As sports games go, it doesn't get much better than EA's FIFA 13. And it certainly doesn't get more realistic.
FIFA 12 was a fantastic game—tactical defending gave the gameplay a whole new depth we haven't previously seen from the franchise—but it also never felt quite like real soccer.
Balls stuck to feet even after blistering passes or long crosses, as though everyone had the ball control of Lionel Messi. Despite tactical defending, the computer or even human opponents could too easily cruise through the midfield. Players you would scream to go make runs off the counter-attack would remain idle for no discernible reason whatsoever.
And Andy Carroll would actually score goals when you played against Liverpool. It was madness, sheer madness.
But in this version, the game legitimately plays like an actual soccer match. The biggest feature, "first-touch control," is amazing. If you try to sprint while receiving a pass, your player realistically takes a longer touch. Air balls realistically carom off of players rather than stick to their chest or feet. Defenders are better off clearing their lines than risking a turn and pass off a turnover.
It all changes the way you approach the game. You don't just look for open passes, you are cautious about how you receive them. Rather than send the ball just outside the box and look to turn with a striker, building up play and finding creative ways to score has become paramount.
And the AI helps you with that, too. Players know make realistic runs, even bending runs to remain onside. Rather than stand by, waiting for a pass in a mixed position, players will lead teammates with passes into good scoring areas and those players will realistically move into those positions.
Through ball opportunities are more plentiful, but rather than simply lead to breakaways, they are valuable for moving the ball up the pitch by finding gaps in the defense but don't allow your players to simply sprint pass opponents at will.
That's because the defense is updated as well. On 50-50 balls, players can jostle and struggle to gain possession. As you grow closer to goal, the defense shrinks down toward the box and makes traversing straight through the midfield far more challenging.
Even shooting is somewhat more difficult. If you aren't at the right angle, your shot will go wide. It makes those times you actually do perfectly strike a long attempt all the more sweet.
Heck, working transfers is more realistic. You can actually haggle over fees. Some teams won't budge from an offer or asking price, while others will willingly negotiate. Budget allocations feel right, especially if you play as Arsenal and you start without the funds to add that star player. And the fees themselves feel far more realistic than a year ago.
The game isn't perfect, of course. I'm a few weeks into a season with Arsenal in manager career mode, and Abou Diaby still hasn't gotten injured, while Olivier Giroud scored in my first league game.
Arsenal jokes aside, I truly have few complaints about this game. It's real, but it's still really fun. My frustrations rarely come because the gameplay is unrealistically challenging, they come because I should have known better than to take a heavy touch or wildly attempt a shot.
For my money, this is the most realistic sports video game I have ever played. The differences from last year may be subtle, but the more you play the more you appreciate and embrace them. If you love footy and you don't own this game, you are honestly missing out.
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