At 4.54pm on Sunday the 13th of May 2012 the footballing world seemed to stand still. Deep into injury time at the Etihad Stadium, Sergio Aguero fired a pass in to Mario Balotelli on the edge of the QPR area. Balotelli’s first touch wasn’t great, but the extravagantly eccentric Italian is a man used to producing fireworks in confined spaces. Somehow he managed to improvise a pass, stretching to poke a ball that was seemingly guided by fate through a forest of defenders’ legs back to Aguero.
A Ranger’s player threw himself, studs and all, into a last ditch sliding tackle. Aguero could have gone down (he should have gone down), but his exemplary balance and single-mindedness kept him on his feet, and from the corner of the six yard box he blasted a shot past Paddy Kenny and into the back of the net. Cue delirious celebrations. Cue four and a half decades of inferiority forgotten in four and a half unforgettable seconds. And 140 miles away at the Stadium of Light, cue Manchester United’s Phil Jones staring up at the giant scoreboard with a disbelieving look like he’s just been slapped round the face with a wet haddock.
It was a moment that perfectly encapsulates what the FIFA team is striving to achieve with FIFA 13: capture the intoxicating unpredictability of real world football with greater clarity than ever before.
Thanks to giant strides the series has taken over recent years, FIFA is already such a distance down the road to realism that its developers can now focus their time on the microcosmic level of fine tuning physics and accentuating individual player’s differing abilities. And this season, that meticulous attention to footballing mechanics begins with players’ first touch.
In previous games, successfully controlling the ball was almost always a forgone conclusion. It didn’t matter if a pass was a serious under hit hospitaliser or hammered at your face, like the illegitimate offspring of Ronaldo and Dynamo, players from Blyth Spartans to the Bernabéu somehow managed to instantly bring the ball under their spell. Now, that’s all set to change, with a player’s stats and the exact manner in which the ball comes to him dictating whether he has the touch of Johan Cruyff or Titus Bramble after a night on the tiles.
If EA’s tinkering with first touch is an alteration designed to add believability by reducing control, then the rest of the changes in gameplay are all about increasing it. Complete Dribbling is set to offer you even greater precision over your jinking runs, allowing you to dictate their pace depending on how much force you put on the analog stick, while the Player Impact Engine has also been tweaked once again to give extra authenticity to the jostling and collisions between opponents.
Potentially, FIFA 13’s defining advancement, however, comes in the improvements EA have made to AI. Players will now think several passes ahead, considering a multitude of different possible scenarios, and then positioning themselves appropriately. In short, they’ll behave more like teammates and less like disciples.
Dead ball situations in FIFA 13 are also set to become more involved. Attacking teams will now be able to have multiple players around a free kick to try and fake out defending sides who can counter by changing the number of men in their wall and then inching it forward. Try too much of the latter though, and you run the risk of incurring the wrath of referees who have also been made more fallible and human, making decisions based on what they actually can see rather than what’s right.
To try and assist those who, perhaps, are not currently masters of FIFA’s finer tactical points, the useful but slightly aimless training arena has now been supplemented by a range of new skill games. Challenges in disciplines such as dribbling, shooting, crossing and penalty taking will look to provide a focus for players to hone their technique and will even come with leaderboards to help you measure the improvements you’ve made.
Away from the field of play, the development team maintains its push to make FIFA more comprehensive than ever. The manager mode continues its march towards becoming a Football-manager-lite experience, with a deeper transfer system that better reflects the relationships between clubs and players. The Career mode introduces international call-ups and competitions, while the game will also adequately reward those who played FIFA 12 by transferring over your level.
On the Xbox 360, Kinect voice support has been integrated into FIFA for the first time, allowing you to breeze your way through menus, change tactics and players during matches and shout instructions to teammates without having to press a button. You’ll even be able to swear at the ref when decisions go against you, although too many expletives aimed at the man in the middle may well see both him and your employers take a dim view of your attitude.
PlayStation 3 owners feeling left out at the lack of opportunities to hurl insults at their console will be compensated with PlayStation Move support. It’s a welcome alternative option, but it’s the extra unpredictability FIFA 13 promises to add to the core FIFA experience that makes it easy to predict yet another success for EA Sports. Until the 28th of September rolls around, time will feel likes it’s standing still for many football fans once again.
FIFA 13 is set for release in the UK on the Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3 on the 28th of September and in the US on the 25th of September. The game will also be going on sale for just about every other current system, although exact features will differ on each from those detailed above.