This is a partner cross-post written by The Outcast of Canadian Online Gamers, who was invited to EA Canada in late April to get a early look at FIFA 13. Although we didn’t get any hands on time we were treated to a very detailed presentation (with some video included) of what some of the changes are coming for some of the main gameplay features in the next iteration of this long running sports franchise. There is no doubt that last year FIFA 12 turned the world upside down in regards to how a soccer videogame can be as it had many new features and it earned accolades from media across the globe. So as we sat down and listened to the start of the presentation, I wondered how in the world they could make FIFA 13 a better game then last years version.
Before we heard about the changes to come, EA gave us to a bit of information of how FIFA 12 was continuing to attract gamers to play some virtual soccer (football for you purists). In its first week of release the FIFA 12 franchise as a whole sold 3.7 million copies, and within 4 months it had sold a staggering 10+ million. That is a pretty incredible number of soccer games sold. Since its’ release there have been over 1 billion online games played and the stats show that 5 million online games are played each day.
FIFA 13’s mantra is “A Revolution of Game-Changing Features”. The development team is stepping it up a notch or two and is focusing on some main areas that add even more realism, more intelligent AI (your own team and your opponents), and more features to allow more freedom to play like real life. EA Sports has taken 5 main gameplay features and made some notable changes in their effort to make a better game. The 5 affected areas areas are Attacking Intelligence, Complete Dribbling, First Touch Control, Player Impact Engine, and Tactical Free Kicks. These 5 areas have been changed in such a way that they each make FIFA 13 an even more soccer like experience. I could probably go one forever in regards to the changes made, so for time sake, and to limit the length of our preview, I will give a brief overview of each feature, the changes made, and how they impact the game.
In FIFA 13 your teammates work smarter to create attacking opportunities. As you play you will find that your AI teammates create passing channels and create space from offenders. They will actually run around defenders in an effort to get to valuable open space, whereas in previous iterations of FIFA teammates would run straight to any open space. This is very noticeable as you can literally see players curve around opposing players in an order to get to that one space to allow you to pass and make a solid play.
One of the biggest things I noticed was how players actually thought ahead. The AI has been tweaked so that they will actually determine who is likely to get the ball, and this in turn results in all the players reading for a possible play from the player that is most likely to get the ball. Your teammates literally think 2 plays ahead. It is amazing how you can see your teammates change their placement on the field, or how one of your forwards makes a break to an area where a pass may be fielded to. The flow of the game is so much more with the AI acting in this manner.
EA Sports took a look at the dribbling mechanics and made some changes to enhance this area of the game. FIFA 13 allows for 360-degree directional mobility, which allows for a whole lot more control. You’ll find that you can dribble the ball while shielding and while you do so players are more stable and poised when shielding. This makes for a chance to protect the ball while actually controlling it this time around. The video we saw was amazing as the player moved the ball with his feet, adjusting for some contact while keeping control of the ball.
FIFA 13 implements what is known as Precision 2.0. Here there is greater fidelity over close touches and you have the ability to change direction quicker and at slower speeds. We got the chance to watch some gameplay video of the Precision 2.0 in action and I have to say that I was impressed. You can turn your body in one direction and actually go in another one. It adds more authenticity to the gameplay as players move more realistically as they try to ‘deke’ out their opponent. There is also less opportunity during dribbling for a defender to have an opening to strike the ball as the other player’s body stays square and in the direction it should be.
Overall, Complete Dribbling allows for more freedom in attack and it replicates real-world dribbling. The more realistic shielding and more football-realistic situations add to the overall game experience of FIFA 13.
First Touch Control
This area is one of the more affected areas that I noted during the presentation. It is real world responses to passes and touches. Basically, it is the physics involved in passing and kicking the ball. You will find that no longer does a ball “stick” to a player when a kick or pass it directed their way. There are multiple factors that will now play in to how a player responds to a ball such as the defensive pressure, trajectory of a pass, the height of a ball, a players skill, running speed and timing, and even the weather. You will need to adapt to certain conditions this time around as the ball just doesn’t “stick” to your body or foot.
