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FIFA 13 Gameplay Impressions – Toms View

Turns out 13 isn’t an unlucky number.

Attacking AI

The best way I can think to sum up Attacking AI would be to quote Toby saying at the end of a match “I didn’t press LB once in that game”. It says a lot about the changes made to the attacking AI (and about FIFA 12…) in a single sentence. You no longer feel the need to blindly smash the trigger run button in the hope that something will happen. When playing, you actually don’t notice the runs themselves that much, where you really see the new AI at work is a lot to do with positioning. You’ll now find much more useful passing options when pushing forward and find your supporting players getting themselves into much more threatening areas of the pitch. The new animations for players opening their bodies up and stuttering their runs to stay onside look so much more natural than last year and also do a lot to signal their intentions to you, meaning you can see if a player is trying to make themselves available for a pass by staying onside.

It was great to see things like “curve to stay onside” and “curve to space behind” actually working in game and not just in a test bed environment. They’ve been well animated and you can actually see players shape their bodies to get around obstacles in their path, as well as looking good, it allows players to find space that would usually be blocked off which adds to this feeling that everything is a little more alive on the pitch.

Another positive upshot of the new AI is that you’ll find a lot more space on the pitch which probably stems from the “two plays ahead” mechanic. I say probably because it just works. It’s not something you can see, it’s just there. As players are now making more natural runs and actually moving with the play, it gives you a bit more time on the ball and allows you to consider your next pass a little more, which is needed as the options are better. It’s hard to give examples for these new mechanics, they all blend together really well and each adds a little something to the AI as a whole going forward.

Room for improvement:

  • The one thing we saw in the webcast, that we didn’t really see in game, was driving runs. Players on the edge of the box with an urgency to get to the near or far post quickly to take advantage of a low whipped cross. I’m probably just being picky though.

Defending

Given the emphasis put on the changes to attacking AI and the general feeling within the FIFA community that the defensive AI was already lacking, it was a valid concern that the existing defensive coding wouldn’t stand up to the new what was being thrown at it. We were reassured by Aaron Mchardy during the webcast that the programming was able to cope with the changes, Players were programmed to track runs, it didn’t matter if the runs were smarter, they would still be tracked and that is true for the most part. Whilst I wouldn’t be confident in saying that all of peoples defensive hang ups will have been addressed, there have definitely been improvements and I’m not worried that defenses will fall to pieces under the weight of the attacking changes.

Lateral Contain is the biggest change we’ll see and it’s a great progression from the contain system seen in FIFA 12. It feels a little looser and the lateral movement allows you to do things like shift slightly inside to force a player down the touchline or track a player whilst cutting off the closest passing options. It gives you more options when defending and allows you to force the attacker into certain areas or cut off their options with much more force than you could last year.

Another slightly smaller change is the addition of some new animations that allow players to intercept passes and loose balls. You’ll no longer see players ignoring balls that trickle over their toes and they’re now able to stretch for passes and reach balls that they previously wouldn’t.

Room for improvement:

  • I think it’s more AI touches that are needed, along the lines of the work that’s been done to the attacking AI. Making defenders fully understand where and when they need to cover as other players get pulled out of position.

Complete Dribbling

The first time you pull LT and RT together to drop into the complete dribbling system, you’ll almost certainly think of FIFA Street. Complete dribbling takes enough from Streetball Control for you to see the influences, but not enough to feel like it’s just been dropped straight out of one and into the next, it’s very much been taken as an idea and shaped to fit into FIFA 13. Naturally the facing up aspect of the new dribbling isn’t as square as FIFA Street but it gives you the same effect of being able to take players on with weight shifts and slight feints.

Although there is a contextual element to the dribbling, i.e it will face you up automatically as you approach players in certain situations, I found it much more satisfying to control it manually by pulling the triggers. With both triggers held you can jink and feint around players, open your body up to them and quickly beat them by shifting one way before bursting in the other direction. It’s so so satisfying to control and it’s all done on the left stick.

When you’re attacking say on the edge of the area with a defender containing you, you actually feel like the boss of that situation now because you have the ability to fake them out and try to wrong foot them somewhat. There were so many moments of slick little bits of dribbling followed by shouts of excitement I lost count. As someone who’s never liked or used skill moves, it’s wonderful to see dribbling open up to the point where you can beat players with having to resort to highlight reel skills 20 times in a match. Whilst the skill moves etc are all still there, now there’s even less of a reason to use them because Complete Dribble looks and feels so natural. It really is a visual treat and handles so smoothly, as I continue to play FIFA 12 on the run up to release, this is by far the hardest change to live without.

Room for improvement:

  • Whilst the dribbling is superb, I didn’t feel like the contextual side of it was pronounced enough. It felt like it wasn’t kicking in early enough when approaching a player to me, I’d like to see that changed.

First Touch Control

Another detail that’s so subtle yet adds so much, when you go back to FIFA 12 having played FIFA 13, you really notice the absence of first touch control. Adding varying levels of error onto certain passes definitely spices things up a bit. As a manual player I’m used to having error on my passes, but adding them to the first touch is something else entirely.

