FIFA 13 shines on the pitch despite some annoyances

The year’s most anticipated sports title is here. FIFA 13 arrived on Indian shores the night of September 27, to much fanfare. In fact, one of the country's leading game retail chains, Game4u had a midnight launch which simultaneously occurred across several of their outlets — in Mumbai, Gurgaon, Ludhiana and Jalandhar. India was excited. The world was excited. But does FIFA 13 live up to everyone's unreasonable expectations? Or has it been caught hopelessly offside?

To everyone's delight (other than Manchester United fans, presumably), Wayne Rooney has been replaced as the cover star by (arguably) the greatest footballer that ever lived — Lionel Messi. Joining him are a host of new features and tweaks to existing game modes as well as the odd bell and whistle. First, you'll be able to manage international sides in the game's career mode, while the club transfer system has been tweaked allowing counter-offers as well as trading players in addition to cash. ‘Ultimate Team' now has a career mode built into it, while the now-enhanced ‘Live Fixtures' feature sports an official ESPN scoreboard. FIFA 13 is a licensing triumph, adding more international teams, clubs, players, as well as a couple of new stadiums, including Tottenham Hotspurs' home ground, White Hart Lane.

There are three new ‘core’ gameplay features as well: First-Touch Control, Attacking Intelligence and Complete Dribbling. First-Touch Control ensures that not all players are able to trap the ball with the same level of skill. A player's ball control attribute, quality and angle of the pass, as well as defensive pressure, determine the success of the player's first touch. The mechanic also allows you to perform audacious turns and cheeky nutmegs to effectively embarrass defenders. But if you're the sort of player who holds down the ‘sprint’ button perpetually, or thump the ball forward to your wingers religiously, expect less-than-satisfactory results. Attacking Intelligence, on the other hand, gives your players a brain. They will now make runs into the box without your prompting them to do so, attempt to drag defenders out of position, move into space as well as set themselves up to play triangles. This works well for the most part, but it's ludicrous how often your full-backs and centre-halves find themselves in the opposition’s six-yard box, leaving other, less defensively-suited players hopelessly outmatched in your own half when a break occurs. Finally, there's Complete Dribbling, which allows for more control while having the ball at a skilled player's feet. This works as advertised, in the sense that you can actually feel more in control of the ball when Messi, for instance, has the ball, and far less so when you decide to have a bit of a dribble with your goalkeeper. A lot of the dribbling, first touch and overall gameplay benefit greatly from newly added player animations. In addition to these core features, minor refinements such as better ‘quick’ free kicks and throws, improvements to the collision engine, keeper AI and ‘Tactical’ defending system do make the game feel more polished. To summarise, FIFA 13's new features are great, adding an additional layer of depth to the gameplay, while rewarding skill in the game's various mechanics. Well played, EA Canada, but we really want some other stuff fixed as well.

The interface, for one, is a cluttered mess of un-navigable menus completely unfriendly to a newcomer to the series. Add to that, nightmarish loading times, ridiculously slow simulation engine during tournaments (on the PS3, specifically) and strange difficulty spikes, (even in easier settings) all of which are sure to put off new players. I criticised the fact that Swansea was harder to beat than Manchester United in last year's version. FIFA 13 tops even that by making Peterborough infinitely harder to beat than Barcelona under certain circumstances determined by the game engine. And despite its improvements, the player collision engine still has a long way to go (the referee still ignores most ‘off the ball' fouls), while the ‘advantage play' system needs tweaking as well.

While their intentions were good, EA Canada seems to have crammed too much content into the FIFA 13 package. This seems to have adversely affected its usability. EA Canada also seems to have hand-picked certain features and tweaked those while ignoring seemingly glaring faults in other areas of the game. All of this doesn't mean that FIFA 13 isn't the best FIFA game yet, because in terms of on-the-pitch performance, it is. There's room for improvement, of course — the issues are sure to be fixed over a period of time (say, by FIFA 16). But for the moment, we can all gladly purchase millions of copies of FIFA 13 for all platforms.