FIFA Soccer 13 review: First touch

After the impressive FIFA Soccer 12 last year, it's easy to have high expectations for this year's soccer game from EA Canada. Barring any major setbacks to the series, the question of how great FIFA 13 would be wasn't an unreasonable one to ponder heading into the game's release.

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.%Gallery-157622% 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.

"Oh, this is going to ruin me," was my initial reaction to EA Sports Football Club's improvements, especially in the game's new "Catalogue." Not only will players continue to gain XP for everything they do in the game, but now the Catalogue rewards players with in-game items for those actions. Unlocking kits, balls, and even rating boosts for your career mode players ties together all the loose ends that were left behind when the Football Club concept was first introduced with FIFA 12. Everything intriguing about the meta-game aspects of FIFA 12 becomes addictive and substantial in FIFA 13.

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.

Here's something else I never thought I'd write: FIFA 13 is also my favorite Kinect game. Shouting at my television, which I've found I'm quite good at, can aid in setting up tactics and formation changes for my team on the fly. Yelling "go, go go!" to send a player on the run before I cross the ball into the box is natural and exciting. There are still moments where I prefer tapping the d-pad to select my team's mentality, and it takes patience and focused attention to verbally substitute players using the Kinect menu. Even so, I can see myself ensuring that the Kinect is plugged in when I boot up FIFA in the future. As a bonus, if you also have a potty-mouth like I do, you'll get a nice reaction from the commentary team for your candid thoughts about the actions on the field.

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.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.