EA Sports has already had a great 2012, delivering the best Madden in years and the most realistic NHL game to date. Ending the publisher's sports season is FIFA 13, a franchise that seems to resonate more so with gamers than perhaps it does with traditional American sports fans. The ever-popular series has seen solid contributions the last few years, so does FIFA 13 bring enough to the table to warrant another go?
The answer to that is not a simple yes or no. Beyond the revamped presentation, a quick glance at FIFA 13 gameplay doesn't look much different from last year's version. FIFA 13 is very much an incremental upgrade, much like Apple going from the iPhone 4 to the 4S.
While EA hasn't made any significant strides in changing the core mechanics of FIFA, an effort was made to instill a bit more of realism into the way players react with the ball, utilizing something called a "first touch control" system. It dictates how well your player controls the ball based on how close defenders are to him, your player's rating, and several other factors. Accepting passes isn't a routine smooth transition as perhaps it was in FIFA 12. Players will choose the best way to take a pass, and the game rewards you with an easier time doing so when you are more careful with your play. In other words, sometimes you'll receive the ball nicely and other times it may skip off your player's foot.
The player impact engine has also been improved, so you just get more realistic collisions and players react a little more as they would in a real game. The play just feels a little more organic but in adding that additional realism some people will find it more difficult to play. At first, anyway. Watching Cleverly on Machester United pull up midstride with a hamstring injury isn't something you should feel happy about, but we were impressed nevertheless because the animation was very true-to-life. Also new for 2013 is the MatchDay feature, which keeps teams current with stats and specifically tailors rankings to their real-life performance. For those who follow the European leagues, this will certainly add a sense of realism to game's overall presentation.
We also really liked the mini games that are available as the match loads and are designed to improve your skills. With this release, EA, as always, seems to be trying to make the game more accessible to novices while also making improvements that will appeal to fans of the series who buy it year in and year out. There are a few changes that might grate on the hard-core FIFA player, but in sum, the game just feels more polished overall, looks slightly better, and plays more smoothly. None of these upgrades comes with much wow, which is why some folks might be disappointed shelling out another $60 for a game that seems more like an incremental step forward. But many will appreciate that step, even if it's not a leap.
The Vita version:
Even though the Vita version is basically the same as its console counterparts, for some reason it feels more improved. We think the developers have had more time time to work with the Vita, so the game just feels more polished and performs better than 12, which only arrived about six months ago. The touch controls have also been tweaked and add a nice (and different) dynamic to the game. You can touch players to pass directly to them or touch anywhere on the screen to feed a ball to that point. You can also shoot by simply touching the spot on the goal you want to aim for -- or you can use the back panel to shoot. The touch scheme just seems to work a little better, which makes you want to use it more. Some people will want to turn off the back panel controls (you have to play with your hands out or risk taking an accidental shot if you're in the attacking third). But I really think the Vita version has come into its own with this release and is a lot of fun to play -- maybe even more so than the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions.
CNET recommendation: It depends.
Die-hard soccer fans have nothing to worry about. FIFA 13 is a fantastic refinement of an already excellent product. While the changes aren't drastic, FIFA loyalists will welcome the new details. On the other hand, the more casual soccer fan may not completely benefit from all FIFA 13 has to offer. For those who don't put soccer in their highest gaming priority, we'd recommend trying out the FIFA 13 demo before you decide to buy. Those curious about the Vita version should find comfort that it feels improved over last March's game.