FIFA Soccer 13|
How I love September. It’s a great time for any sports game fan. In the space of a month, most all the major sports games from EA hit the shelves. The latest being my favorites, NHL and FIFA. Thankfully, these two games and MLB The Show are probably the closest to the real sports, and year after year they leapfrog each other as my favorite sports game of the year. FIFA (and NHL) were not the best games on the block a few years ago. Konami and 2K provided some great competition with Pro Evo and NHL2K. Then EA threw a whole lot of money at both games, poaching staff from their competitors and basically out investing everyone. 2K was finally vanquished entirely from the NHL landscape, but Konami is still plugging along with a diehard following even when most reviewers have been won over to FIFA. I am certainly in the FIFA camp, though Pro Evo is making a strong comeback. It’s great to have competition for my favorite sport!
FIFA 12 was an outstanding game, so I couldn’t wait to see FIFA 13. They continue to throw everything into this game and the awards keep piling up. EA did not disappoint this year; FIFA 13 is an amazing achievement and a ‘must buy’ for every FIFA fan. The improvements this year are too significant to pass up. The main gameplay improvement is “first touch control”. Usually when I hear about game companies monkeying with their already good A.I., I roll my eyes and expect the worst. But FIFA 13 is a marked improvement.
Last year FIFA 12 had almost a ‘mechanical’ feel to the play – you could have near perfect control over every player. The passes were precise and players generally had the ball perfectly at their feet. In FIFA 13 they implemented a new system where bad passes are more difficult to control, giving defenders a better chance to pick up a loose ball. Other factors like defensive pressure, velocity and trajectory of the ball factor in to the player being able to control it. While this sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen, I was pleasantly surprised to find it had the opposite effect. It felt a lot more real. It feels a lot more natural. Even just watching a game looks a lot closer to the real thing.
Adding to the realistic physics are some new tweaks to the player impact engine. Physical play has been extended to give defenders more ways to win back the ball. Of course you can’t just run through guys like you did a few years ago. Now you can push and pull to gain possession or just use your weight to knock guys off the ball. A new addition to FIFA 13 is the return of “skill games”. They had these types of games on the PSP for a few years and they proved to be more addictive than playing the actual game. FIFA 13’s skill games are even more addictive but you get rewarded for your skills. There are 32 mini-games to choose from to help you become a better player. You can select the skill games from the menu but they also come up while your regular game loads. The skill games include ground passing, lob passing, dribbling, shooting, advanced shooting (chipping the keeper), crossing, free kicks, and penalties. Lob passing I found to be particularly addictive. It’s similar to skee-ball where you chip the soccer ball into barrels on the field. You get points for accuracy and level up through bronze, silver, and gold. The skill games are so addictive I had some friends over to play FIFA 13 and we ended up competing in skill games instead of playing the game.
FIFA 13 is much more reliant on an Xbox Live internet connection than previous versions. Many of the new features such as Live Fixtures require an internet connect so the game can get the latest real life league standings, stats and stories for your team. EA Sports Football Club is another area that requires internet. With EA Sports Football Club you can play out live challenges based on real-world soccer events. You can earn rewards to unlock items and build your team as you go up level after level. EASFC Match Day feeds real-world headlines into the game. So events such as Wayne Rooney’s leg injury, Terry’s suspension, or 41 year old Brad Friedel thinking about retirement shows up in the news feed. Teams ratings are reflected with each weekly update – including the absence of players called up for international duty. This is the perfect addition for anyone who likes to simulate games before the real world game takes place. Another really cool thing is the real-world news and gossip is reflected in the game commentary.
The commentary just gets better every year. This year once again for the English commentary we get the always excellent Martin Tyler and Alan Smith with an alternate duo of Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend. French commentary is provided by Herve Mathoux and Frank Sauzee and Mexican Spanish by Marko Kempes and Fernando Palomo. The EA audio team has really captured the game beyond anything we’ve heard before on any console. Not only is the commentary excellent, the stadium sounds are spot on with announcers and fans providing authentic, well mostly authentic.
The creative naughty bits that you hear on many EPL broadcasts are of course not included. However the EA FIFA audio team has provided a great way for any fan from MLS’s Seattle Sounders to EPL’s Manchester City to add their own chant and music in the “Customize FIFA” menu. I must say it is hilarious to hear the City fans authentically giving United fans the stick they deserve with a chant to the tune of “This Old Man”:
That spells (lots of) debt to me,
with a knick knack paddywhack, give a dog a bone,
Ocean Finance on the phone.”
