It’s been a week since I played FIFA 13 for the first time – here are my thoughts
See all previous articles here
Last Friday I went down to Guildford to get my hands on FIFA 13 for the first time. To cut a very long story short, I left feeling distinctly pleased – far happier than I had felt having just played FIFA 12 for the first time exactly a year before – and yearning to have more time with the game, not just for the purposes of analysing it, but also for the purposes of playing it. I hadn’t had so much fun playing FIFA for a very long time.
What a breath of fresh air it is to see EA taking AI seriously. This is the first time this generation that AI has been amongst EA’s top priorities – in fact, Attacking AI seems to have been the top priority – and it’s really paid off. Where EA have mentioned AI improvements in previous years – take FIFA 12’s Pro Player Intelligence – you may have struggled to notice them. With FIFA 13, you will notice the AI improvements the first time you get the ball.
There is considerably more movement from your team – both to give you decent support and also to make runs forward into space. You don’t so much notice the players going on their runs when playing, but you do notice how much better the options you have are.
It’s not just that you get a lot more runs, it’s also that the runs that are being made are of far higher quality than they were in FIFA 12. It’s clear that players are able to exploit space in between defenders much better, and be more decisive to change direction to open up an option.
A lot of the poor runs which you might have seen in FIFA 12 are no longer apparent – players seem to realise when they are running into a dead end or an area inaccessible to the ball carrier and then cut their runs out. We saw the new ‘curve to stay onside’ behaviour many times, though despite this there were still far too many offside calls. With so many more runs being made by the AI, it just so happened that a lot more of the time a passing option of ours would be offside, and this problem is exacerbated by perhaps overly accurate and strict linesmen – fortunately EA are aware of this and plan to solve it.
It’s always hard when talking about AI to understand or illustrate precisely what is happening under the hood, so it’s quite hard to know how well specific features like “Two Plays Ahead” are actually working. I think it can be best seen in the way that it’s not just the players close to you who are moving – it feels like your entire team is working in unison. In FIFA 12 I very often found that I’d be breaking down the left flank but my right midfield and right winger would give up. In FIFA 13 however I observed using the radar that the entire width of my attack was moving forward.
All together, the attacking AI is vastly improved and FIFA is much better off for it. It remains to be seen how well the attacking AI will mould to different teams and different players – my guess is not a huge amount. Even if it doesn’t, it is massively preferable to have all players making intelligent runs than for none of them to be. The major difference between FIFA 12 and FIFA 13 is that, where in FIFA 12 you felt like you always had to be instigating the movement through one-two passes and use of the player run trigger (which both still remain), you can now leave the AI to its own devices.
Defensive AI & Balance
The major concern I, and many had over AI was how the defensive AI would cope with the upgraded attacking AI (I don’t feel that FIFA’s defensive AI is coping well in FIFA 12 as it is), and I guess it’s probably best summed up as “OK”. It’s not turned into a goal fest where the attack simply destroys the defence – the overall balance is in a similar place to where it was with FIFA 12.
There is no doubt that there are improvements to defensive AI. My defence was holding its line better, but also reacting to close up holes more aggressively.
On the other hand, I still have quite a few problems with the lateral positioning of defenders. On too many occasions I found that my defenders wouldn’t be properly expanding and contracting their line width dependent on the threat. The ball might be way out on the left and my right back would still be very wide, or more problematically, the ball could be in a very threatening position around the D, and yet my left and right backs would still be outside the box.
If you watch a team’s width in a real match, the whole team will stretch and collapse dependent on the state of play, moving to the left and right as the ball does, tending to tighten inwards as the ball gets closer to goal. To see this kind of thing, the defensive AI really needs to be designed so that there is more cohesion between the four or five individuals in the back line to deal with the threat as a team.
Pleasingly, I didn’t notice any instance where heading back a clearance would leave my strikers totally free on goal like so often happens in FIFA 12, but, I still think EA could do with tightening up how closely a defender will mark a striker when the defender’s team is attacking. It still feels a bit too easy to make a safe, long pass to the striker because the defenders rarely challenge the striker for the ball as they should (partially due to player switching).
This aside though, the defensive AI certainly seemed to be coping quite well, even though a lot more was being thrown at it. I’d still imagine that defensive AI could do with being one of the top priorities for FIFA 14, but, there is no disaster here – EA have managed to implement massively improved attacking AI without incurring the potential downside of throwing the balance out.
