This year's latest FIFA is on the way, but will EA Canada's changes make it the best yet, or is it time for PES to strike? Find out in our preview.
As we suggest to FIFA’s lead producer that success for his team might mean fifty per cent of players withdrawing from online matches in a fit of Drogba-esque pique, he recoils in notable horror.
“That depends upon what they hate,” David Rutter retorts, perhaps deliberately failing to understand that the success of any majestic football sim relies on the anecdotes of a million chewed-over injustices.
Or, more appropriately in this interconnected age, a billion – since that’s how many online matches FIFA 12 has to date accumulated. Rutter’s comments are perhaps deliberately guarded, seeing as the wealth of tweaks his team has just revealed – before a characteristically whooping audience – largely amount to swapping one set of frustrations for another.
Frustrations, we believe, that are certainly sensible and will enhance FIFA’s reputation as a simulation of the beautiful game – but undeniably ones that’ll be responsible for a rage quit percentage higher than Chelsea’s board of directors.
This year – as always – the studio’s roster of changes come hidden behind a matching collection of annoying buzz phrases, included so the back of FIFA13’s box doesn’t have to read ‘Football, but better!’
Behind the corporate waffle, though, lies the same sense of passion and commitment to obsessive accuracy that has seen EA’s offering eclipse its formerly mighty rival for over half a decade.
They're some colourful football boots.
There’s a touch of humour, too, as the studio’s launching point is revealed not to be some annoying hit box foul that needs fixing, or a frustrating end-to-end pass, but Andy Carroll and Lukasz Fabianski’s now-infamous kiss.
Apparently this was caused by players resorting to slowed animations to escape from tussles, rather than utilising more useful bespoke ones. Or perhaps that’s just all that they’re willing to admit.
Anyway, we’ll save you the trouble of memorising every minute detail, as the arguments of Rutter and his cohorts converge in three easy to remember areas: increased control, attacking intelligence and an enhanced battle for possession.
Building on the success of FIFA 12’s revised tackling system, which demanded timed inputs as well as good old-fashioned brute strength, EA Canada is keen to inject more gameplay into situations where possession is in question. Take long, lofted through-balls over the top, for instance.
Previously, defenders of pretty much any skill level have been able to trap balls flying over their shoulders with such a level of accuracy that there’d be no panic involved in routinely stroking the ball to your goalkeeper for a cultured punt up the field.
In other words, that situation in which an unsure defender is retreating towards his own goal, seeing no other option than to boot the ball into row Z?
The focus on AI tweaks should make for better attacks.
There was no reason for this to ever occur in any FIFA match. Now, because defenders can no longer trap a marble, simply getting rid of the ball can be the best available option to the player.
And it won’t stop there. Control of every pass will be dictated by an array of additional factors, including speed, a receiver’s skill and the height of bobbling balls.
The effects this will have are numerous, and generally prudent. For starters, it should soften the impact of speedy players – an annual gripe – as even situations that leave them entirely free behind the defence could be ruined by a poor first touch.
Or, indeed, an overhit pass – also more likely when controlling players of questionable skill. What it’s unlikely to remedy, though, is the ability of specialist wingers to creep down the touchline, benefitting from an increased range of control that simply places the ball beyond the reach of players attempting a shoulder charge.
Experiments are being made with allowing defenders to step across players’ paths should they knock balls on in an attempt to get past, but this is such a fouls minefield we shudder to think what the consequences might be.
Considering we’ve been sent off multiple times for sliding challenges that were a) clean and b) not performed by the last man, we anticipate several televisions flying out of windows before too long.
Clearly a foul.
The fact that Rutter’s response to our query on whether refereeing would be overhauled to counteract this was essentially just a “yes” without embellishment hardly fills us with hope. Still, the fundamental change is a strong one.
A statement true also of EA’s player intelligence tinkering, which resembles golden era PES more with every second we spend looking at it. First, though, a little theory.
You’ll doubtless have noticed during many years of FIFA play an irritating tendency for team-mates to start a run then suddenly think better of it for reasons unknown, darting off towards an alternate end point instead.
This occurs, so we’re told, due to AI routines that constantly assess the space available at a set of specific points on a pitch. The position furthest away from any defender becomes your AI player’s target destination, ensuring there’s always a man open for a pass.
Trouble is, as men shuffle about the field these pre-set positions vary in isolation, causing AI players to constantly readjust their target destinations.
This is also – incidentally – why forwards dart towards the corner flag sometimes during attacking moves rather than taking up more dangerous central positions. Put simply, there’s nobody in that area of the field, so FIFA’s AI routines spend their time filling space.
Good luck getting that ball...
Clearly this doesn’t make any sense. So, for FIFA 13, players will start to take a more holistic view. Forward runs will take account of dangerous positions in which forwards should be, curving movement to avoid obstructions and, if necessary, the last defender.
Players, too, will look to support not only the man on the ball, but the man who is about to receive any pass. When switching the ball across your defensive line for example, before the left centre-back rolls it to the right centre-back, your right full-back will start to advance up the wing just a little, receiving the pass around ten yards further up the pitch than he would have done in FIFA 12.
There are some legitimate concerns as to where the run button lies in all this – the more ignorant might yell ‘scripting’ at the top of their lungs – but this change will certainly lend FIFA a degree of veracity, of soul, that its AI players have to date been lacking.
Which brings us to the third element of our triumvirate – control. On a personal level this proved incredibly frustrating, armed as we were with questions about why EA Canada’s team chose not to include FIFA Street’s excellent close control mechanics. Because that’s exactly what has happened.
Not through an ability to perform sequences of outlandish tricks one after the other, you understand, but being able to look and travel in different directions.
Like EA’s recent fusion of football and terrible music, it’ll be possible to beat opponents simply by moving the analogue stick with precision timing.
At the moment, FIFA 13 is just a series of bullet-pointed tweaks. Hopefully the gameplay will back that up.
And from a purely visual perspective, you’ll see some of the world’s most skilful players perform quite a mesmerising dance around the football itself, using such basic control inputs, swapping feet with pleasing ease.
Along similar lines, free kicks will offer far greater control depth than has previously been the case. From an attacking perspective, gamers will be able to position up to three of their players over the ball, ready to perform dummy runs – with a host of additional passing options lending teams without a free kick specialist chance to score.
Defensively too, options have been multiplied. Gamers can now form walls of ridiculous length, taking in six or seven players. They can also cause said wall to jump on demand (and repeatedly, if necessary).
Finally, defenders can be slowly inched forward, narrowing the shot angle. Until, that is, your referee decides to book the wall for encroachment. Well it is cheating, after all.
In summary then, we’re largely satisfied that FIFA 13 will make giant strides forward in both the quality of its simulation and ensuring that online matches are at least decided by some virtual dice roll, rather than a rage quit engendering exploit.
After years of sixty-yard through-balls, invincible wingers and (grrr) Samuel Eto’o, a change of pace would be most welcome.