I hope you weren’t hoping for any drastic changes.
After FIFA 12’s dramatic revamp of the series, the 2013 demo seems like FIFA 12¾. That is not a bad thing, mind you, considering that 12 did plenty of things right, and managed to incorporate three new and big features without suffering from any game-killing, first-year mistakes. Judging from the demo, FIFA 13 adds a layer of polish on the features that 12 brought, and it does so successfully.
Before we get to the actual impressions, can I once again make clear my disdain at the short lengths of the games? We got five minutes for PES and now six for this FIFA demo. If these demo impressions generally sound a little conservative, that’s because I really, really don’t want to leap to conclusions about a game’s engine over games of three minute halves. Having said that, here they are anyway.
First of all, the beautiful game is still beautiful. Everything on the pitch looks stunning, from the crisp colors to the smooth animations. There’s action on the sidelines too, as we can now see players warming up. The only drawback is the crowd, who look like they were lifted right from the late 80s arcade days of Street Fighter. Behind the mic, Martin Tyler and Alan Smith return to the booth again, and hello, Geoff Shreeves! Liverpool fans may recognize him as the reporter who goaded Kenny Dalglish into bursting a vein or two, and in FIFA 13 he’ll be around to do some sideline injury reporting. All in all, it’s the same slick stuff (save for the close-ups of the crowds) we’re used to getting from the franchise.
As for gameplay, first of all, it’s quicker. Anybody who found last year’s slower, more deliberate pace are well advised to set game speed to slow, and lower a few speed related sliders until you’re satisfied.
The improved player intelligence means that on offense, off-the-ball players look to make clever runs, instead of running just for the sake of it. I’ve seen more instances of them using the channels, dropping deep into the hole, and curving their runs behind the backline than in FIFA 12. The player movement really makes a difference and offers you more passing options than before. If you liked crafting an attack in FIFA 12, you’re going to love doing so in FIFA 13.
The new first touch system is another great addition. Depending on a player’s technical ability and the power the pass was hit with, it is now possible that he won’t be able to trap the ball cleanly. This adds a much-needed touch of unpredictability (in a good way, as it places the onus on you to pay more attention to your passes), and in fact, I would like to see its effects ramped up just a touch more to really highlight the difference between, say, a Messi and a Carroll.
The only new addition that is a bit of hit and miss is the new dribbling controls. It is beneficial, not to mention realisitic, that we are now able to dribble sideways while facing the goal -- especially helpful when you're sizing up a defender down the wing before making your move-- but the fact that it is contextual (read: automatic) can sometimes lead to awkward moments where a player is “crabwalking” for no reason. However, this is more of a cosmetic issue than it is a gameplay one, and it doesn’t affect things much in practical sense.
For those concerned about the lack of CPU fouls, rest assured, I’ve seen plenty in the demo -- well, as many as you should see in a three minute half, anyway. The referees are smart with their advantages, and for the most part the cardings are pretty sensible. I’ve been given a fair share of yellows for not just cynical tackles, but even tugs.
However, there are still a few gameplay things that can be improved upon. Several of the complaints from last year’s game look to have remained, with the biggest issue being the AI defending — they’re still a touch too passive. In situations where they should be snapping into tackles, a lot of times your AI teammates decide to stay behind the ball. The same thing happens on the other end too, where sometimes the CPU defender also tends to play too conservatively. To be fair, tweaking the sliders do help the AI pressure more, to a certain extent, but why these options are in the sliders menu and not the tactics one is beyond me.
While player individuality looks to be more pronounced — it’s not totally there yet, but I’ve at least seen Pirlo spray balls around the pitch — there’s still not enough tactical variation to distinguish between the teams. I have a theory, though it’s one that’s solely based on my own experience from playing FIFA 12 and 13: it’s not that the CPU is incapable of attacking in different ways, it’s that, since the defenders are inherently too conservative to force the issue, there’s no need for the CPU to take an alternate route or even slow down. However, again, there is the danger of reading into this too much as all the teams in the demo do tend to play the ball on the ground—if I see Stoke playing like this in the full game, then it’s a definite problem.
All in all, FIFA 13 looks like it has built upon the things that made FIFA 12 so successful and enjoyable. The good — the dribbling, passing, presentation elements — has gotten better. On the other hand, unfortunately, a few things that have sometimes made 12 frustrating to play — passive AI defenders, lack of CPU attacking variety — look to have remained. Ultimately, despite the flaws, it still shaping up to be an impressive game, especially on the attacking side of things. The bottom line is that if you liked the careful, measured, style that FIFA 12 brought to the table, FIFA 13 is going to be day-one purchase for you.