First Touch Control
Out of all the changes made in FIFA 13, it is Attacking AI and First Touch Control which deserve headline billing. EA have been expanding the so called ‘Predictable Unpredictability’ across the game over this generation, and in FIFA 13, arguably quite a few years too late, they have expanded this to first touch. It may only be one touch, but it makes a huge difference to the balance of the game. FIFA 12 had a first touch which was very consistent, and almost always far too good. In FIFA 13, though it’s definitely a bit erratic right now, you get touches dependent on context.
It means that, as a player, you have to think a lot more about what you are going to do with your first touches, but also what you are going to do with your passes so that you can do what you need with your first touch. It leads mainly to two things – a pleasurable (and realistic) risk v reward mechanic, and also a much better balance between patient play and rapid play.
FIFA 12 was a game dominated by quick, risky play – about moving as quickly as possible from defence to attack to a scoring situation. It’s a perfectly valid football tactic, but it’s far too easy to do when you can easily go from defence to attack with one pass, and from there to a clear cut one-on-one chance with a ball over the top. Making long passes is far too easy, and taking those balls under control is even easier still. So while clumsy long ball counter attacks are used primarily by weaker teams hoping to steal a lucky win in real life, they’re as solid a bet as any strategy in FIFA 12.
It is this strategy which has been most clearly affected by first touch control. It’s an obvious example and one which will no doubt reduce plenty of stress in Head 2 Head Seasons come September – and it’s only the tip of the iceberg to what this feature means for FIFA.
The error on your first touch is, as I said, dependent on context, but one of the most important contexts is what you tell your player to do. The speed at which you come to the ball and the amount of a turn you try to make correlates to the error you get – so if you’ve got a difficult pass coming in you can choose to risk it with an ambitious touch, or be conservative to enhance your chance of getting it under control.
In fact, it feels that, even if we now have to worry a lot more about how our first touch could go wrong, we also have a lot more control over what we do with it, and even though typically first touches will be less good than the equivalent in FIFA 12, this didn’t seem to always be the case – with a perfect pass, it seemed that my player would take the ball under control better than he might have in FIFA 12. Due in part to this, and in part to the unpredictability of first touches, I felt a lot more empowered to use the first touch to my advantage.
The differences between players were notable too. Even though we were only able to use a handful of top teams, poor Theo Walcott was receiving a lot of flak for his more consistently poor touch, but even so, and this surprised me, the very best players were capable of making mistakes too if the ball in was tricky enough. Already, EA have found a much better formula calculation for the first touch than that of Pro Passing.
The unpredictability of the first touch means that, while defenders can take advantage of a bad touch, they cannot take advantage as they often could in FIFA 12 of the precise knowledge of where the first touch would go. In FIFA 12, in a situation where the controlled defender was behind an attacker who was about to receive a pass, it was often best to run in to take the ball as the first touch is made, because you could be pretty sure that the first touch would go in X particular direction and Y particular distance
In FIFA 12, due to the predictability of the first touch, it was often most effective to not hold off as an attacker made a first touch so that you could pounce if it was poor, but to charge in at where you expected the first touch to go. I expect that particular trick will be far less popular in FIFA 13.
It also makes the choice of whether to take a ball down or clear it in defence a lot more pertinent. It was very rare in FIFA 12 to ever feel it was really worth it to smack the ball out of play – even though this is a common act in real life, and one which is usually applauded by the defender’s teammates. Now it makes a lot more sense – taking down a long ball is a serious risk. As an attacker, I found a lot more legitimate joy pressuring defenders because of this.
Overall though, defenders benefit from these changes more than attackers, particularly when it comes to defending against counter attacking play. Avoiding bad first touches will lead attacking players to be a lot more careful – taking the ball at a canter rather than a sprint, deciding not to turn on the first touch, deciding to lay off a pass rather than trapping the ball and so forth – it all leads to a more patient experience. It makes for a radical rebalance to how FIFA has been for years. Passing ideally will become not just about getting the ball into the right place, but also making sure that you’ll be able to move in the right direction from the first touch. Just because you can make a pass, doesn’t mean it’s the right decision.
I know some are rampantly against unpredictability, and want the game to be purely down to what the user does on the pad, but a little uncertainty in the right places is what makes the experience for me. When you don’t know exactly what is about to happen next, the immersion comes naturally – and where Pro Passing failed, First Touch Control succeeds.
