FIFA 12 was unanimously labelled “static” by us last year but there’s no way the same can be said of its replacement FIFA 13. The suite of Attacking Intelligence upgrades is probably as revolutionary an update we’ve seen in the last three years but the real beauty is the subtlety that EA have used when implementing the improved movement. It’s not forced down your neck, it’s not overzealous, it just happens and the runs players make feel natural, intelligent and organic.
It’s not just about expansive runs in behind either because some of the best runs are of the short, supporting kind, which open up a few yards of space to give you that extra option. In FIFA 12 you always had one, very obvious passing option but in FIFA 13 you’re going to have at least two or three different types of runs to hit going forward and these runs continue to evolve regardless of whether you engage the player or not.
The Two Plays Ahead system is very evident and having your players on the move before you even need to be aware of them changes everything. The best example I can give was an attack started by Ashley Cole deep in his own half near the corner flag. The ball was passed to the centre back and Cole was on his way. Five or six passes later the guy curving his run behind the back four on the far left edge of the area was Ashley Cole. No input from me what so ever, he knew the counter attack was on, he continued his run and ended up being the man to get the shot away.
The other really nice touch is the visual element of Attacking Intelligence as players will now gesture for the ball by asking for it to feet, or pointing that they want it played in front of them. The Curve to Stay Onside feature shows off this new animation set best as players very obviously try to hold their runs by opening up their body shape to stay in line with the last man.
FIFA 13’s general gameplay is so much more fluid now because of Attacking Intelligence and the extra space you can suddenly exploit because of curved runs really opens up the play all over the pitch. The most important thing the new system has improved though is the variety you now have in attack to create different types of scoring opportunities.
Room For Improvement
- I’d really like to see more instances of players moving towards the ball to become a passing option. We did see this a few times, but I’d love to see it more especially from forwards looking to hold the ball up.
Everyone’s biggest worry after the Attacking AI announcement was that FIFA’s at times shoddy defensive line would be torn to shreds by improvements made to player movement. I’m pleased to report that’s certainly not the case as the defence actually holds up really well and there are a few promising new behaviours which help combat Attacking AI and exploits of old.
The first is the addition of Lateral Contain and to be honest Contain in general, which now feel’s much freer compared to the “locked on” rigid system seen in FIFA 12. The reaction times from Contain have also been reduced which means Contain balances a lot better with the other defensive mechanics on offer. It’s now also very possible to dribble past defenders who are containing against you, more on that later.
What Lateral Contain does, as well as freeing up the entire system is provide you the ability to combat FIFA 12’s all-powerful one-two’s which left defenders for dead every single time. Now when you find yourself in a 2v1 situation you can continue to track the player with the ball, but also cut off the passing option by shifting your defender around to the side. You can also use this to shepherd attackers down the line or force them in side, depending where their strengths lie.
One thing we did notice is that the volume of offside decisions seems to have gone up considerably. Not because players are running offside more often than they used to, it’s just the accuracy of offside decisions are so pinpoint meaning players who appear to be level tend to be called off. David Rutter did mention this as being a problem so hopefully these minute margins will be softened somewhat.
The final defensive update of note, removes yet another old frustration this time with interceptions. In FIFA 12 the ball could pass by your defenders no more than a yard away and they’d make no attempt to intercept it what so ever. In FIFA 13 however a similar system to the auto-blocking of shots has been added which means players will actively try to intercept passes that come within a certain radius of them. This could result in them taking back possession entirely or simply getting a foot on the ball which deflects its path. It’s so simple, but it’s impact is huge and EA deserve immense credit for continuing to try and eradicate these well-known frustrations of the community.
Room For Improvement
- The defensive line still gets a little too messy, too easily for my liking and more focus from EA on how the back four operates defensively as a unit, has to be the next improvement on the agenda.
If Attacking AI is one of the best improvements added to FIFA in the last three years then it would be grossly unfair not to include Complete Dribble in that category. Dribbling on the move is a real joy in FIFA 13 and beating a man with just a drop of the shoulder or a shift of the ball from left to right is not only possible but for me, seemed the preferred method.
Overall dribbling has become a simpler affair as opposed to the many different dribble components of FIFA 12 which felt separate and disconnected. Now it’s all about normal left stick dribble, Complete Dribble (LT and RT) and Precision Dribble 2.0 (LB). These three elements all fuse together seamlessly now because of the animation work conducted for FIFA Street and as always, knowing where and when to use each element is the key to finding success.
