FIFA 13 (Xbox360)

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FIFA 13 is the most feature-rich and enjoyable entries in the series yet, offering a handful of new additions that make the game more approachable, realistic and absorbing than its predecessors.

While FIFA 13’s collision system is still not perfect and the game features quite a few bugs at launch, there’s no denying that this title provides an endless source of entertainment for football fans, and does an amazing job of weaving real-world football fixtures and results into the fabric of the game. Simply put, FIFA 13 feels like the beginning of a golden era for sports titles.

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Succeeding in FIFA games has increasingly become about using advanced button combinations in conjunction with the analog sticks to defend, attack and shoot. One of the welcome new features in FIFA 13 is ‘Skill Games’ – a tutorial of sorts split up into eight categories covering techniques such as crossing, free kicks, dribbling and shooting.

There are four levels of challenge per skill and you can compare your scores with your friends or the rest of the world. These skill games serve as a great introduction to FIFA 13’s basic controls and techniques, and being able to compete with your friends on the leaderboards provides an incentive to attempt and do well in each challenge even if you’re a FIFA pro.

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Another new feature in FIFA 13 is an online mode called ‘Pro Clubs Seasons.’ This replaces the ranked head-to-head matches that used to be available under the Xbox LIVE sub-menu and matches you up with other players of a similar division level to you, and those using a team with a similar star value to yours.

You advance through the ten available divisions by winning enough games to be promoted to a higher division, and you can choose to play as a new team whenever you like. If playing online head-to-head matches with similarly skilled opponents is your favourite part of the FIFA experience, then expect to spend dozens of hours working your way up to the top division in Pro Clubs Seasons mode!

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‘First Touch Control’ represents one of a few gameplay changes featured in FIFA 13. This modified passing system introduces the element of error by allowing the ball to bounce off players after they have received a pass. The likelihood of this happening is reduced if the player has good ball control skills in real life, but the direction and power of your pass also comes into play. While your player mistakenly knocking on the ball after a pass isn’t a common occurrence, this gameplay tweak does make FIFA 13 feel more realistic than its predecessors and forces you to pay extra special attention to your passing game.

Other gameplay tweaks introduced in FIFA 13 include a revamped player AI system called ‘Attacking Intelligence’ that allows your AI team-mates to display more freedom and creativity when you’re running at the opposition. Dribbling also feels more responsive and it’s now easier to get around defenders near the box – especially if you’re using a player like Messi who has high dribbling stats. Similarly, certain players are more adept at scoring from long range based on their real-world attributes, while the world’s best goalkeepers are as tough to beat as they are in real life.

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FIFA 13’s obsession with accurately portraying the attributes of real players is most obvious in a new mode called ‘EA Sports Football Club Match Day.’ This mode requires you to be online to get the most out of it as it revolves around results, fixtures and statistics from the real world of football. You can see which players and teams are in form or out of form based on the latest results, and you can choose between a team’s next four fixtures to play in Kick Off matches against the computer.

All sorts of statistics are available when choosing your team, ranging from their recent win/loss record to their league position to their top five scorers (complete with number of goals per player). My favourite feature of Match Day is the ‘Games of the Week’ option where you can choose to play one of five recent or upcoming matches from various football leagues around the world.

I don’t follow many of these leagues so being able to learn about what makes each available match important in the context of its respective league is really fascinating. These matches are available to play on different difficulty settings, and winning them against tougher AI earns you more XP and cash that can be used to purchase items from the EA Sports Football Club Catalogue.

The new Match Day feature also influences what the commentary team say during matches. For instance, they may comment that a certain team faces relegation if they continue to perform poorly or mention that a specific player is considering a transfer to another club. These comments based on real-world occurrences really help to make FIFA 13 feel like you’re watching a live TV broadcast, and new commentary features such as sideline injury reports and score updates from other matches help to sell the illusion.

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Another excellent aspect of FIFA 13 is how accessible it is for newcomers to the series. Whether you’re playing the game’s in-depth Career Mode or bidding on players in Ultimate Team’s live auctions, explanations of a specific menu’s features is as simple as pushing in the right analog stick to access something called ‘Feature Description.’ Certain modes even have explanatory videos that provide a decent overview of how to access and navigate that mode’s features. I simply can’t remember another FIFA game being so accessible for newcomers to the franchise!

Despite FIFA 13’s many accomplishments it is not without flaws. Collisions between players still look unnatural for the most part and are a far cry from the excellent collision physics seen in another game by EA Canada – NHL 13. I also encountered quite a few bugs such as the opening video stuttering and the game hanging indefinitely when your online opponent quits mid-game.

Match Day games sometimes lack commentary at the beginning, and I also got stuck in the pre-match training arena with no way to start the game on one occasion. I don’t remember these types of bugs being as prevalent in FIFA 12 so it’s somewhat disappointing that EA Canada couldn’t fix these issues before the game launched.

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Graphically FIFA 13 is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor. There are some excellent new animations and players’ hairstyles are more distinct than they were before, but overall there’s not much separating this game from FIFA 12 in the graphics department. FIFA 13 still looks great, though, and the stable frame rate during matches keeps things flowing as a solid pace. The one area where the frame rate is jerky, however, is during certain post-match cut-scenes where you see a whole lot of players on-screen at once.

FIFA 13’s 50-song soundtrack offers plenty of variety and features some big names such as Bloc Party, deadmau5, Flo Rida and Kasabian, but is unremarkable for the most part. Thankfully you can listen to custom soundtracks if the game’s playlist isn’t to your tastes.

FIFA 13 also boasts two English commentary teams to choose between – Martin Tyler and Alan Smith or Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend – so you can always switch to the other pair if the commentary team is getting on your nerves. Certain lines, such as Messi’s tendency to score multiple goals in a single week, are a bit overused but the commentary is generally insightful, entertaining and unobtrusive.

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FIFA 13 improves upon its predecessor in enough significant ways to make it a worthy purchase for fans of the series and newcomers alike. The Match Day feature provides an endless stream of up-to-date statistics and Games of the Week to play, while First Touch Control and Attacking Intelligence make gameplay that much more realistic and engaging. Skill Games and menu tutorials help newbies get to grips with the game’s complex controls and in-depth modes, making this one of the most accessible sports titles in recent years.

FIFA 13’s addictive, skill-based brand of gameplay is endlessly engaging, even when you’re three goals behind and the clock is winding down. With defeat just seconds away the game whispers seductively in your ear: “Just one more match to show the world what you’re made of…”