My concern is what will happen in the next few months. EA have been clear in saying that they think the first touches need to be toned down. They aren’t wrong – in some areas the first touches were definitely too extreme, but then I think there were also cases of the opposite. In some areas it’s definitely too much, but in others, like when trapping the ball using the Precision modifier (LB/L1), it’s too little, and certainly there needs to be a consistent balance found with first touch passing too – it seems strange that there is now significant directional error on the first touch but not on the first touch pass.
I’m fearful that EA will go too far. There is no doubt that some, at least initially, will be annoyed to find that their first touch can and will let them down – but this does make for a more realistic, more exciting experience. I would be totally gutted if I came to play the demo only to find this great progress had been diminished. This should be a change you notice with every trap and first touch – this should be a feature which is meaningful for Messi as much as it is Theo Walcott as much as it is for an unnamed Accrington Stanley player – I pray that EA keep it that way. Though certainly imperfect, the current unpolished state of First Touch Control is a clear improvement to the game as a whole.
Third up is the vaguely named ‘Complete Dribbling’ feature set. When reading people’s thoughts on this feature I’ve been struck by how much confusion there is over what Complete Dribbling is and isn’t. As far as I can tell, it really entails two different features under one roof. The first is the separation of the moment angle from the facing angle, which in turn means changes for skilled dribbling and shielding, and the second is the new and upgraded Precision Dribbling ‘2.0’.
Of all the features announced for FIFA 13, this was the one I was most intrigued to see. I don’t think it’s the most important feature, but it was the one I was most unsure about going into the playtest. Unfortunately, right now Complete Dribbling is a good feature which is just a bit too well hidden at times. The way this feature was described during the webcast implied a feature which would be mostly noticed on a contextual level with the option to manually use it – in reality, the contextual side of the feature occurred only at very specific moments, and not nearly enough.
In theory, Complete Dribbling should work in two ways. The contextual side of it will activate whenever the game calculates it should, altering your facing angle to face up to players, the goal, or away from players when shielding. The angle will change only up to the point where it starts to inhibit movement, so that you will never be slowed down by contextual Complete Dribbling. Use of both triggers frees the facing angle up entirely at the potential sacrifice of speed. Ideally, it’s a feature which is very accessible and intuitive, but has an extra level of control for those who want and need it.
Instead, it sort of felt the other way round – you can use the triggers to use Complete Dribbling and you’ll very occasionally see it work contextually. It did happen every so often, but it seemed to only activate when you were so close to the defender that you’d usually be better off just engaging them at a greater distance and not trying to use Complete Dribbling at all.
I’m really hoping this changes in the next few months. What I did see of this feature contextually was impressive, but it must be tuned to happen more often. Fortunately, we can still take advantage of Complete Dribbling using the controls. Use of both triggers now activates Complete Dribbling rather than Skilled Dribbling, which is effectively subsumed by the new control.
I had always felt that Skilled Dribbling, while useful, was a little too specific for most uses, and also a feature which was much trickier to use than necessary. For example, to use skilled dribbling to face up to a man as you go down the wing requires you first to face him, then to engage skilled dribbling and then to start moving laterally. Though in essence you only wanted to move in one direction, you actually had to change direction and then change back, which is ever so fiddly and prone to making you lose the ball.
The system now in place is far cleverer in theory. When you engage Complete Dribbling, it sorts your facing angle while you continue to move in the direction you wanted, so the example used earlier should in fact happen automatically, but even if it doesn’t, only requires the use of the triggers. Best of all, it’s no longer just useful for situations where you want to move laterally, but for any number of angles, like if you want to cut inside, face up and then move the ball across at the last moment. It’s intuitive and it looks right – what used to be an awkward clunky system with only specific uses, is now a versatile one which is much easier to use. This is a lot more than a renaming of Skilled Dribbling.
Precision Dribbling 2.0
The other element of Complete Dribbling, Precision Dribbling 2.0 is perhaps named a little confusingly. This isn’t an upgrade to FIFA 12’s Precision Dribbling – it’s more like a new type of dribbling in its own right. Perhaps EA couldn’t think of a new name! The new type is pretty simple, but very effective – much more obviously so than Precision Dribbling 1.0 is. This is all about quick and precise dragbacks and sidesteps, allowing you to face one direction and move the ball around quickly and accurately in order to confound incoming tacklers.