You will find that there is a risk/reward system in touching the ball. For example, if you decide to take a pass, or bring down a chip into the midfield, you will have to think about the fact that there is a good chance, depending on the conditions at hand, that you won’t be able to control it and you may cough it up to a defender. This risk/reward system has you adapting on the fly thinking about if and when you may try to control the ball as it comes to you.
First Touch Control allows for differentiation of player skills. A 50 rated player will respond and control the ball much differently then a 80 rated player as one is much more skilled then the other. The changes in this area eliminates near perfect control for every player. Overall you will find that there are now more opportunities for loose balls and there are more things to think about now, as EA Sports called it, more “football thoughts”.
Player Impact Engine
Last year FIFA made some great strides implementing their Player Impact Engine. It provided some very realistic collisions adding to the realistic gameplay. FIFA 13 builds upon this framework and the engine provides more realism outside the realm of just player collisions.
You will find that there are adjustments for a player’s strength and skill and there is now an ability for defenders to use their body to win back possession. There are some great off-the-ball battles and the effects of the ‘push & pull’ when battling for position are greater. You will as find that there are more realistic and human reactions to situations as bodies react like they should as they are more natural when they move. These are all a result of the improvements in the Player Impact Engine.
One of the biggest changes in this area is the ‘push & pull’ system. Most FIFA fans will notice that FIFA 13 allows you to push & pull players all over the pitch whereas FIFA 12 only allowed you to do this if you had touched the ball first. FIFA 13’s referee AI is also more refined in such that it has a greater ability to differentiate a push/pull versus a flagrant foul. FIFA 12 did not have such a robust referee AI and you should find the referee fair in this aspect. That being said, as with the First Touch Control, there is very much a risk/reward system when using the improved push & pull feature. You will have to use it at the right time and not just use it recklessly as you will be penalized accordingly.
There is no doubt that all these aspects of the Player Impact Engine contribute to a better virtual soccer experience. Defenders utilize their size and strength, opponents may be forced to make “poor touches”, there is a better balance between attacking and defending, and you’ll find more ways to dispossess your opposition. And of course, lets not forget collisions, as they look even better this time around.
Tactical Free Kicks
The free kick feature has also seen some changes. You can opt to do some ‘dummy runs’ for up to three players as you try to get the defensive wall to commit. You can do quite a neat combination of things in order to pull off some “tomfoolery”. For example, you can do a fake kick or two leading to a pass then to a shot on net. It is a nice set of features and adds to the offensive arsenal you can access.
On the defensive side of things, you can ‘jump your wall’ at any time during a free kick and you can reform and jump again. You can also add or subtract a player from the wall at any time and you can try to ‘creep’ the wall closer to the free kick spot. We were shown a video where the wall jumped too early, but then the defence adjusted, added a player and one of them was able to charge the kicker as he made his shot. It was a nice game of cat & mouse between the offence and defence as the kicker tried, and at first succeeded, in getting the wall to bite and commit, but the defence adjusted at just the right time to counter the kick.
If you remember, one of the things I noted at the beginning of this preview was that I really wondered how EA Sports could truly improve FIFA 12’s stellar effort, but after sitting with the developers for 2 ½ hours or so listening and watching all they had to say, I have to admit that they are truly improving on last years game. From the referee AI, humanizing the CPU, to adding new pass types, new animations (e.g. off balance shots, 180 degree shots) new behaviours in goal line clearances, and new celebrations, these are just a few things to make this a better soccer game. And you have to remember; EA Sports only talked about the main features that they have been working on and there is a lot more to come in regards to the game’s improvements.
If there is one thing that is clear, EA really wants to continue to drive this yearly franchise forward, and by all accounts EA Sports in Vancouver is doing a great job once again. If there is one message that the development team wants FIFA fans to get, it is that they are making all these refinements and changes in an effort to make FIFA 13 unpredictable as it allows anything to happen and have any outcome to occur at the end. They want to make the game predictably unpredictable, which means that all the results are regularly unforeseen, just like in real life. I for one can’t wait to see how the game continues to develop over the next few months.
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