Complete Dribble is my personal favourite though and it’s something I really enjoyed experimenting with in different areas of the pitch. The ability to maintain the direction your player is facing whilst moving diagonally not only feels and looks great but it’s also incredibly useful to set defenders up when taking them on, or to pass more effectively from dribbling runs as you’re player now naturally adopts a better body position.
Precision Dribble 2.0 still has the odd looking “turn on a six-pence” full body movement as part of its armoury (which I still don’t like) but it’s the new close control feature which is the real standout addition. Having the ability to drag the ball effortlessly from one foot to another makes tight encounters with defenders a lot more engaging and as you jink left and right the animations are just glorious at times. You’re still virtually stationary when using Precision 2.0, but that’s not really the point of it anymore, now that Complete Dribble has picked up the on-the-move facet of dribbling.
What Complete Dribble does more than anything is further enforce the defensive discipline started by Tactical Defending last year. If you go hurtling in to challenges in FIFA 13 you will be beaten and it won’t be by elaborate skill moves as intelligent dribbling is now the order of the day. When you pick the ball up in FIFA 13 with a skilful player and you start to run, you feel excited and that’s perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Complete Dribble.
Room For Improvement
- Whilst there was noticeable dribble individuality for the top, top players, across the board the closeness of dribble touches felt a little too similar. More work to widen the gap between poor and exemplary dribblers is needed.
First Touch Control
First Touch Control is the new feature I was probably most interested to try out at the play test and it represents another hugely positive step forward for FIFA’s gameplay. You don’t realise how ridiculously perfect FIFA 12’s control system is until you play FIFA 13 but the important point is that heavy touches feel warranted and not frustrating for the most part.
When you’re so used to perfect control it does take a while to adjust to First Touch Control and that’s a really important message to get across. We’ve been used to exemplary control for years in FIFA and removing that safety net as it turns out is a really bold move from EA. The benefits though are massive and the variety of a touch which moves just a yard away shouldn’t be understated. Even if you forget the tactical implications that First Touch Control forces on you, visually the game just looks a lot more like real football.
Tactically though you need to think a lot more about how you receive passes to try and calm any potentially heavy touches. If you just sprint full pelt on to every single pass you’re going to find your first touch is a tackle more often than not and that’s exactly how it should be depending on the context. You need to adapt the way you play FIFA to a more measured approach now that First Touch Control is there and for that alone we should all be thankful.
First Touch Control shouldn’t be seen solely about errors and negativity though because what you quickly realise is that some times a “heavy” touch which gets the ball out of your feet can actually be really beneficial. Even touches which show off the heaviest control the system has to offer can be great, because you might knock the ball past a defender in to open space, enabling you to use your natural momentum to get the jump on them. It’s a two way street and that balance felt very close to perfect for me.
One pleasing thing I noticed was that player stats most definitely have an impact on the way First Touch Control behaves. Firing the ball in to Ibrahimovich and watching him bring the ball instantly under his spell was a truly great thing, and overall Ibra did feel a cut above the players around him. That’s so important because the better players should be less susceptible to the effects of First Touch Control whilst still having that danger element, which is a really tough balancing act for EA to manage.
The one negative in this build was that there was the odd occasion when a simple pass would result in a touch that appeared too heavy for the context. It wasn’t degrading to the experience in any way but it did break the illusion when we saw something outlandish. It’s still early though and I’d expect this to be fine-tuned before release.
Room For Improvement
- The most important thing is that these minor oddities in First Touch Control are removed but the unpredictability must be maintained, a touch of extra consistency is all that’s needed.
To say that the Impact Engine is 100% fixed in FIFA 13 would probably be a step too far right now but, it’s much better than FIFA 12 and it’s very clear from the outset that an incredible amount of work has gone in to tidying up its well documented problems.
When players collide they do so in a much more realistic fashion and when multiple players tangle on the floor, these potentially awkward moments now sort themselves out with minimal fuss. There are still bone-crunching challenges to be seen, but their frequency and brash nature has been firmly tamed.
Push Pull has also seen a welcome update which means that jostling situations now have a definitive outcome one way or the other. In FIFA 12 players could run alongside one another pulling and pushing for an eternity, but nothing would actually happen. Now these contact situations resolve quickly and cleanly with either a defender stepping across to take the ball, or an attacker shrugging them off.