This is the piece of tech inspired by FIFA Street’s ‘Street Ball Control’, but the similarities are not immediately obvious. This doesn’t lock your body position and have you move the ball around you – but it does allow you to move the ball very precisely while facing one direction – it’s the kind of thing which has its time and place, but the few times I did use it, I was pleased at how I could draw a man in and drag back away, or sidestep around him. It’s a feature which, when used well, can really relieve pressure – this is a tool to use against those who charge in for tackles.
In a sense, the changes Complete Dribbling has brought represent a shift away from awkward complexities that only experts could learn, and towards accessibility. I wouldn’t necessary go as far to say that skills are now unnecessary flair, but dribbling could now be a tool for all, rather than the preserve of just a few. There are further steps that could be taken with dribbling and movement, but this is a considerable step forward.
I guess when people saw that EA were making the Impact Engine a top priority for FIFA 13 they might have been confused or even annoyed. The Impact Engine was the selling point for FIFA 12 – to get it as it should be though, you’ll have to buy FIFA 13. It isn’t particularly fair, but, it is standard gaming fare these days. It’s important they put effort into getting it right this time – and it’s much better they do continue working on imperfectly implemented features as they have with FIFA 13 with Tactical Defending (more on that later), Precision Dribbling, and the Impact Engine.
So, the first and most substantive thing to report on is that EA have indeed managed to work out most of the kinks from the Impact Engine. In the time I had with the game I was pleased to see very few cases of Impact Engine glitches – and I had become pretty accustomed to noticing them in FIFA 12. There were still a few odd collisions, but what odd collisions did occur were resolved much more cleanly than previously. There was just a single truly bad instance in the 6 hour period – not bad for a game still months from going gold.
As well as having far fewer glitchy collisions, there are also new AI behaviours to prevent the clumsy off-the-ball collisions which resulted from two players running into each other. It is much clearer what EA were trying to do with the Impact Engine first time around. Personally I believed, and still believe, that the Impact Engine shouldn’t have been part of FIFA 12, as in its broken state it was more detrimental than beneficial. Now with a lot more unpredictable but strikingly believable tackles occurring, the Impact Engine pays off.
Refereeing has had plenty of work so that it better understands the impacts, and I felt that was evident during the playtest, even if I did see a few decisions which I thought were a questionable. The most worrying incident resulted when I pushed the ball past the keeper, got taken out by him, but managed to get up and score – I would have liked to have seen advantaged called here – and there was also a flat out glitch where the referee carded a player from the wrong team. It would certainly be worthwhile for EA to have a final look at the decisions being made for incidents involving red cards and penalties, particularly when the keeper is involved because these decisions seem to be got wrong as much as right.
Push and Pull has been renovated too. The feature in FIFA 12 was so ineffective that it may as well have not been there – not so in FIFA 13. In FIFA 13 you might even want to use it this time around. Activated by using the tackle button when behind the ball carrier, as before, your player will now use his strength to try to off balance his opponent. Unlike in FIFA 12 where you probably wouldn’t care less if your player was being pushed or pulled, in FIFA 13 you certainly don’t want it, and ought to avoid it if you can. You will be slowed when you are pushed and pulled, and this can be enough for the defender to get in and make the tackle. Of course, if they try it too aggressively they will be punished, so it’s not just a mechanism to egregiously foul your opponent.
I didn’t get much experience of the feature – I don’t think any of us were really in the habit of using it yet – but the few times I did see it, it looked realistic without being over the top. So long as the referee is on top of it (and I do remember the referee cautioning a player for going too far), it should be a decent addition which furthers the realism of the physical game – even if FIFA didn’t necessarily need more extensions in this direction.
The final, and only genuinely new feature incorporated into this years Impact Engine feature, is the ability for players to use their bodies to block other players off. This can be seen in three circumstances – a player moving in between the ball and the man to make a tackle, a player screening an opponent from a teammate, or finally the player shielding the ball out of play. I probably saw only one or two instances of each of these new possibilities, and so am wary of making a judgement here. My only worry would be that there is a pretty fine line between using your physicality and just fouling, and there was one case where the player seemed to impede another player without making an attempt on the ball, which is technically a foul, other than that, it looked good when it happened.
