FIFA has had a meteoric rise on iOS. It’s first inception, FIFA 10, was rough around the edges and downright ugly, but this was way back in 2010 when mobile phones were first invented, silent film debuted in places called ‘Picture Houses’, and men got excited by a glimpse of womanly ankle. We were just glad to have FIFA in our pockets.
FIFA 11 was one heck of an upgrade. Swanky graphics never seen before on a mobile device, subtle animations, and fantastic, life-like commentary put it at the top of the iOS footy pile.
Last year, FIFA 12 made me want to marry it. Totally blew my socks off. If there was a better iPhone/Pad footy game out there, it didn’t exist, if that makes sense. It wasn’t perfect, but it was damn close. It also had legs, in a manner of speaking. It’s the first iOS game I’ve played for a year straight. I don’t mean I’ve been sitting with it for 365 days without showering (I tried, but my wife began complaining about the smell), but to this day, I’m still battling through Manager Mode as Sunderland, buying and selling players. Yes, Sunderland. Don’t judge me.
But if you’ve been knee-deep in last year’s version until two days ago, an initial FIFA 13 playthrough might leave you wondering just what has changed. You might ask yourself why you bothered spending another £5 on it instead of a bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee.
Give it a chance though, and you’ll begin to realise that FIFA 13 focuses more on subtle refinements than blockbuster changes. Instead of your socks blowing off, they’ll be removed a little more lovingly. Call it sock seduction.
So what’s the same? Well, it’s still a football game (phew), it still looks fantastic, (albeit not as much of a graphical leap as previous instalments), animations are still silky, gameplay is a tad slower but still smooth, and you can still score some lovely organic goals, due to the quality of the game engine. Manager Mode also makes a return.
It all feels a little familiar at first. But this is truly a case of ‘If it aint broke, please improve it’. By the time you’ve messed around with it for 30 minutes or so, you’ll be able to see your reflection in the spit/shine EA have given the game. As a side note, ‘If it aint broke, please improve it’ is totally getting trademarked.
Let’s start on the pitch, where a number of minor improvements add up to a greater sum of parts. You can now slide two fingers across the screen to change your team’s mentality. That is to say, how much they attack or defend as a whole, not whether they suddenly lose all ambition and sod off to the dole office.
Without the ball, you can call for a second defender to hound the guy in possession, and One-Two’s have been included for the attacking side of things, making for a greater variety of options when trying to break down those who park the bus. Facial animations have been added when players celebrate goals or complain to refs. Ever wanted to see how EA would handle Ashley Cole’s teeth in a game? Now you can.
Not everything on the green grass is hunky-dory however. Last year EA presented two sets of controls, ‘Advanced’ gave you access to the kind of deft moves Barcelona would perform against a Sunday League outfit, and’ Basic’, pretty much made you the Sunday League outfit.
This time round the split control scheme has…split. Some of the commands are still a little awkward – holding down the pass button then sliding up for a finesse shot never seems to work when you want it to, often resulting in an embarrassing punt into Row Z when you’re through on goal. Or in other words, what Arsenal’s Gervinho does every week. But on the whole, the controls are simpler, while still allowing you to pull off every move you could before. Well, almost.
Unless I’m missing something, or I’m really thick (a distinct possibility), EA appear to have gotten rid of the ‘Long Ground Pass’. You know what I mean: an accurate pass across the floor, useful for hitting someone on the other side of the pitch when you don’t want to waste time putting the ball in the air. Unfortunately, that ‘air’ part is what FIFA seems to have fallen in love with.
You used to be able to hold down the pass button to achieve this, but the same move now makes your player attempt a long, lofted ball. The longer you hold it down, the further it goes. ‘Fine’, you say, ‘So we’ve got one less pass to master’.
The thing is, it’s not fine. I can see that EA have attempted to simplify things, and I applaud that because performing a long ball last year was too fiddly for it’s own good. But you wouldn’t always opt for a long ball every time a player is a distance away from you, sometimes it feels more natural to skid it along the turf and get on with things. An example of this is when you have the ball with two team mates ahead of you. You might want to pass the ball to the furthest player in order for the nearer team mate to make a run, and then have the new player with the ball pass it into him. The simplest way to do this is was with a ground pass. A lofted ball takes more time and is less instinctive. It’s all about tactics, son.
However, with these controls, if a team mate is any more than a few yards away, you’re forced to put it in the air when you shouldn’t have to. It can even result in a breakdown of play as you lob it forwards where a grounded ball would’ve been better, only for your player to lose it trying to control it on his chest. I guess it’s a case of getting used to the new method, but that long ground ball is already missed.
In other disappointments, the bug that appeared during 90% of free kicks which saw a defender completely unmarked in the box appears again. It inevitably leads to cheap and easy goals. A big shame no one at EA spotted that. I can’t say I never exploited it though. Ahem.
And remember how I complained last year about the crowd suddenly going quiet at random points? Yeah, well I did. Go look it up. For the third year in a row, it’s still happening. In fact, it may even be worse. One minute you’ll hear lusty chants of ‘United, United!’ as you bear down on goal, only for the entire stadium to fall eerily silent for minutes at a time. The crowd do look a lot better though, so even if they don’t sound as good, they’ve at least managed to slap on some makeup.
Thankfully, screws have been tightened in other areas of the game which firm things up a good deal. Injuries now occur more frequently in Manager Mode, reading emails is a lot easier due to not having to click each one and waiting for it to load, and you’ll see photos of players, instead of a generic head in menu screens. When extending contracts, they’ll even sign a cheesy letter, complete with animation saying something like ‘This club is my home. I’m happy to be here!’ Until they bugger off to Real Madrid two seasons later, that is.
The biggest and most welcome change I’m sure we’ll all agree, is the introduction of online play. Finally you can now play, and lose, to real flesh and blood human beings on the other side of the globe. About time, but most welcome.
There are only two options for play – Quick Match with randoms and Online Friendly with your mates. Matches are automatically set to 4 minute halves and can’t be changed. For me it’s a little short; the game frequently fails to settle into a rhythm and is over too quickly, but I guess everyone has such a short attention span these days that the online experience is set up to dip in and out of. Speed dating, EA style.
Speaking of which, everything seems twice as fast online. Players move like whippets – think of a more arcadey style of play – and it’s a bit of a shock when you come over from single player, but you’ll soon get used to it. Using Orign, you can compare your progress on a friends leaderboard where you get 5 points for a win, 3 for a draw and 1 for a loss. Bizarre, but I suppose people just wouldn’t bother if they kept losing and getting nothing for it.
It can get a little laggy, with intermittent ‘Waiting for player’ messages popping up, but overall it’s smooth enough to be enjoyable, adding a long awaited feature to the mix. Some sort of competitive online setup would be nice, but the foundation looks to be solid.
And speaking of online, EA Sports Football Club makes it’s first appearance, meaning that every game you play earns you XP towards your favourite club’s rankings in the leaderboards. And thankfully you can now upload your replays to YouTube. With the kind of goals you can score, you’ll want to.
So FIFA 13 elicits less of a salivating exclamation, and more of a slow, knowing nod. One that gets more knowing as you discover how much it’s been improved, in little, but significant, ways.
Remember, if it aint broke, please improve it(TM). Consider my socks seduced for another year.
FIFA 13 is out now for £4.99 on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Get it on the