Another big positive was the increase we saw in True Injuries, which were an amazing but massively underused addition to FIFA 12. Normally you’d only get muscle injuries in the latter stages of extra time and you’d still need serious contact to instigate them. In FIFA 13 we saw multiple instances of players pulling up within the 90 minutes without a soul anywhere near them. The animations of True Injuries are just fantastic as well and I’m so pleased this impressive tech is now more prominent in the game.
We did still see some eyebrow raising moments with the Impact Engine, but nowhere near the volume or stupidity that were a common occurrence in FIFA 12. So there’s still a bit of work needed then, but overall EA have provided a good fix, it’a just not the “new” feature that was sold as part of this year’s announcement.
Room For Improvement
- Further refinement and tuning of the Impact Engine is needed to iron out what are the last remnants of last year’s mess.
There isn’t a great deal to say about Tactical Freekicks other than, they deliver everything that EA said they would in the press release. You can have multiple players over the ball, multiple dummies, multiple wall jumps, wall creeping, players charging and the adding and subtracting of players from the wall can be really useful. Exactly what it said on the tin.
However, the best new things about freekicks actually have nothing to do with Tactical Freekicks at all. I’m sure we’ve all experienced this frustration in FIFA 12 where you want to take a quick-freekick but the ball runs just too far away or a team mate gets in your way. In FIFA 13 if the ball does run too far from the kick taker, a team mate will now collect the ball and pass it to him, enabling the quick freekick to still take place. It’s totally seamless and totally brilliant at maintaining the match flow. I absolutely love improvements of this nature and this one is bloody excellent.
The same goes for quick throw-ins too which now appear to be bug free with no more dropping the ball, or stumbling idiotically present in this code. But again, if the ball does run too far away from the assigned throw-in position a team mate will collect it, pass the ball to the thrower enabling the game to carry on without delay. Brilliant.
Room For Improvement
- Tactical Freekicks deliver exactly what they said they would deliver but the actual process of shooting/crossing from a dead ball situation remains the same. Surely it’s time for something more engaging to take its place?
We played games against the CPU on Professional, World Class and Legendary and what quickly became apparent was that Professional and World Class felt very similar in terms of difficulty. We think this is down to the difficulties not being properly balanced yet but it was something we noticed all the same.
The positives were that the CPU now uses it’s possession a lot more directly rather than just keeping the ball without purpose like in FIFA 12. This gives the matches a better flow and minimises the frustration of feeling helpless whilst you watch the CPU’s aimless, yet untouchable build up play.
The improvements made to Attacking Intelligence also seem to help the CPU because as well as you having extra options, the CPU does as well. This means the CPU creates a wider variety of chances against you and because the intelligence of runs is better, the CPU ends up playing some really nice stuff at times. It’s a great example of how fundamental gameplay changes can impact other areas and Attacking AI has definitely improved the CPU without it ever intentionally being a CPU AI specific feature.
One concern we did have was with the CPU’s passing, particularly the speed and zip which they could knock the ball around with. We analysed the pass completion stats after every CPU match and they were always very similar to ours on semi/manual, but what we were unable to replicate with ease was the pace the CPU could inject to its passing.
To be honest, we’d need a lot more time playing against the CPU to provide any kind of definitive opinion but there are some glimmers of hope to hold on to. What’s probably more concerning is EA’s lack of detailed communication around CPU AI improvements at this stage.
Room For Improvement
- From this playtest the CPU’s passing needs either reigning in, or the top end pass speed we have at our disposal must go up to meet it. Passing can still feel a touch sluggish at times and just a minor increase to the top end speed would resolve it.
As “alpha” versions of FIFA go, FIFA 13 is probably the most polished I’ve ever played at such an early stage in the development cycle. Unlike previous year’s there’s nothing glaringly obvious which requires urgent attention and that can only be a good thing, as it will allow the team even more time to balance and fine-tune the existing gameplay elements.
That’s not to say FIFA 13 is perfect by any means because there are still big improvements needed to player inertia, foot planting and locomotion in general. But, against the brief that EA laid out in their FIFA 13 announcement, it’s really hard to criticise because beyond a few nips and tucks they’ve done a really good job of delivering what they said they would.
I really hope the bolder improvements to dribbling and first touch stay prominent though because there has been a tendency in the past for new features to become diluted by the time release code rolls around – Pro Passing anyone? But based on the work conducted so far I really can’t see that happening.
FIFA 13’s gameplay has made some really promising leaps forward in the area’s that mattered to the community most and as always the improvements EA don’t openly broadcast end up being some of the best. I really can’t wait to see how the gameplay has evolved again when I next get my hands on it – your move Career Mode.