There are only so many times you can call a FIFA title 'The Best One Ever' without it sounding a bit redundant. Each year's instalment would be 'The Best One Ever' if all EA Sports did was update the haircuts, such is the brilliance of the game underneath. But it has gone further this time. Dribbling's expanded, players are fallible, and online modes complement the real world unlike any sports title before it.
On the surface, though, it's a lot like last year's. Tactical Defending - a divisive tackling scheme introduced by FIFA 12 which shifts focus onto intercepting, thereby slowing the game's pace - is still being pushed (thankfully, purists can set classic controls). Passing is still fluid, players clash organically, and shots can and will go in from any angle. The core hasn't been altered too much in this year's iteration, but several tweaks do impact matches dramatically.
First Touch Control seeks to 'eliminate perfection', and it does so brilliantly. Only the Messis of the world will effortlessly take the sting out of balls played to head, chest and feet; lumbering defenders might find it careening off shins instead, inadvertently opening surprise routes for strikers on their toes.
And it's not just trapping that's been made more realistic. Passes will lash wide, and occasionally botched shots will slink out for throw-ins, cuing embarrassed groans from ad-libbing commentators Martin Tyler and Alan Smith. Purists might bemoan more frequent unforced errors, but until the game is played by our mechanical robot overlords, football is after all a human sport.
Dribbling, too, has been retouched. Last year introduced Precision Touch, allowing close-quarters turning to wriggle out of tight spots. Problem was, close-quarters is tackling range. While that's still included, situated on LB, Complete Dribbling is better. By holding shoulder buttons your player turns more sharply, strokes the ball more often and, crucially, maintains his speed.
It won't work for everyone - try it with Emile Heskey and you'll swallow a mouthful of turf - but players like Ronaldo are more potent than ever. The new dribbling system and First Touch Control don't transform the game. They merely improve it, making it more realistic without sacrificing all-important fun.
Off the pitch, this realism stretches to new persistent online modes. Match Day is best, setting up the week's fixtures for you to recreate using updated teams. Gareth Bale on a bad run of form? His stats will take a dip. Smartly, you can enable these up-to-the-minute formations and ratings in regular exhibition matches with a press of Y during team selection.
Football Club's the same, but swaps recent matches for memorable moments - think Scenarios of old. Once beaten, they'll dish out prizes. Use Tevez to score the winner against Chelsea in the dying minutes, for example, and you'll get XP to buy things such as extra lines for commentators, a mental boost for your Pro, century-old historic kits and Nike footballs, presumably better than the others because of 'air 2.0 carbon speed holes' or something.
Despite EA's glut of new online modes, however, it's a shame the offline mode sees it tread water. Despite including more than 50 tournaments, it's missing the daddy - the Champions League. Careers are largely unchanged this time around barring international duties, and sharper parallels to the Chinese-whispering tabloid era (at one point, our star defender was reportedly seeking a move, but in an office chitchat he assured us he couldn't be happier). Also, tough luck for fans of lower-placed teams, who are all lumbered with generic bum-chin faces.
Still, all of that is nit-picking in what is once again the world's best football game - 'The Best One Ever'. FIFA 13's bigger and brighter in every way.
Raises the bar once again
- The best football game ever - again
- Comprehensive selection of modes
- Multiplayer is top-notch
- High quality online content
- Career's a carbon copy of last year