FIFA 13 again shows Konami how to do a soccer game by including a whopping 30 licensed leagues, 500 officially licensed clubs, and more than 15,000 players. That’s more than all the other EA Sports games combined! The leagues include: Australia’s A-League, Austria’s A. Budesliga, Belgium’s Pro League, Brazil’s Liga do Brasil, Demark’s Superliga, England’s Barclays Premiere League, npower Championship, npower League 1 & 2, France’s Ligue 1 & 2, Germany’s Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, Italy’s Serie A & B, Korea Republic’s K-League, Mexico’s Liga MX, Netherlands Eredivisie, Norway’s Tippeligaen, Poland’s Polska Liga, Portugal’s Liga Portuguesa, Republic of Ireland’s Airtricity League, Russia’s Russian League, Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Pro League, Scotland’s SPL, Spain’s Liga BBVA and Liga Adelante, Sweden’s Allsvenskan, Switerland’s Raiffelsen SL, and USA’s Major League Soccer. The “Rest of the World” includes AEK Athens, Boca Juniors, Galatasaray SK, Kaizer Chiefs, MLS All-Stars, Olympiakos CFP, Orlando Pirates, Panathinaikos, PAOK, Racing Club, Rangers, River Plate, and FIFA’s Classic XI (including Beckenbauer, Zico, Cantona, Shearer, and quite a few other stars). Shocking as it may sound, in a World Cup qualifying year the international teams only include 48 teams. Even more shocking is this game was made at EA Sports’ campus in Vancouver and they didn’t include the Canadian national team – quite possibly their best team since Carl Valentine was playing in the ‘80’s. But if you don’t see the team or player you like, you can easily get creative with the online web app called Creation Centre.
Creation Centre is a “web app” on EASports.com. It and several other apps are where some of the real brilliance in FIFA 13 can be found. Once you set up your account on Origin and link it to your console, you could spend hour’s just making players, teams, and tournaments for FIFA. The benefit to EA using their own servers is anything you create is downloadable on Xbox 360 or PS3. Once you get on the EA Sports website you can create a game face by uploading some photos of yourself – which makes a really good (and a little creepy) likeness of yourself for career mode. There is also the Ultimate Team hub, FIFA Clubs, an area to upload your FIFA video clips, and the Creation Centre.
Creation Centre continues to push the boundaries of creativity (and copyright license) by allowing FIFA players to create their own players, teams, and tournaments (or leagues). This is all done through internet browser on a PC. Just for fun I decided to make the 24 team North American Soccer League from 1979 (the peak of its popularity). The amount of control you have over everything is amazing. You can pick everything from the color of socks to stadiums. But in my quest to make the teams of the NASL, I found some limitations – at least for the moment. The number of teams, players and tournaments you create is capped until you buy add-on DLC’s from the Xbox Live store to increase your capabilities. It’s a viable way to make money off of the people who really use this creation centre app I guess, but it was frustrating to me. The tournaments are limited to 24 teams – just the right number for the NASL. However I was also limited to creating 100 players. That’s no good.
But there is a way to curb some of the cost of building your dream teams. EA sells a package called “Season Ticket”. Basically for $25 you get a year of benefits for several EA Sports games including NHL, FIFA, NCAA, Tiger Woods and Madden. You get to download and play the full game 3 days before it’s released to the general public, then you buy the game on release day and get 24 Gold Premium Packs (1 a week) plus 20% off any future FIFA 13 DLC’s and card packs. That’s over $30 worth of value just for FIFA. Plus you get the same benefits for NHL, NCAA , Madden, and Tiger Woods. All for $25. It’s a great deal for anyone else who is addicted to Ultimate Team and the Creation Centre – especially if you were going to spend money on DLC’s and card packs anyway.
As they did last year, EA will soon be coming out with DLC’s to increase your capabilities in Creation Centre. Costs are unknown at this time, but last year they were just a few dollars to add a lot of fun… and don’t forget, if you buy the Season Ticket you’ll get 20% off all downloads so it quickly pays for itself. EA’s money making innovations have extended to Xbox Live online play just as last year. If you borrowed or bought FIFA 13 used, chances are the online code for free access has been used. So you’ll be forking over 800 Microsoft Points (about $10) to get online access. Unfortunately with FIFA 13 you will need to be online given how integrated the game is with internet apps. Most people love Xbox Live so this really isn’t an issue, but I know a few people without internet access in their homes that will be missing out on a significant portion of FIFA 13.
