Fifa 13 [Preview] – The evolution of revolution
Aside from the Player Impact Engine, which more accurately simulated the physical side of football, Fifa 12’s big innovation was defending. For the first time, timing and positioning really mattered: instead of just hammering the tackle button, you had to think carefully about where your players were, who they were up against, and how they might win back possession without committing a foul.
This year, the attacking is getting a similar workout. In Fifa 13, the foundations of last year’s changes are being built upon, and it’s the strikers who can now take advantage.
For all the benefits that Tactical Defending delivered (and it did so to many players – only seven percent opted to use the legacy system, says EA), it removed a lot of options for the attacking side. Defenders were able to close in on forwards with immaculate precision, and the AI of your teammates often struggled to keep up with play, stubbornly refusing to get into decent positions from which to receive a ball.
In essence, the game lost some of its balance. And that’s the big thing EA is hoping to address with this year’s update.
To this end, the team in Canada has programmed an entirely new positioning system, which improves how players analyse space and choose to go on runs. The result, the theory goes, is that the AI will understand how to work together, thinking two plays ahead, constructing new attacking opportunities on the fly.
The system’s called Attacking Intelligence, and it stretches further than just some rewritten positioning code. New animations allow you to predict a teammate’s run before he embarks on it, while offside traps will be better avoided by attackers who know to keep their hips facing forward as they curve their runs away from a defender.
It all looks promising, and could go some way to shaping a more convincing style of attack on Fifa’s virtual pitch, not to mention a modicum of new opportunities when charging forward with the ball. But EA isn’t stopping there. Supporting it are reams of other improvements that stack upon the foundations built by Fifa 12’s major alterations.
Make no mistake: this isn’t another radical shake-up of the Fifa formula. EA’s line this time is that “the revolution continues,” but the changes this year appear minor yet significant, rather than enormous and game-changing. Still, there are lots of them. New dribbling controls allow you to drop more skill into your runs with ease, simply manoeuvring an analogue stick to sneak the ball around an opposing player. Meanwhile, collisions look more convincing than before, the developers stripping out glitches in weight and strength that led to some awkward tangles on the ground in Fifa 12.
Another interesting system is that relating to first-touch control, and in this sense EA is taking the interesting decision of making their game less precise than before. The days of arcade-style Fifa are long gone, and in its pursuit of realism Fifa 13 is looking to strip out some of the mastery with which players come into possession of the ball.
Loft a long pass upfield to your striker and he might bring it under control with immense skill, skipping past the last defender and sprinting towards goal. He might not, though. Instead, he might fluff his first touch and give away possession. Or the ball might bounce awkwardly, sneaking just away from him, allowing the last man to convincingly clear to safety.
The defender might make a similar mistake, though. Overshoot a pass and you won’t necessarily lose the ball: if the opposition player fails to bring it under control quickly enough, you might find yourself with a decent chance to win it back.
These changes mean Fifa 13 will be as much a game of the mind as it will a game of skill with a controller. Each individual player’s stats will be taken into account, so Cristiano Ronaldo is far more likely to pull off a wonderful piece of skill than a League 2 no-namer. The choice now becomes about whether to risk playing that ambitious ball, or whether to bide your time, pushing slowly up the field, waiting for some space to open up.
Of course, EA has taken the opportunity to build upon last year’s Player Impact Engine as well. Fifa 13 aims to simulate the battle for possession both on the ball and off the ball, so you’ll be able to use your weight and strength to get the advantage over an opponent before either of you has even taken possession.
Once the ball’s at someone’s feet, you’ll automatically try to use a bit of brute force to win it back, and the more persistent you are the more you’ll risk giving away a free-kick. It’s all context-sensitive, though, and players will use their knowledge of their own strength and that of an opponent to decide what to do. A gentle tug might be brushed off by a sturdy centre-back, but a feather-light striker might go tumbling to the floor.
Referees have been given a mental overhaul, too: they’ll make more reasonable decisions, but each one has his own particular grievances, so a lenient official might turn a blind eye to something that a stricter one may frown upon.
Thankfully, if a foul is committed, the free-kick system is receiving a much-needed overhaul. Until now, Fifa’s set-pieces have been oddly limiting affairs, not letting you do a great deal more than line up your shot and aim for goal, or position a wall if you’re defending. In FIFA 13, the options are wide open. Want to trick the defending side into jumping early? Have someone run over the ball, or tap it to the side for another player. You can have up to three men standing over the ball, and the opposing team will have to predict your plan if they want to block the shot effectively.
If you’re defending, you’ll be able to add players to the wall by simply jogging them over to it, and you can nominate one player to charge the ball down as it’s struck. You can also cheekily inch players forward while the ref’s back is turned, but be careful: in the demo we saw, it resulted in one player being shown a yellow card. The ten yard rule can only be stretched so far.
There’s a lot more to be announced – so far, EA has only offered a taster of what Fifa 13 will offer. There’s talk of better connections between you and your club of choice, and whispers of moving further from ‘product’ to ‘service’, whatever that turns out to mean. All will be revealed in the coming months, of course, as the clock ticks onwards to the inevitable Autumn release.
It certainly seems that this year’s Fifa is about perfecting the formula kicked off by last year’s revolution. It’s still early days, of course – much of what we were shown was still in debug mode, meaning we didn’t get much of an idea of what the finished article will look like. But given Konami’s recent underwhelming PES 2013 announcement, which pointed to a game that’s still struggling to play catch-up to EA’s innovations, it looks like Fifa could find itself at the top of the league once again.