The question posed by these features is one which is debated endlessly by football fans – where do you draw the line between using strength and outright fouling. Certainly EA seem to be taking a typically English view of it, for better or worse. I just hope that future Impact Engine features are implemented with caution – football is a physical game but it is one where contact is mostly discouraged. This is a feature which is a better fit for an Ice Hockey or American Football game (both NHL and Madden incorporate it), but its utility in a football game has very clear limits. Having a cool engine doesn’t mean it has to be upgraded – it would perhaps be better to focus on mental aspects for FIFA 14, where FIFA lacks, rather than furthering improvements to this area.
Tactical Freekicks is the last, and very much least of the Big 5 gameplay features for FIFA 13. EA seem to have felt that it was time to expand the options we had for freekick taking, both defensively and in attack. To be frank, I got very little time to really explore this feature, as decently placed freekicks are still very rare.
In attack, you now get the option to set up to three kicktakers around the ball, allowing you to play layoffs or, for the first time, dummy the freekick. They’re fun things to play with – I didn’t really get the chance – but I can’t imagine them being a more attractive option than cracking the freekick towards the unguarded corner.
The defensive options are better – adding and removing players to the wall is a feature which has long been missing in FIFA, as is the ability to have a man charge out of the wall. The more controversial encroachment feature does what it says on the tin – it didn’t feel like we could encroach very much before the referee would stop us, caution us and move us back, though we didn’t see any bookings for this offence. If you wrongly time a jump due to a dummied freekick, you can then reform the wall to jump again.
It’s a bit of a pity that EA didn’t use this opportunity to get rid of the black-screen & reset that occurs every time the attacker changes the freekick setup. Not only is this ugly, but it also resets the defensive set up which is a major pain, as well as something many exploit. I also think it would have been wise to include the option to move the keeper independently of the wall.
Really, the little I’ve written sums it all up. This is a pretty unnecessary ‘bells & whistle’ style feature, and the only one of the 5 major changes which could reasonably be summed up as a bit of a gimmick. The defensive options are a serious improvement but I wouldn’t say Tactical Freekicks is as important as some of the ‘Fundamentals’ changes I’ll talk about next, let alone close to the importance of the others in the Big 5.
The painful fact is that EA would have been better off putting effort into the base freekick/setpiece system which is unrealistic, repetitive and exploitable. Currently I don’t feel like FIFA provides the options it really ought to from a freekick – you can only really shoot to one particular area of the net because of the way the goalkeepers set up, and it’s incredibly difficult to use a freekick to cross the ball in due to lacking AI and poorly tuned controls. When you consider the effort that went into Custom Set Pieces a few years ago, and now Tactical Freekicks, you really have to wonder whether EA have slightly missed the point: it is the basics which are wrong with the freekicks, not the lack of dummy runners or synchronised-swimming-style custom runs.
Tactical Defending (2.0)?
Though EA haven’t really been saying much about this, I feel there have been some pretty significant changes to defending. Tactical Defending 2.0 is my terminology, not EA’s, but I think it is mostly justified. Tactical Defending in FIFA 12 was a feature that purported to be revolutionary, but was far too rough around the edges. Far from making defending more interactive, it provided a new crutch to replace the much over-used press buttons from FIFA 11, leaving the overall gameplay experience stunningly similar considering what a radical change Tactical Defending actually was – I went to in depth on these criticisms here and here.
It was crucial in my mind that EA continued to make changes to defending for FIFA 13 – it was one of the three main gameplay areas I highlighted as needing major change here – but after the webcast I wasn’t expecting much.
There was one change announced by EA for defending – lateral contain. I expressed a fear in an earlier article that if lateral control was added to contain without simultaneous adjustments to the responsiveness of contain and jockeying, then the situation would in fact get worse, rather than better. The way I saw it, contain was a feature already overpowered due to inhuman reaction speeds, and that by removing the only major disadvantage of contain (that it automated the lateral position in a seriously naïve way), they might make a crutch into something which could be used non stop.
In actual fact though, this hasn’t happened. In fact, even though contain has been improved greatly in its versatility, the addition of lateral contain has combined with whatever other untold tweaks EA may have made has actually improved the balance. In effect, the issue with contain previously was that when using contain your player would react to the movement of the attacker so fast that you became an impassable barrier. The difference now, for one reason or another, is that the hyper reaction speed seems to have been toned down.
