FIFA 13 Review: Much Ado About Touch

 

FIFA 13 forms only part of my soccer obsession. When not actively gripping the controller, I support Liverpool Football Club, braving the vicissitudes of the Pacific Standard Time Zone to watch their games whenever possible.

This summer, Liverpool signed a 21-year-old Italian striker named Fabio Borini (above). Lightning quick, with a powerful, accurate shot, he would’ve been a devastating player in previous iterations of FIFA. There’s only one problem: Fabio Borini has a first touch — the all-important skill involved in controlling a pass — like a three-legged donkey.

FIFA 13
Platforms: PS3 (Reviewed), PS2, PSP, Vita, XBOX 360, PC, Wii, 3DS, iOS, Android, Mac OS X
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: September 25th, 2012
MSRP: $59.99 (PS3)

For many years, this wouldn’t have been a problem at all, in video game terms. FIFA’s virtual footballers were all provided with an infallible first touch that seemed to suck the ball onto their feet like a vaccuum. Gangly defenders could control difficult, over-the-shoulder balls with ease. When designing FIFA 13, however, the team at EA Canada decided to overhaul the whole system.

Making careful use of the complex physics modeling that underpins FIFA gameplay, the developers created a new mechanic that accurately captures the essential unpredictability of first touches. Factors like the spin, direction, and speed of the ball, the momentum of the player, and even the simulated weather conditions are all taken into account. Most importantly, the game is now better able to represent the strengths and weaknesses of different players when they control a ball with their first touch. So when I fire up a game as Liverpool, and send a hard pass towards Borini, there’s no telling where it will end up — just like real life.

Liverpool haven’t been doing well so far this season — not because of Borini, but not exactly despite him, either. I was shocked and saddened to be reminded of this fact by commentators Martin Tyler and Alan Smith, who now provide up-to-date flavor based on the events of soccer’s recent past. Liverpool’s poor form at home was criticized. If you play as Arsenal, and striker Olivier Giroud misses a chance, Tyler and Smith will mention the difficulty he is currently having scoring goals for the real Arsenal.

In a similarly satisfying, though less flashy way, the commentary also responds to your fortunes in FIFA’s engrossing ranked multiplayer modes. Provided with a truncated, 10-match season, you play matches to earn points — 3 for a win, 1 for a draw. Earn enough, and you’re promoted to a higher division, to face off against more difficult opponents. Earn too few, and you’re relegated — dropped a division down.

For the first time, Tyler and Smith will comment on the progress of your current season. Lose a number of matches in a row, and you can expect to hear about it. Fall behind in a match you need to win to avoid relegation, and the commentators will ratchet up the tension by reminding you of the stakes as the game progresses.

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