After over a decade of neck-and-neck tussling as the Pacino and De Niro of console soccer simulations, there are now only a select few who still consider EA Sports’s FIFA series to be in any way inferior to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer franchise. And with daylight finally emerging between these two fierce rivals, it appears as though the developers at EA Canada have delivered their most assured and poised package to date with FIFA Soccer 13.
This “package” is packed to the gunwales with frills and frivolous features, presumably in an attempt to compensate for the lack of a truly immersive single-player mode, and to quell the allure of Pro Evo’s endlessly engrossing Master League mode. FIFA’s flagship Ultimate Team mode marries the hustle and bustle of a prestigious soccer tournament with the frenzied catch-them-all hijinks of the Pokémon games, urging you to assemble a dream team and compete against others in online leagues and tournaments. Rather than cherry-picking your favourite stars, though, you must procure your players through auctions or packs of trading cards that can be purchased either by cold hard cash or in-game XP. So, for better or for worse, it’s best not to expect any swashbuckling one-twos between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo before first blazing shots into orbit with faceless lower-league footballers.
The 90 minutes of soccer that takes place between each of these game modes (and, believe me, there are plenty) is relatively unchanged to what was released this time last year.
Despite the graphical improvements on last year’s outing being akin to little more than a new lick of paint, FIFA Soccer 13 impresses because it arrives wrapped in a rainbow of fancy ribbons with more nips and tucks than a Hollywood awards ceremony. For instance, when a player succumbs to injury during a game, the commentators will turn to a pitch-side reporter for the nature and extent of the damage he’s received (which produces potentially harrowing moments during one of the sprawling single-player campaigns). Further, before the curtain is raised on any fixture, we’re treated to a suitably epic montage with fantastic choreography and oodles of hype from the stellar commentary team. With FIFA Soccer 12 having already nailed the on-field realism to a tee, doing as much as can possibly be done with this engine on this generation of consoles, the developers have turned their attention to capturing all the pomp and pageantry of television coverage to recreate a complete footballing experience.
EA Canada has also been creative in its efforts to curtail boredom, offering a number of addictive skill-based mini-games to kill the time between screens. Hitting targets and shimmying between cones is as amusing as it is exasperating, providing fun and frustration in equal measure, but it sure beats staring blankly at a screen. The 90 minutes of soccer that takes place between each of these game modes (and, believe me, there are plenty) is relatively unchanged to what was released this time last year. The dribbling system benefits from a few minor tweaks, mostly borrowed from this year’s FIFA Street, and players can be as imperious as ever while defending with a host of different ways to wrestle possession from your opponent. Moreover, AI teammates seem to be more intelligent (or, at least, less nauseatingly dim-witted) than in any other soccer simulation, making darting runs and floating into spaces that are both realistic and useful. This opens up new ways to score, adding a much-needed variety to how games are won.
Of course, EA didn’t need to make these changes. It would only take a handful of new haircuts and an updated transfer roster to render FIFA Soccer 12 obsolete, so it’s a testament to the developers and the franchise that they’re still working hard to earn your $59.99. Standing head and shoulders above its competition, FIFA 13 is without doubt the best soccer game on the market—which technically makes it the greatest soccer game of all time to boot.