The initial reactions Career Mode’s new features were a mix of jubilation and pure excitement, which is a state of mind rarely experienced amongst the CM hardcore since the death of the much maligned Manager Mode. Starting again was EA’s only option all those years ago and finally in FIFA 13, Career Mode is starting to warrant it’s devout following.
The biggest changes on the face of the initial announcements were International Management and Europe First Season, both of which were at the top of every Career Mode wish list ever written. So having them as a part of the modes fabric is a real step forward even if they aren’t necessarily ground breaking features individually. What these features do though is add depth and choices to sculpt your managerial career in any way you wish. Some would argue they’re a few years too late but it’s a case of better late than never as far as I’m concerned.
So with these new managerial paths to conquer Europe and the International scene it’s a shame that one of my favourite Career Mode options has dropped off, the ability to add your Virtual Pro to the team you’re managing. EA will of course argue that, that’s what the Player portion of the game is for, but I always enjoyed developing my VP whilst having complete control over the clubs interests so it’s a real shame to lose it, seemingly unnecessarily.
The much criticised Career Mode transfers have also seen a stark overhaul and the wild fantasy of last year’s market has now been calmed to more realistic flow. There are only a few huge moves per window and plenty of opportunities for a bargain if you wish to seek them out. Base transfer values do seem a bit low across the board but generally speaking you need to pay more than the asking price to get your man anyway. The Transfer Leniency settings at start-up are an excellent addition too and are another fine example of EA exerting realism on Career Mode.
The Transfer Negotiations are also improved and the new UI makes evaluating offers and assessing player abilities a much easier task and it’s great to see the community most wanted player plus cash, player trade and counter offer options finally making the cut. They work well too and the outcomes from trade deals are more than plausible from what I’ve seen, although an indication from the opposing club about the type of player they’re looking for as part of a trade would be a nice addition.
The player negotiations feel more fleshed out too and I’m a big fan of the Player Role options which I’ve used to bring in some decent players solely of the promise of first team football. The Chief Exec advice is another nice touch but it’s a little one dimensional as it only really offers insight in to transfer values. Some more depth around the player’s demands would be great here, like a certain position they want to play in or a length of contract they’re after.
The real star though is the under hyped changes to the Player Stories engine which was an interesting but slightly flawed addition to FIFA 12. Now stories emanating from the players and the press knit together more neatly and Career Mode is more than capable of dropping a media bombshell on you months after decisions you’ve made. Career Mode feels more intelligent now and it reacts to your decisions with alarming realism at times. Some of the stories are a little mundane perhaps but these blend nicely with the Sky Sports style “breaking news” which takes over your screen on a regular basis.
My only issue really is that Career Mode feels like it’s in “Read Only” mode this year. You take in all the stories and you even create some of them yourself but your actual ability to respond to players or the media is cut off at that point. If a player tells me he’s thinking of retiring, I want to be able to persuade him to play on for another year and if the media say I’m “destined for a relegation battle” then why can’t I respond in the press with a rally cry for the fans and my squad? It’s the next logical step for Career Mode in terms of interaction and it could propel an already engaging Player Story system in to utter stardom.
The Player part of Career Mode has seen many welcome updates too and the short term and season objectives have finally added purpose to individual careers. It needs to go a step further so that real time feedback is delivered by the manager in-game, but we’re now on the right track at least. The ability to request loans and transfers is a breath of fresh air opening up a whole world of freedom we were previously denied. Sadly it’s the AI of your team mates which again proves to be the biggest stumbling block to an enjoyable single player CM because unless you’re at the heart of every move, it’s painful to watch your team mates bumble from tackle to tackle. I’ll elaborate on this in a second…
From a features perspective Career Mode is a massive step-up for FIFA 13 and it’s one the team deserve an immense amount of credit for. Accumulated fatigue is much better, player development has improved and so many community issues have been neatly tied off along with ground-breaking additions like the live score, injury and results updates. But, and it’s a massive BUT, Career Mode is still suffering badly with issues that aren’t all of its own doing.
The first is Team Management. We’ve had the same squad and formation system in FIFA for years and it’s proving hard to stomach in yet another title. Whilst the rest of the game has moved forward Team Management is still stuck in FIFA 07 and for Career Mode it’s horrendously limiting to your managerial options. Creating a custom formation is tiresome, building working team tactics almost impossible and it’s all made worse by one of the most unintuitive control schemes I’ve ever had the displeasure of using. This is of course a fault with FIFA 13 as a whole but the place where it causes the most damage is in Career Mode where tactics and squad management are critical. I banged this drum a lot last year, and I’ll continue to do so whilst it continues to damage my favourite game mode so badly.
The second is down to the gameplay AI which although more palatable this year overall still lacks a critical layer of team style to make Career Mode seasons feel interesting and varied. FIFA has a huge database of licenced teams which span the globe and it’s fantastic, but when every team plays within the same rigid framework it makes Career Mode drag badly at the multi-season point. There are subtle differences to be found, don’t get me wrong but subtle doesn’t cut it with the volume of games that fifteen CM seasons commands. EA need to be careful to avoid the Stoke City cliché but they have to do something to get teams playing in different ways and posing different challenges to us as managers. Tactical Depth is the key going forward for FIFA’s AI and Team Management systems and sadly they feel more like a toe-dip in the ocean in their current guise.
After being the black sheep of the family for so many years, it’s safe to say that Career Mode has finally turned the corner and at last has a bright and exciting future ahead of it. What the team have achieved this year in terms of features and options is just outstanding and their appetite to listen to the community has proved to be second to none once again.
Certain areas of CM are starting to tire though, Team Management of course and the user interface which moving in to its third year probably needs a revamp to bring a fresh perspective on next year’s iteration. It’s clear that a closer relationship with gameplay needs to be fostered too and a revamp of Custom Tactics to bring team individuality to Career Mode would be one of the biggest changes in its history.
Without a doubt, this is the best year to be a Career Mode player and under the stewardship of Santi and his team, I can’t wait to see where they take our managerial careers next.