FIFA 13: Blurring the boundaries
September is a strange time of year. Once the furore of the transfer window is out of the way and the English Premier League is once again in full swing, we are left with a hole to fill. Lucky then, that the brains in charge at EA Sports have been busying themselves making the new version of the world's best football game: FIFA 13.
Each year we are inundated with new features which, of course, take some getting used to. Last year it was 'Tactical Defending' and if you have managed to stick with it then this year you will reap the rewards. It is clear from the outset that FIFA 13 is designed to help, in part, even the balance between attack and defence.
If your defenders felt hard done by in FIFA 12, then efforts have been made to level the playing field with the introduction of a new 'first-touch' system that ensures attacking players are not always 100% perfect themselves and are often prone to the kind of error on display most evidently by Gervinho against Man City last weekend, but also up and down the country every day.
Dribbling has also had a makeover and ensures that, while you can maintain closer control of the ball, it is also harder to use in conjunction with sprinting and requires a few hours of practice before you can start skipping past your man with ease. Shooting and crossing though, based on the need for pinpoint accuracy from the 360 degree controls, can take some getting used to.
To help out in some way, the AI has been improved and sees your team-mates make smarter runs that allows them to stay onside more often and makes the game more fluid. But then that is also nicely balanced by the fact there is more physicality involved and results in a realistic battle on the pitch, rather than the sometimes clunky collisions that would occur in FIFA 12.
Outside of the gameplay, there are some nice touches as well. The EA Sports Football Club section is a virtual treasure trove which sees you build XP points and spend them on classic kits, new goal celebrations, licensed boots and such-like. It really does feel like something akin to Call of Duty or another title from another genre; football was never meant to be like this, but it is now.
The best new feature is the updating of squads and players into 'real-time' form. So if Lukas Podolski has had a great weekend and bagged a hat-trick, he'll get a points boost too. The only issue may be how quickly it takes Lionel Messi (now, of course, the frontman for the FIFA brand) to get to 100. Still, it's another blurring of the boundary between game and reality and one which continues to give it an edge on its rivals.
Even the boredom of loading screens is now gone, as FIFA 13 comes with a new skill games mode which will allow you to build and hone all the skills you need while you are waiting for something to load up - they are given various levels and the hardest one will require you to hit the crossbar eight times in a row, which is no easy task.
While the graphics, sound and menus have all been given a touch-up there is little real innovation, but then there was little need to. In FIFA 13, it has been about honing the product that many found to be enjoyably frustrating this time last year. Once again, they have succeeded.