This is, without a doubt, the best soccer sim I've ever played. Kicking off with First Touch Control, FIFA 13 adds shades of unpredictability that I'm not used to in a sports game, even after setting the tone with last year's introduction of the Player Impact Engine. First Touch Control adds more weight to the initial touch players put on the ball, thanks to added elements of physics in players' actions. As a result, every play feels reasonably risky, and none of your passes are certain to hit their mark to a point of predictability. The ball might take a hard bounce if you attempt to volley it instead of safely settling it when receiving a pass. On top of that, FIFA 13 sees an improvement in its dribbling with the ability to pull both triggers while handling the ball. This locks your player so they face the opponent, similar to EA's recent FIFA Street game. It took some time to get used to this in conjunction with the rest of the dribbling controls, but deftly knocking the ball to the side and brushing past an opponent feels more natural and thrilling this year.
What brings the on-field action together is an improved AI, in which your teammates feel more apt to make runs and help create plays. One thing I feel I've gained in FIFA 13 is a sense of trust in my team. Certainly, player AI can only improve, but each pass feels like it sets up the next one more fluidly, as if my CPU-controlled teammates are seeing the same holes in the defense that I am.
The EA Sports Football Club also receives a new feature in Match Day, which draws the game closer to the real-life sport. Match Day is EA Canada's way of playing "hot or not" with players and teams by fluctuating their ratings based on recent actions. Did Liverpool win by three goals? Expect the team's form to get a boost in the Match Day. Better yet, real-life injuries, suspensions and other news will play out in the game's commentary occasionally, primarily when players face off in game fixtures based on real-world matches. Modes that allow you to follow the real-world season while you play its virtual counterpart aren't at all uncommon, but FIFA 13 does an admirable job of staying relevant to the sport's happenings.
Career mode has received a few touch-ups as well. Both players and managers can look forward to working with international teams, a landmark moment for any pro. Early in your career, your player can expect a note from their agent to remind them of their international aspirations, which continually feel distant, yet attainable. Adding that looming goal, in addition to a slightly cleaned-up menu system, gives career mode a more well-rounded feeling. It was a solid mode last year, and it's simply more polished this year.
I can say without hesitation that FIFA 13 has topped FIFA 12 while maintaining every improvement that it introduced. The inclusion of surprisingly awesome Kinect features and extra in-game rewards offers new reasons to play and builds upon last year's solid foundation. Finally, the complete dribbling mechanics and First Touch Control dive into the gameplay equivalent of the "uncanny valley," offering an unrivaled sense of realism and unparalleled excitement. FIFA 13 is, in a word, superb.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of FIFA 13, provided by Electronic Arts.
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Sony PlayStation 3 (late 2012)
Microsoft Xbox One