It did feel like now, just using contain would not mean you’d mirror the player perfectly. I’d like to have more time with the game to confirm, but I think some very meaningful, if very quiet, tweaks have been made to contain in precisely the right way. Partially, this is due to the human control over ‘lateral contain’ adding our human fallibility and response time into the mix, but I don’t think that was the only factor at play. Even so, I remember seeing Rosicky left flat footed on one occasion when I tried to use contain without inputting the lateral position as the attacker quickly turned one direction than the other.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, I also felt, though again I’d like more time to be sure, that the responsiveness of jockeying had been improved so that while jockeying and contain are far better balanced in what they can do and how well they can do it. Whether contain really needs to be there is still a question in my mind and I wouldn’t say it is necessarily fixed yet, but it’s definitely a more fully fledged feature than in FIFA 12, and fortunately lateral contain hasn’t made it all conquering.
When I got back home later in the day, I decided to just play one game of FIFA 12 to do as close to a side-by-side comparison as I could – the sluggish jockeying, and the super-fast-reacting contain was once again instantaneously noticeable to me. I’m pretty sure that I hadn’t noticed them earlier in the day. It might be a small thing, a hard to notice thing, but it’s absolutely crucial – and if I am right in this hunch, then EA have not even murmured about one of the most important changes this year.
Having said that, there is another change of similar weight in tackling that has been more widely picked up upon, which is that the physical effect on the ball has been reined in. FIFA has for a long time had tackling physics which were quite extreme – tackling the ball would very often kick the ball yards away, assuming it didn’t go directly back into the ball carrier. Making a tackle near the edge of the pitch almost inevitably lead to a throw-in, and you’d often have to make three or four tackles before you’d actually get possession back. These factors were frustrating, not particularly realistic, and was one of the biggest luck factors in FIFA.
Now, tackles have a much higher success ratio and feel more reasonable to the context. You are now feel properly rewarded for making a good tackle, and that’s a massive breath of fresh air. Added to defending which is now more user controlled from the positional level, and it sort of feels like Tactical Defending is starting to do what it was meant to do last year. ‘Tactical Defending 2.0’ makes each tackle feel much more deserved and far more rewarding.
At the same time, I found that the reaction speeds for tackling (ie, how quickly the player can adjust to the movement of the ball when moving into tackle) had altered a bit too so that it was much harder to effectively charge in and grab the ball. In FIFA 12 when faced with a charging defender, I’d often try to move the ball so that they’ll miss the tackle, and hopefully me too, but when doing this I’m often frustrated at how fast the defender will react to my move, so that they can still make that tackle. This too is something which felt a bit different in FIFA 13 – charging in to make the tackle felt like a much riskier option.
As a final note, I was also finding things a bit tighter when it came to defending crosses. There were remarkably few clear heading opportunities during the matches we played, and this was mostly because the defenders seemed far more aware to the threat and far better at getting to the ball in time. This is perhaps combined with some improvement to the player switching choice when the ball is in the air.
Movement Physics & Reactions
Out of the major priorities that I would have had for FIFA 13, the one most disappointingly absent from EA’s own priorities was changes to movement physics or ‘momentum’. This was a big disappointment, as it was one of the clearest pieces of feedback I and others had given to EA, and one which I think they are mistaken not to have taken more seriously.
I’ve many times gone through what the lacking sense of momentum means for FIFA, here, and I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I’ll allow EA to make the point for me.
“In NHL 12, there was no sense of momentum. If you made a mistake, you were able to recover very quickly. In NHL 13, momentum is now a game within a game…”
Ben Ross, Gameplay Producer for NHL 13. Video of this from 1 minute 20 seconds.
This is what FIFA 13 needs, and, hopefully what FIFA 14 will have. Given EA’s history with sharing tech, innovations and features between franchises (particularly NHL and FIFA – the Impact Engine, for example), there is a good chance.
However, I did feel that FIFA 13 had received some changes when it came to movement physics. I’ve already mentioned the changes I felt with contain and jockeying, but I did perhaps notice some other tweaks. One of the most annoying things I find in FIFA 12 is that I’ll very often make a turn near a defender, only for the defender to then react, and accelerate in time to get to the ball before my next touch. This is something I noticed dramatically less in my time with FIFA 13.
While I still think the movement physics are far too simplistic for a game of FIFA’s calibre – especially considering the song and dance over foot planting made at the start of the generation – and while it would definitely be nice to see a more genuine approach to foot planting, I did think that there had been a reduction in the more egregious instances where players would simply cheat physics. I can’t be sure without more time, but I sense that EA may have made some tweaks to the relative acceleration/deceleration rates of the ball carrier and non-ball carrying player, and, they may have also made some broader change to reaction speeds. It’s not an advanced foot planting model which stays faithful to physics regardless, nor true ‘momentum’, nor is it some clever AI to recreate anticipation, but it may be a few profound tweaks to give similar, though lesser, effects.
