Wisdom has it that there are few things in life that are certain bar death and taxes. Seemingly, whoever said that had never heard of FIFA. With a release schedule so regular you could set your watch by it, the footballing series has, in recent years, become something of a phenomenon in its own right, clocking up millions of sales each and every year, with the latest game, FIFA 13 being no different. After all, news would have it that an incredible 2 million people downloaded the demo in the space of three days, to see what FIFA was like for themselves. But is the finished product a game worth your hard earned geld, or a sim only the armchair managers should touch?
As you'd expect, brings with it all the trimmings you'd expect from a game carrying the official FIFA license, with the game featuring pretty much every team you could hope for - and many more beyond. With over 500 officially licensed teams, and 15,000 players, playing across thirty leagues (including the "new this year", er, Saudi Professional League - personally, we're still holding out for the Icelandic Premier League), and with each team coming with authentic kits, likenesses, and sponsors, it's as close to a digital recreation of the beautiful game as you can get. With up to four players able to play together on the same console, either in co-op, or against each other, it's a game friends and family can get involved with too, and one that tends to be better with more people. With friends taking over from the computer, your team can work better together as a unit, moving into spaces, marking players, and capitalising on any chances you create.
As you may expect from a game in its 20th iteration, there are plenty of different modes to play through here, too. The main mode is arguably the career mode, which lets you play through an entire career as either a specific player on a team, or as the manager of a club. Choose to play as the player, and your career goals will all be very personally focussed - although you have the option of taking control of the entire team when you play a match, rather than being limited to a single player, you'll still have to pay close attention to your career player's positioning and performance, as you'll be awarded a rating at the end of each match based on how well you've played. Needless to say, things get a little bit awkward when you choose to take control of the whole team, as it's never all that obvious which player the special one is. Meanwhile, over in manager mode, you get to put on the puffy jacket of a club boss and take full control of a team, which, while it lets you hire and fire whoever you want, also means you get bogged down in the day to day management of the club, fretting over finances, scouting out new players, closing contracts with key players, and trying to keep the whole squad happy. It's a bit disappointing, then, that there's always so much faff you have to cut through if you just want to sit down and play football. If you want to experience the ups and downs of numerous seasons with a club without having to worry about the financial/keeping players happy side of things, there's no easy way to do it. Which is a shame, and something of an oversight that we hopes get rectified soon.
As you may imagine, though, it's what happens on the pitch that really matters in FIFA, and FIFA 13 maintains the series' usual high standard. While the press releases claim a whole raft of changes have been implemented for this year's update, there's little here that stands out as feeling phenomenally "new", with countless little tweaks coming together to make the difference. For starters, your team seems to play together a lot better now, with your computer controlled teammates managing to block balls, intercept tackles, and even challenge players all on their own when you've botched up your own attempt. Better still, especially if you're playing on your own, your teammates time their runs better, and position themselves in the right sort of places, breaking through the defence at just the right time to be on the end of a well timed ball.
For those who're new to the series, there's plenty of help to bring you up to speed here, too. While an interactive training mode talking you through the basics, a new challenge mode, which takes the place of the loading screens, lets you fine tune your skills, from crossing a ball in an attempt to hit certain targets in the box, or chipping a ball over a variety of differently placed walls. Challenging though they may be, it offers a valuable insight into the trickier workings of the game - and when you finally crack it, you'll be a FIFA player to fear.
While it may not be as easy to pick up and play as the Wii version, FIFA 13 on the PS3, 360 and PC still feels a lot more accessible than it has been in a long time. While the new features list may sound a bit scary - "A new system eliminates near-perfect control for every player by creating uncertainty when receiving difficult balls" - ooh er - "Poor passes are harder to control, enabling defenders to capitalize on errant balls and poor touches" - blimey! - if you're playing for the first time, it's entirely possible to turn the vast majority of the "features" off. Letting the computer assist in everything from shot targeting to the power behind your passes, you can make them game (almost) as realistic, or otherwise, as you'd like. But while the assists are a nice start, we'd still like to see some of the features from the Wii version make their way across too - an arrow to show which way you're going, a flag above a player's head when they're offside to warn you not to pass to them, and a larger, more obvious notification of which player you're in control of would be much appreciated. Free kicks are a little bit confusing at the moment too, as there's no longer a transition/cutscene to set them up - instead, all that'll happen is a whistle will blow, the ball will be passed back, and the game will carry on seamlessly. While it may keep hardcore fans happy, it does lead to a few "Eh, what's going on?" moments, especially if you've happened to miss the whistle, and then wonder why your players are no longer listening to your controls.
In all, then, FIFA 13 is a game that manages to simultaneously appeal to both hardcore football fans, and those with a bit of a passing interest almost simultaneously. While the core of the game may be OK, though, there are still a few more tweaks that could do with being made, and we'd like the ability to play through a season mode as a team, without having to worry about all the faff. With FIFA 13 out now on 360, PS3, and PC, and FIFA 13 (which is actually FIFA 12 with updated teams) out now on the Wii, all that remains to be seen is how the Wii U version will turn out. Letting you pass between players by touching the GamePad's touch screen, and aim shots, or take free kicks by moving the tablet around, we're looking forward to seeing how things all come together.
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360