of matches in Career mode.
There are new modes, too, like Skill Games - a fantastic collection of mini-games based around particular disciplines like passing, shooting and dribbling. If you like the idea of weaving through cones, beating a defender and scoring - all against the clock, with online leaderboards - then you'll be in heaven. And there's a new Catalogue in EA Sports Football Club where you can spend XP on new boots, Pro player skill boosts, bonus celebrations and other trinkets.
More traditional areas like Ultimate Team and Pro Clubs have also seen some work. The latter benefits from a new seasons-based approach, while Ultimate Team has a brand new interface, online and single-player tournaments, and tweaks that make things like fitness more of a factor, which increases the value of consumable items. It should still be easy to lose countless hours to this side of the game, buying up packs of in-game Ultimate Team cards and tweaking your line-up for best chemistry and performance for hours and hours, keeping one eye on the auction house.
Whether that's your passion or you prefer Career, Live Seasons, or just playing local multiplayer with your friends, FIFA 13 is the complete package. It's the most fully featured, consistently high-quality and entertaining game EA Sports has ever put out, and it's hard to see what else they can do to tweak the formula. Then again, we said that last year, and here we are. Perhaps the beautiful game will get even more beautiful by the time FIFA 14 rolls around after all.
- New Skill Games mode is horribly addictive.
- Action on the pitch is faultless, with some clever tweaks.
- Easy to lose a lifetime to playing Ultimate Team.
- Evolution rather than revolution on the pitch.
- Menus are still a bit sluggish.
- Co-commentary from Alan Smith is still quite bland.