The numerous changes that have been made to FIFA 13 make for a considerable change to the overall way the game plays. A lot of people will be interested to know how this reflects on pressure, everybody’s favourite bugbear. Generally speaking, I’d say that FIFA 13 brings with it a clear reduction in the effectiveness of pressure. Most important is the alteration to AI, which means that you have far more options and that the options you have are in greater space, and therefore you tend to have a lot more time on the ball.
Many will think that this will be countered by first touch control, which will give the pressuring player a greater chance of getting the ball away on the first touch, but I don’t think it necessarily follows quite like that. Though there is a much greater chance of a poor touch, the greater level of unpredictability and control that you have over that touch means that it’s much harder for a pressuring player to know where the ball is going to go.
In FIFA 12, you could often exploit the first touch because although the touch was rarely ‘bad’, it was usually so predictable that you could just run to where you expected the ball to go. To add to this, the changes to tackling, movement and reaction speeds that I oh-so-hope I wasn’t imagining all tend to hurt the cause of pressure too. It’s harder to charge in and get the ball out, and you’re more likely to stay beaten if you miss the tackle.
Finally, although there is a decent likelihood this area of the game is unfinished, the effect of fatigue was clearly a bit higher than it had been before. We saw players pulling up with injuries inside the 90 minutes – something I never saw in FIFA 12 – even though we were only playing with top teams (unfortunately, there were no weaker teams available). Hopefully this means that the effect of stamina is higher than previously, but, I wouldn’t be surprised if this changes before release.
As with every year, there are plenty of new animations – off balance animations for shooting, a few new tackles, clearances, and a new contextual lofted pass, which lifts the ball just off the ground to evade a block.
The most impressive new animations though are for interceptions, which haven’t received much attention for a few years now. I noticed a lot of automated animations I hadn’t seen in terms of lunges and slides to block the ball – they look great, and due to this it’s now easier to make interceptions, as the player does actually seem to be trying to make interceptions a lot more.
I know some people are seriously against any instance of automated animations, but interceptions are one area where I’m personally happy to see them. Even so, I still think there are a few issues with interceptions where sometimes players won’t try to make interceptions, usually because they don’t properly ‘lock in’ to the path of the ball – which most often happens if you are already well positioned near the path of the ball. In situations where you do lock in though, it felt a lot better.
One extra surprise for us was that there were new animations and improvements to both quick throws and quick freekicks. No longer do players fail to pick up the ball for quick throws, but better still teammates will pass the ball back to the setpiece taker so that you can still take a quick freekick or throw even if the ball isn’t at the right spot. Hopefully now there will be far more opportunity to actually use the quick throws and freekicks effectively.
There weren’t many areas of the game which felt almost entirely unchanged, but passing is one that did. On assisted settings passes still feel a bit lethargic, and still far too accurate – particularly for long balls, clearances, and blind/180-degree passes. I’m hoping that changes here are still to come – certainly I didn’t find that it was any easier to ‘overhit’ passes than previously, which is a change EA talked about in the webcast.
The saving grace is that first touch control has made it much less possible to exploit the over accurate passing. Though you can often pick the pass out, bringing it down is another matter. Without really changing passing at all, the passing game feels much more realistic thanks to first touch control.
Manual passing has perhaps changed a little more. I felt that there was greater consistency of the charge I input to the pass weight I got out, and I didn’t notice a single instance of the long-standing bug where a tap on the button would produce a fully powered pass or vice versa – progress!
Goalkeepers & Finesse Shots
Along with passing, I didn’t find that the goalkeepers had changed much either. I saw some new animations, but I still came away feeling like the biggest issue with goalkeepers, their superhuman reaction speeds, remained. On the slightly brighter side, I did think that they were holding the ball rather than parrying more often, which should cut out a lot of rebound goals.
Also painfully unchanged are finesse shots, which still felt as broken as ever. The sweet-spot goal is alive and well, and one can’t help but wonder whether some deeper changes to the shooting system are needed for next year. In the meantime, I really hope EA can work on the ball physics for finesse shots, by adding more error, so that the stupendous predictability of the floaty, slow and curvey finesse shot is curbed somewhat.