You’ll get situations where players running onto a through ball take such a bad touch that they leave the ball behind them, or poor passes that lead to your defender conceding possesion as the ball get’s away from them. To combat it you just need to think about your passes a bit more before you make them, laying the ball into the path of a striker at full pace isn’t going to result in him taking in his stride and slotting it into the net anymore. It’s far more likely that he’ll take a loose, heavy touch and allow the defender tracking him the opportunity to use Push/Pull and get to the ball.

Room for Improvement:

  • Occasionally the heavy touches were way out of context. Plays under little to no pressure would allow the ball to pop away from them. That needs fixing.

Impact Engine

The impact engine for me was a hugely welcome addition to FIFA 12 and although it brought some issues, it also brought a level of physical detail that we’d never seen before. It may seem a little cheeky of EA to push tweaks and fixes to the impact engine as one of the big things they’re changing but the fact of the matter is adding something so big will never ever be possible without problems. Seeing the impact engine with a full release behind it and a full year of feedback turns it into one of those “couldn’t go back” features like 360 dribbling. There are still issues with it, usually tied in to some of the new animations for stepping round players but as you’d expect it feels a lot more polished and better suited to its job.

Collisions feel more natural, Injuries related to fatigue and/or muscle strains are more frequent and don’t always happen in extra time and those painfully bad collisions not only happen less frequently but are also now able to correct themselves in a much better fashion. Aaron mentioned on the webcast that players are now aware of the order they need to move to avoid those situations where players pop out and it’s definitely working. Push/Pull has had some work done to it making it really useful in certain scenarios, particularly when chasing down a loose ball. It seemed less effective to me when on the ball but off it, you could properly see it working.

Room for Improvement:

  • Just more of the same. The impact engine has a job to do and it’s doing it well, but it can always be smoother and look more natural.

Tactical Free Kicks

Of the “Big Five” features, this was the one I was least bothered by, but I was wrong to have thought that. We’ve covered the new features in the reveal, but in practice they certainly do make free kicks much more interesting, especially in Human vs Human matches. We’re told it’s possible to pick up cards for creeping the wall forward but we didn’t actually have it happen to us, whenever we used it the ref pushed the wall back and “had a word” but kept his hand in his pocket, so it’s not simply a matter of creep = card. You can now send a runner out of the wall, Jump early and reform the wall and customise it by adding players, all of which is straightforward enough to control and works as it should.

When taking a free kick you can use RB to bring in a second kick taker then LT to add a third, leaving you with three active players behind the ball. From there you can dummy two of the players over the ball before taking a shot. Once you’ve dummied a player they will make a run and remain highlighted meaning that all you need to do to find them is power the pass. If you’re able to customise those runs through the set piece editor then this will be seriously fun, that kind of stuff was locked out in the build we were playing so we couldn’t see that sadly.

The problem here is going to be time. In local multiplayer matches they’re a delight because you can actaully talk to your opponent and get them to give you the time to add players to the wall and so on which creates a bit of banter and makes free kicks a little bit more of an event, but online it’s possible that the changes will fall by the wayside if you’re playing people that just fire a shot in straight away.

Room for improvement:

  • Defensive adjustments like adding players to the wall shouldn’t be reset when the attacker adds another player behind the ball. Currently it is.
  • Customisable dummy runs through the set piece editor, although it’s possible that’s already in and we just weren’t able to see it.

Animations

I felt that we needed to touch on this, because although they aren’t a back of the box feature, there have been some pretty big additions to the animations that actually make a fair bit of difference on the pitch. For starters, the new lobbed pass is completely contextual, so you can’t control it, but it works. Certain passes will now get  a little bit of elevation on them, especially at close range, which is just enough to lift them over the outstretched leg of a defender.

Quick throw ins now work as they should, and have had some animations added so players will do things like roll the ball back to the player that’s taking the throw in if they’ve picked it up off the edge of the pitch. For short Free kicks again there’s a new animation so if play is stopped and the ball runs loose, players will knock it back to the area that the kick should be taken from and the closest player will touch it down and make a short pass.

Summary

We’ve been playing FIFA early since FIFA 10 and it’s always interesting to get a look at the game throughout it’s various stages of development. Usually at this stage you find that the new features are a little unbalanced or in most cases “turned up” somewhat compared to what will eventually ship on the disk. Whether that’s for the benefit of people like us who play early to help really see the features or whether it’s because they just aren’t polished, we usually find things like the Impact Engine last year or 360 dribbling from FIFA 10 feel a little pasted on and not quite integrated properly into the rest of the game, leading them feel very different when release rolls around. I don’t think that’s going to be the case with FIFA 13. All of the new additions felt like they were ready and had been smoothed out. That’s not to say they were perfect of course, but it was extremely encouraging to see the game playing so well at such an early stage.

I’ve seen discussions recently about Next Gen consoles being on the horizon and the effect that will have on the development for this Gen as resources are spread around, but if that is the case and then I honesty think that FIFA 13 is better for it. There didn’t need to be huge technical upgrades again and to quote Mr Adam Bhatti, “Adding all this tech every year ruins the stability of an engine that is stuggling to combine all of these moving parts”. I think he’s totally right, so not going for extreme changes once more was definitely the right thing to do. Instead taking the time to tune the AI, enhance the dribbling, work the kinks out of the Impact Engine and make changes more in line with what hardcore fans of the series want to see with things like First Touch Control was a much better idea. That’s what’s been done and I’m extremely excited about the community getting their hands on the game when the demo comes out.

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