Ultimate Team returns this year and it is even more addictive. Ultimate team is basically a trading card based game where you earn, buy, trade, and bid for coveted players to build teams for your club. You create and manage multiple squads based on your goals – some tournaments require a team of “bronze” level players, while others are based on leagues or nationality. The wonderfully addictive portion of Ultimate Team is in the acquisition of players. It’s basically an eBay style auction system where you earn FIFA Points and coins and use them as virtual cash to buy everything from players to healing cards. It’s very easy to drop a whole lot of Microsoft Points buying coins to get your favorite players. You can buy card packs, but with thousands of players available the chances of getting your favorite is slim. Again, trading in Microsoft Points for FIFA points/coins can add up quickly so EA’s Season Ticket is a real deal.
As if you needed another ‘fix’ for your FIFA addiction, EA has come out with the EA Football Club app for iPhone. It links up with your Origin account to show you information about your EA Football Club status (tasks you’ve accomplished) and more importantly your Ultimate Team auctions. You can trade players and bid on auctions right from your iPhone. Searching for a deal on your favorite player or specific gold card level players to round out your ultimate team is just plain fun.
Graphically, FIFA 13 is again top notch. The rainy England weather is shown in all it’s glory and the players jerseys even cling to their owners. Every year it is stunning to see the detail that EA puts in FIFA. ESPN is part of FIFA 13 but not anywhere near the level of NCAA Football. ESPN is basically relegated to game menus with just a text indication not the actual logo. It would be nice to see more integration but FIFA 13 is a global game and leagues like the EPL are global as well. Different TV outlets carry games with different announcers so showing ESPN’s talent with a Fox Soccer Channel or Sky Sports logo would never go over well. So we are stuck with the EA Sports generic brand.
FIFA 13’s Kinect support is probably the first sports game that I’ve played where it’s actually useful. Just by using verbal commands during a game you can accomplish a long list of tasks. Everything from yelling at a teammate to shoot during “be a pro” mode, to yelling for a through-ball is all natural to playing a real soccer game. You can even call out for formation changes or verbally control any of the camera views available in the game. This brings us to the really amazing aspect of FIFA 13; the combination of Kinect and the “Be a Pro” mode (where you only play one position) is the perfect tool to teach kids certain aspects of soccer that could take months or even years for them to get under normal circumstances. My nephew learned several positions just by playing FIFA. He is playing the real game at a higher level of understanding than his peers. The addition of Kinect can help kids be more assertive in their play by yelling for a pass, drop, or through ball. It can even help them understand what doesn’t work. This is a fantastic and fun teaching tool and a great way for parents to spend time with their kids.
Be A Pro mode hasn’t changed much from last year, but it didn’t need to. Playing online with 21 other players can be a real treat – if you are with people who play their positions. Playing offline can also be fun by creating your own persona with the Game Face app online. It’s a real thrill seeing Rooney passing you the ball for a great goal and celebrating together with the rest of the stars you see every week.
Career mode now includes international teams so you can play or manage your countries team. EA also tweaked the transfer logic so your player market value will be more accurate. The addition of mid-season manager firings takes the realism up a notch. FIFA 13 has the drama of the real game – accept the WAGs… we might need a GTA style game to include them. You can also unlock new features in the EA Sports Football Club catalog that will help you succeed.
It is a rare and wonderful thing when I have a difficult time finding something to complain about in a game. FIFA 13 has so much right, I almost feel embarrassed to critique it. Alas, my one complaint, my only legitimate complaint, is the complete lack of female players in FIFA 13. I’ve said this repeatedly over the years and EA has done nothing to represent the millions of female players in the world. The market has increased greatly the past few years. Not only are most countries fielding a women’s national team, but many men’s clubs in Europe have women’s teams as well. Add those to the hundreds of clubs and college teams and there is a huge untapped market.
Thankfully, several websites have run interviews with FIFA developers that mention women’s teams are being planned. Though it’s not clear if they will arrive as a DLC or we might have to wait until FIFA 14. The Women’s World Cup is right around the corner so it would be a great time to give them their due.
That said, FIFA 13 is not just the best soccer game, it is the best sports video game...EVER! The wealth of game modes from fun skill games to full online seasons is overwhelming. With 30 licensed leagues (500 teams and over 15,000 players) and a wealth of user created players, teams and tournaments in creation centre, players are assured of months of fun. FIFA is the soccer game I was hoping for when the Xbox 360 first hit the shelves. While it was a long wait to finally get this game, it was certainly worth it.