New FIFA games have become as inevitable as rain in Scotland or Cardiff City bottling a promotion campaign. If compiling a future release list, I could probably include FIFA on it for the rest of eternity, or until the apocalypse, whichever comes first. Unlike other stagnating series, however, this is not necessarily a problem for EA Sports' flagship title; the quality of their games has steadily increased for the past five years, meaning that FIFA is now the undisputed king of console football. FIFA 13 has continued this trend, creating a superb footballing experience which is a clear step up from last year's addition; the raft of new features and almost unplayable amount of modes means that FIFA 13 is, arguably but probably, the best football game ever. My heart still lies with ISS Pro Evolution 2 though.
As should always be the case with a sports title, the most noticeable improvements in FIFA 13 have come in the gameplay, with some generally good, if slightly bizarrely implemented tweaks. Now, the reason the game actually plays better than FIFA 12 is because, strangely, the defence system has not been improved and is still unwieldy, awkward and naively implemented. However, this lack of improvement, which in other circumstances could have been deadly, is in tandem with a much more fluid attacking system; attackers make intelligent and instinctive runs, dribbling is more intuitive and less omni-directional whilst physical, lung-busting midfielders like Yaya Toure are far more effective than they were previously. The strange result of these contradictions is that, due to the awfulness of the defensive system and the brilliance of the attacking implementations, FIFA 13 is now an open and free-flowing counter-attacking affair; games ebb and flow, so don't be surprised to hit the post and then concede twenty seconds later. This new attacking intent makes the dogged battles-of-attrition which so often bogged down FIFA 12 a thing of the past, instead creating a fun and frantic football game. It may be less realistic, but hell, this is a game not a simulation.
Other improvements made to the gameplay are a bit more haphazard. The inclusion of a first-touch mode, although an excellent idea, succumbs to poor implementation and misunderstanding quite quickly. The problem is that it is absolutely and completely unclear how to use this new system and appears, like the ill-fated handball experiment, to be down to random luck as opposed to any sort of coherent set of circumstance. This means that League Two clogging centre-backs can control a high ball on a thimble whilst Xavi inexplicably spins the ball heavily out of his feet. A clearer use of the system tied explicitly to the ability of the player in possession would have been far clearer than the erratic and random touches that prevail. This is a waste of a good and easily implemented idea which could have made a big difference to the gameplay.
Thankfully, other ideas within the game have been woven in with far better skill. The new skills mode is a terrific inclusion, even if it's an almost carbon copy of the old training modes in Pro Evolution Soccer. These range from the obvious free-kicks and crosses to dribbling modes including all manners of tricks and different moves. The skill games work really well, honing your abilities with the progressive difficulty. I've played FIFA for a long time but I certainly still learnt something from these surprisingly addictive exercises. Exhibition matches have now been expanded into 'Kick-Off', a mode with a raft of new features and exciting ideas, including 'Games of the Week' (a selection of rival matches from around the world to take part in). Interestingly, real life form is now monitored and translated into this game mode, raising or lowering the statistics of the players. For example, as my team Leicester City have won five matches on the bounce the players have increased in quality, as one would expect from a confident team, whilst Peterborough United's woeful form is matched by a decreased valuation of their squad. Although intriguing, I'm not sure I necessarily agree with it as an idea and normally turn it off; it removes any squad consistency when considering players.
There's an almost dizzying array of online modes when one wishes to take their football online. The head-to-head season returns, this time given its own berth as 'season' mode. Playing against online players in a league format, this mode was and still is an addictive revelation, allowing you to take on players according to league and team quality; Barnet vs Barcelona is now a thing of the past. The excellent 'Be-A-Pro' mode and its club incarnation has been given a season mode to itself, again with a league system, whilst the Manager/Player Mode is still absorbing. This isn't even the tip of the ice-berg; there is so much to do, so many different modes to explore let alone actually playing a game that you won't get close to discovering half of the features before FIFA 14 is released. Unlike many short and sweet games, EA have done a tremendous job in creating a product of great length and value, easily justifying the yearly expenditure; unless, of course, you have the Wii version, an exact carbon copy of FIFA 12 which is as disgraceful as it is shameful.
These modes and the improvements in gameplay have been matched by the visual feast. FIFA 13 looks fantastic, with expressive weather effects and reasonably realistic players, at least in the top leagues; those lower down look like Frankenstein, whilst the lack of 3D crowd models is still utterly bizarre in this generation. Menu screens are as sharp as ever, and the extra effort to create a match-day experience is a nice touch, even if a little SKY SPORTS SUPER DUPER SUNDAY in style. As usual, the soundtrack is an exceptional and varied list of great up and coming new bands, meanwhile the stadiums and chants have never sounded better. The same can't be said of the commentary, as bland and mis-matched as always, with Alan Smith sounding like he's commentating on his own funeral; there's more energy in a morgue.
It's not easy producing a great game year in year out, but EA Sports are managing it with ease at the moment. Once again FIFA 13 is a clear improvement over the last incarnation; it plays better, looks better, has more modes and is superior in nearly every conceivable way. Whether they meant it or not - and it is doubtful that they did - the terrible defending mixed with the improved attacking makes for a pulsating and entertaining affair, whilst the new game modes offer great variety and an ocean of things to do. For these reasons, and the consistent high-quality of the game as a whole, FIFA 13 is not only the best FIFA game ever and the best football game of this generation, but also arguably the best football game ever. Praise indeed.