Tightening The Screws
I had my first say on FIFA 13’s Gameplay a few months ago and even at the time i dubbed it “the most polished FIFA I’ve ever played at such an early stage in the development cycle” so with that in mind, just what could EA possibly do to improve an already solid experience? The answer as it happens is, quite a lot.
This one came as a big surprise because the match presentation in the build we played at EAC was completely different to the press event code we’d sampled earlier in the year. The entire stadium now feels alive with activity during the opening cut scene, with camera men and photographers following the players on to the pitch snapping away at FIFA’s all star cast as they emerge from the tunnel. There’s also a raft of new pre-match camera angles and sequences the most impressive being an aerial view of the pitch and a brilliant close up of the match ball as the players prepare to kick-off. You even see a subtle wobble effect on the camera to represent that someone is carrying it whilst moving across the pitch.
It’s not just the cutscenes that have received a brush-up though because even during gameplay, new assets can been seen all around the stadium. Stewards and policemen for instance are no longer cardboard cutouts, instead they’re living breathing models who’ll move around the ground studiously watching the crowd. Even the photographers positioned behind the goal noticeably change the angle their camera is facing depending on where the action is, the level of detail is really quite something.
The best though, as always is saved to last because in FIFA 13 you’ll now be able to see subs warming up on the touchlines and mangers patroling the technical area. Once again this isn’t just unnecessary padding as the commentary team will pick up on much of this activity and discuss the manager readying a substitution for example. These new features were a complete shock to the system when we booted up FIFA at EAC and the layer of realism that FIFA’s presentation has always been lacking is now not only there, but genre leading.
Another element of the FIFA presentation package that deserves a big mention is the match audio which now reacts very naturally to events on the pitch. Whether it’s goals, bad challenges or missed opportunities the audio now seems to appreciate the context of these situations far better and most importantly it delivers the right responses. Tuning to the actual levels of crowd reaction looks to have been tweaked too with noticeable jumps in volume for the most intense moments of drama.
The depth to the audio runs much deeper in FIFA 13 too, even to the point where certain crowd chants have been assigned time frames when they should be heard. So don’t expect to hear “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at Anfield anymore unless it’s in the last few minutes of the game. It sounds like a really small thing, but oddities surrounding crowd chants can be a massive immersion killer and presentation detail that finite was a consideration FIFA 12 just didn’t pay enough attention to.
I feel it’s really important that I cover the finesse shot in FIFA 13 individually because you guys asked us to provide specific feedback on it so strongly. To be brutally honest, my personal opinion is that it’s still a little too power as a weapon to guarantee shot success in the build we played. It’s much better than FIFA 12 don’t get me wrong, but I still think that as a “get out of jail free” card it’s far too easy to play.
I’m not suggesting nerfing it entirely either because curled or “finesse” shots happen all the time in real matches. But what we fed back to Aaron McHardy and multiple members of the gameplay team was that we wanted to see more variation in the type of arc the ball trajectory takes from a finesse shot. So instead of every shot taking that consistent 90 degree curve, there would be more instances of shots curling more, taking the ball closer to the keeper and curling less, seeing the ball miss the far post.
The team at EAC were incredibly receptive to all our thoughts and ideas surrounding finesse and now it’s their call whether they feel that it needs to be changed or not, remembering of course that they build a game for 9 million people, all with different tastes.
Contain was the other major element of concern especially from a subsection of our Twitter following and I thought it was absolutely fine in the EAC build. The lateral element of Contain means that when you player switch the fact you’re already pushing the analogue stick in a direction removes that “locked on” feeling and even if you hold Contain and nothing else, you’re now more likely to passed by the powerful Complete Dribble system.
In FIFA 12 there was no way to beat a containing defender and it made the system hugely overpowered, especially online but the combination of the lateral movement in the system and the power of Complete Dribble makes Contain in FIFA 13 a much more palatable game mechanic. As always with new elements it’s all about balance and EA have done a much better job this year with Contain even if Complete Dribble has ended up providing most of the answers.
One area for improvement in Attacking Intelligence that we identified in June was that we wanted to see more instances of players coming towards the ball to become a passing option. The system tends to focus more on players making runs away from the ball carrier and in the EAC build I still felt this was the case. It’s not a problem because the movement compared to FIFA 12 is almost incomparable but to add just a little bit of light and shade to the visual element of Attacking Intelligence I think it would be great to see more players moving towards the ball carrier showing for a pass.
Some additional tuning has also happened under the hood to the Attacking Intelligence logic which makes players consider whether making a forward run is actually a good idea or not. In the E3 code we’d played previously certain players (especially fullbacks) had a tendency to vacate their position too freely leaving you vulnerable if the ball was turned over. That’s now gone and if you already have your winger out wide in a great position, the fullback isn’t going to run forward just because he can. He’ll still push up to support and overlap if it’s appropriate, but if there’s a man to mark that will be his first priority.
