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REVIEW: FIFA 13 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

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review-line.JPGName: FIFA 13

Genre: Football

Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC

Price: £38.97 on Xbox 360 from Amazon

£38.97 on PS3 from Amazon

£29.99 on PC from Amazon

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More physical than a Neil "Razor" Ruddock challenge from behind, FIFA 13 once agin improves on the beautiful game, adding new player physics features for the most realistic kick-about ever. Find out why it's time to cough up for yet another FIFA season ticket.

review-line.JPGI like a good kick-about, but I'm no Messi. Jumpers for goalposts and a muddy field are about as close to Wembley as I'm likely ever to get, but that hasn't stopped me from cherishing a few proud footballing moments of my own. Top of the list is a 30-yard screamer during my brother's stag-do festivities on a full size pitch that clattered off the underside of the crossbar before ricocheting off the keeper into the back of the net.

What made it such a sweet moment to savour was that it was unpredictable. I'd never scored a goal anywhere near as impressive before, and haven't managed it since either. Football thrives on these unpredictable, unforgettable moments, and with FIFA 13, EA Sports have managed to digitise that excitement and pop it onto a disc.fifa-13-4.jpegIt comes as part of FIFA 13's biggest change to their world-beating, premier football game experience. In this year's entry into the series, players no longer have god-like on-the-ball control. A tweaked physics engine means that you'll now have to take into account the speed of an incoming ball as well as height and player skill when receiving a pass, for fear of it running away from you. For some star players, like the aforementioned Messi, he'll still keep the ball stuck to his feet like glue, but drop down to a less silky player, and the difference is noticeable. Defensive moves in particular are now fraught with tension; you're more likely to hoof it down the pitch now for fear of a loose pass being picked up by a scavenging striker.

Adding to this is further improvements to the Player Impact Engine. There's a more realistic feeling of weight to players now, letting you jostle players off the ball and muscle an opponent out of possession. When added to the new on-the-ball gameplay, there's no room for sitting back and coasting; you're constantly being challenged.

In both the new on-the-ball physics and overall increased physicality, a balance between realism and fun has been maintained. You never feel cheated by the new features. It's always easy to recognise what mistakes you've made in losing possession, and how to fix that next time. An improved dribbling move, pulled off by holding down both triggers, lets you weigh a speedy run against better control too. It's a flexible, exciting system.fifa-13-3.jpegThe added realism extends to better defensive AI too. Off-the-ball movement is now far more intelligent, especially on the break. Darting runs from computer-controlled teammates seem to naturally fall into more potentially dangerous positions, cutting open the defence, but also taking into account offside traps, with strikers pulling their runs up short rather than getting caught out.

The tweaks aren't significant in isolation, but when pulled together, it's a far more realistic, chaotic match, in the best possible way; there are more ways to score great goals than ever, but pulling them off is matched with a higher difficulty curve. Some will argue that the game is now less accessible as a result, but if accessibility is lost in favour of a more realistic game, it's a trade off we're happy to make.

As we've come to expect from FIFA games, FIFA 13 is simply overflowing with game modes and events to take part in. All the standard online and offline exhibition, league and tournament modes return (fully licensed, naturally), alongside returning favourites Be A Pro and Ultimate Team. But there's also brand new features too. Firstly, there is Skill Games, coming across a bit like Virtua Tennis's mini games, challenging you to perfect tricks and moves, and letting you post high scores online.FIFA-13-2.jpegBut perhaps our favourite new addition of all is Match Day, an update added to last year's Football Club mode which offered timely, seasonal challenges tied in to real-world footballing news. Match Day takes this one step forward, offering a regular button on the opening screen that lets you update tweaked player stat databases that takes current real-world form into account. You can watch your digital teammates rise and fall in-line with their current performance, and offers a really deep experience for fantasy football fans.

Grab the PS3 version of FIFA 13 and you get access to Move motion controls, letting you map out off-the-ball runs with arrows and tactic onscreen overlays. It's fine, but a bit too chaotic to merit more than just a quick game or two. Kinect for Xbox 360 is integrated a little more naturally, taking voice commands to bark out managerial options. You can shout out substitutions or map custom tactics to key phrases, letting you make changes on the fly without delving into menu screens as often as before. More fun is the way Kinect interacts with the referee; if you've got a potty mouth, the game will pick up on this, and while you won't be overtly penalised for it, you'll find less decisions go your way if you've been cussing and cursing a bit. Of course, it's an optional feature, but its seamless integration makes it worthwhile.fifa-13-1.jpegVisually, FIFA 13 retains the high standards set by its predecessors. As per usual, EA's licensing might means all the proper kits and player likenesses are in place, but with the current generation of consoles now in their twilight years, it's not a marked improvement over earlier versions. Their a numerous small improvements throughout (clearer menu systems, a wider variety of player animations), but nothing more than a solid continuation of the series' consistently strong graphics. Likewise, the commentary is as sterling as ever, and remains the high-watermark for sporting gaming commentary across the genre.

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Verdict:

FIFA 13 is mostly an incremental update, but the changes made are still significant improvements. When you're building on a blueprint as near-flawless as that of FIFA 12, that's no bad thing. FIFA 13 is again awarded the Golden Boot this season. Time to renew that season ticket.

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5/5
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