Finally, I know many are always intrigued to hear about the CPU AI. I really didn’t get much time to observe it – just one game against Legendary and one game watched of both the Professional and World Class difficulties can only tell me so much. I was given the distinct impression that the balance and tuning of the difficulty levels were still in flux. World Class was almost pinpoint perfect with its passing, whereas Legendary was more prone to mistakes but utterly ruthless and one minded in attack – I got slaughtered 6 or 7 to nil, though I’ll defend myself by saying I was playing on manual with the weaker team.
I did feel, though I’m not much of an offline player so don’t have a huge amount to compare against, that the AI was a bit more human than its FIFA 12 counterpart. Certainly in terms of the way it built its attacks, dribbled and defended, it didn’t seem to be taking advantage quite so much. There was no more almost balletic scything through my defence exploiting my every move, nor did they seem to be able to pass their way out of Fort Knox – so this is reasonable progress.
The one area where they still seemed utterly inhuman was when passing, particularly on World Class. Their passes were almost always perfect both in direction and weight. It was galling to watch, and a prime case of the AI doing things which no human could match on FIFA however hard they tried.
In the near enough 6 hours I had with the game I managed to get a good deal of watching and playing in – a brief (and pretty humiliating) match against the Legendary AI, and a good number of 1v1 and 2v2 encounters. Getting to grips with the new features was easy – unlike Tactical Defending, the changes this year feel inherently intuitive, even if they are arguably more meaningful. There is nothing subtle about the changes that Attacking AI and First Touch Control bring – they are game changers.
The same probably can’t quite be said for Complete Dribbling, but even at this early stage, it’s a very welcome addition. Currently it’s contextual, automatic side is a bit too well hidden, but when it works it adds a new level to the freedom of movement, and one which looks strikingly genuine. The FIFA Street inspired precision dribbling 2.0 was a bit of a surprise too – a far more useful style of dribbling than the Precision Dribbling implemented in FIFA 12 (which is still there too). Most of all, Complete Dribbling seems to properly bring together all the dribbling features under one roof, with far smoother transitions and greater consistency between each style. If EA can manage to get the contextual facing angle working a little better, then this should also open up shielding properly for the first time – my fingers are crossed on that one.
The Impact Engine is starting to pay off as a feature, only rarely doing anything unrealistic, and the referees, while again still a little troublesome, are also much improved. the tactical freekicks may not have been the upgrade to freekicks I wanted or the one which I’d argue was needed, but at least we’ve finally got some of the bread and butter options added – like being able to add and remove men from the wal
I’m very impressed to see the way EA have set about improving returning features: Precision Dribbling, Tactical Defending, and the Impact Engine – the so called ‘Holy Trinity’ of FIFA 12 – have all received significant upgrades this year. This is a major departure from the attitude shown to features like Pro Passing and Personality+ from FIFA 11 which could all have done with further work in FIFA 12.
FIFA 13 does not do a lot of the things I wish it would. It’s still shallow strategically, it still has an over simplified locomotive model, players all dribble with two feet and personality is still all too lacking, etc. These are disappointing facts, and for some they may be game breakers, but I don’t think they prevent FIFA 13 from being a game worth your attention. I recognise that FIFA 13 will still be, in some senses deeply flawed, but I do believe that EA are doing enough this year to make a significant improvement – one which should have grander ramifications for FIFA than the changes in FIFA 11 or FIFA 12.
I have to be conscious that the circumstances I was playing in are not especially normal – I was playing a game I’d never played before, which is always a thrill, for a relatively short period, with people who are enjoyable to play with and who have little interest in breaking or exploiting the game, and I was playing FIFA’s best mode – local multiplayer. So it’s often hard to extrapolate from this kind of experience to what it might mean for online play, Career Mode, or Clubs. As such, I can’t even be entirely confident in what I felt playing FIFA 13 – but my heart tells me that I had a lot more fun playing a few hours of FIFA 13 than I ever did playing FIFA 12.
It’s pretty obvious to me that FIFA 13 should release as a more polished and better balanced game than FIFA 12 was. The question in my mind is how far will they go with the balance. We’re coming to the end of the generation swiftly, but I don’t feel that there has been a single FIFA which really managed to bring it all together into a really solid overall experience. It would be superb to see a game which could encompass all of the innovations of the past 7 years, but also get the balance to really click. FIFA 13 isn’t there yet, but with a few months to go, it has a decent shot.