The real star of the show is still the Two Plays Ahead system though and even if you were to remove all the curved runs and swish gesture animations, having your team mates engaged in the play and already on the move is the real game changer. We did get the chance to play some FIFA 12 at EAC (waiting for Rom in the lobby) and the biggest change you feel is the jump in fluidity. That’s almost solely down to Two Plays Ahead and even if your team mate has moved just a few yards in FIFA 13 compared to him being stationary in FIFA 12, it still makes all the difference.
First Touch Control
The great news with First Touch Control is that it’s still a very prominent game mechanic and it hasn’t been toned down. All that’s changed really is that the slightly odd instances of overly heavy touches in comfortable scenarios have now been smoothed out. I’d also like to stress yet again, that First Touch Control isn’t about forcing your players to take bad touches, because FIFA 13 is still crammed with great examples of control. If you aren’t under pressure and you receive a simple pass your touch will be as good as FIFA 12 most of the time, but when the context changes and a 40 yard pass is drilled across the pitch, you really have to think about how to receive it and what to do next based on your first touch.
Getting the unpredictability of real football on to the pitch in FIFA 13 was a big part of EA’s brief this year and First Touch Control is by far the biggest contributor to achieving that mission statement.
Of the five FIFA 13 gameplay pillars EA revealed some time ago, Complete Dribble has always been one of my favourites. Now, it’s my absolute number one and by some distance. The main reason for that is the addition freedom the system offers and although simple sounding, the separation of movement and facing angles is every inch the revolution we were promised last year from Precision Dribble.
We mentioned on our gameplay podcast in June that we felt the contextual element of Complete Dribble wasn’t initiating soon enough and the team have now settled on what seems to be a happy medium in terms of range. I’m still a big fan of controlling the system exclusively myself (LT and RT) but seeing it happen contextually when your players approach a defender or you near the touchline is a really special moment. Precision Dribble 2.0 felt the same as before to be honest and it’s still only useable when virtually stationary. As always it’s about trying to blend these different dribble systems together and because of the more prominent contextual element you’ll see much of these new features in FIFA 13 simply by dribbling with the left stick.
The criticism I picked out regarding dribble individuality earlier in the year still stands though and although Messi, Hazard, Mata and Co feel amazing to control, everyone else sort of feels on a par. Perhaps then it’s only the poorer dribblers that need to go down a notch from that baseline?
Although the Impact Engine was verging on perfect in comparison to FIFA 12 there were still a few odd collisions which needed to be ironed out. The great news is that this has now happened and the Impact Engine is in the sort of shape we all imagined it would be when EA announced it last year. The one tiny oddity remaining was that on occasion players attempted to hurdle challenges a little too early, which visually looked a bit weird. EA were already aware of this one though, and had already resolved the issue in builds they had at their desks.
One very welcome change to Tactical Freekicks is that the first time you’re awarded a freekick, you now get a tutorial overlay on screen explaining all the different controls. Some of the advanced Tactical Freekick options are fairly complex so this tweak is going to be really useful for everyone when they pick up the game. The big criticism still remains with Tactical Freekicks though, why would I use it instead of just shooting? I guess its down to personal preference really, but for those willing to try something new the options you have at your disposal are excellent.
The version of FIFA 13 we played at EAC still feels very much like the FIFA 13 we played in Guildford, but what’s happened in those months is an incredible amount of fine tuning and tightening of the gameplay mechanics. The foundations of all the new gameplay elements were there in Guildford, but in Vancouver there was a pretty impressive house built on top and based on past experiences FIFA 13 feels more than ready for release, even with two months to go.
The changes go beyond the five major gameplay pillars though and as always EA have made lots of changes to existing fundamentals too. Shooting for example now feels like it has the raw power back that we once had in FIFA 10, only now it’s now bound by the ball physics improvements that came with FIFA 11 and 12. Improvements to fundamentals I always find are some of the most impressive and FIFA 13’s gameplay feels like EA have finally managed to weave all the lessons learnt from this generation in to one, very solid on-the-pitch package.
FIFA’s gameplay will never be “perfect” in my eyes, football itself has too many blemishes for that to be possible and there’s of course always much room for improvement (footedness, foot planting, locomotion etc) . But what’s clear this year above all else is that regardless of inconsistencies and balancing issues which will no doubt rear their head once millions of people have poured millions of hours in to the game, there’s still no doubt in my mind that FIFA 13 has the best overall gameplay of any FIFA title this generation. That alone is a reason to be very excited for September 28th.
Feel free to ask any further questions in the comments.