I know what you're thinking, or well, I'm going to presume I know. What is a blog devoted to the Houston Dynamo, a Major League Soccer club, doing with a review/closer look article about a video game which regularly ignores the league and it's teams? That is really a great point, but for once a null point. The newest iteration of the FIFA EA Sports franchise, FIFA 13, released for the Xbox 360 and PS3 on Tuesday, and has been a huge surprise for many.
For once, the franchise got it right. And I mean wholly and completely right. The game isn't bogged down with annoying inconsistencies with MLS Clubs whereas their European counterparts would flourish with accuracy. In what must be the first time in history, there is as much a focus on MLS as there is on Liga MX or even Bundesliga. In fact, I dare venture to say this is the first truly worthwhile FIFA franchise where you don't feel necessary to manage or play as specific English Premier League teams.
My complete review, or as complete as I can make it after only one full day with the franchise, after the jump.
With every iteration of FIFA I have played, I always gravitate toward the Career Modes. I assume this is due to some innate desire to be the superstar or legend of a franchise and take them to ultimate glory. Career Mode used to be rather ho-hum and repetitive, with every season taking roughly a week or two of continuous play just to complete. This wouldn't include the time necessary to focus on player acquisitions through transfers and negotiating transfer fees and loans for outgoing players.
It was the same year after year, going back at least 3-4 releases, and yet this one got it right. It really, and finally, nailed it. The matches are crisper, cleaner, and less robotic in nature. The fluidity of the animations is tightly wound in the revamped broadcast atmosphere. Every match possesses a fresh quality, although I am certain after a full week trudging my way through a full season I would find this fresh quality far less fresh and far more rotten. I digress.
Part of what keeps the luster alive is when you play Career Mode as a Player first, you actually experience a lot of day to day stuff without the ho-hum of management problems. I created my player, aptly named after his namesake, me, and signed on the dotted line with the Houston Dynamo at the ripe age of 17. The first couple of friendlies I was given the opportunity to play, just as would happen in real life, but then when the regular MLS season began a short 2-3 weeks later, I was relegated to the Reserves.
Unlike in real life, there were no reserve matches to participate in, though I have a feeling this could be implemented in one of the future FIFA releases -- FIFA 14 Academies, anyone? To address this, and to prevent the age-old ho-hum of playing through a bunch of matches you aren't intending to play through, FIFA 13 gives you only the option to simulate these matches. Again, these are only matches you aren't listed in the substitutes, so you aren't going to be called into the match anyways.
After 5-6 of these matches, the Open Cup reared it's ugly head. I was intrigued, as this is usually when Dom would play the youth and let them show what they have to offer. Sure enough, I was put into the starting eleven, and given the opportunity to strut my stuff as a Central Attacking Midfielder. It was about bloody time, I was growing weary of waiting for Dom to give me a shot.
I don't remember who we were facing that first match, I believe it was Kansas Sporting City, but we were in the 4-3-3 formation. I don't remember which players were slotted in around me, I just remember the elation at playing a match with my newly minted creation and one which actually mattered. We won 3-1, and my player ended up with a 8.2 rating at the end of his half of play.
I was pretty shocked at how comfortable everything felt. No major overhauls to controls, no new control tweaks to learn. Everything felt right on the money with the animations, with the quality of play, with the horrible passing from CDM Camargo to LM Colin Clark. It was quite accurate all the way around. I have to say, either I really suck at set pieces, or the Dynamo just aren't very good at them in FIFA 13. Either way, I don't want to focus on that aspect.
The presentation was beautiful. It wasn't overdone, but it also wasn't lacking. The only thing I would do differently is add even more variety to the announcers. After all, I must have heard four to five phrases between the two announcers which I'd heard exactly the same in FIFA 12 and even FIFA 11 if I'm not mistaken. At least this time around they added some new commentary, too, to spice things up some more.
The win was important, and more league matches took place for the next week or two. Then another Open Cup match against DC United, and again I found myself slotted in the starting eleven. Once again, I did not fail to impress. My match rating ended at 8.0 for the match, with the Dynamo winning 4-3. Tally Hall looked abysmal in goal, and it saddened me.
It was then I began to notice he seemed less Brick Wall and more Falls Alot. He flailed at shot after shot, and maybe saved 60% of the shots. The rest slipped by him as his reactions were...suspect at best. I had to admit I was kind of miffed. I have a lot of love for our Brick Wall, and FIFA gave him no love with his reaction rating. It's livable though, and so I continued on.
I found myself slotted in for a couple of matches when someone needed a rest, got injured or suspended. I was pretty proud of my 7.5 - 7.8 average rating, and I still am. Now, I do admit I only play on the Professional setting, which is the third rank in the tiers of difficulty. The opposing defenses do tend to be pretty solid, hardly letting much beyond their line. The horrid passing made it difficult to get the ball upfield, but when I did I found my favorite target to be Will Bruin.
Bruin when he gets the ball at his feet in FIFA 13 is stellar. Sure, he's not Lionel Messi, but he is still plenty solid enough for MLS level of play. His distribution in tight spaces was quality, and his ability to turn and score was serviceable as well. All in all, I found Will Bruin the easiest to connect with in the run of play. Colin Clark tended to turn the ball over when going at a man one v one, and Mac Kandji usually failed to impress with the ball at his feet.
There must be a hidden consistency rating somewhere, because there were two matches spattered amongst the 5-6 I played where Mac Kandji was superstar quality. His form was outstanding, but it was only that way for those two matches, though, and so his actual form rating really didn't change from what I could see match to match.
One of the best features added is the ability to request a loan. With the MLS season running as awkwardly as it does, I had to wait until the transfer window opened mid-season, which seemed forever and a day from when I started. Once it did hit, I was sent a transfer offer request within the first week from French Ligue 1 side FC Sochaux. It was honestly really cool to see a legit transfer offer for my player come through from a league I consider to be a step ahead of MLS, but still pretty close in terms of overall level.
I took a week to think about the offer, and decided my best hope to start and make an impact would be with Sochaux, so I made the jump. I accepted the offer and then moved to my new club. It took a match or two to get comfortable with the formation and change in positioning, but within 3-4 matches I was connecting with players fairly quickly and catching onto their tendencies near goal.
The transfer window was still open, and while I was comfortable with my new team, I received a transfer offer from another club. Let me preface the next little bit by saying I don't know how the FIFA 13 system transfer system works or how the Player Career Mode picks what teams submit offers. The offer I received was from none other than Real Madrid.
I swear to all that is orange and Brad Davis my heart literally skipped a beat. Not only was I being given an opportunity to play in La Liga, but with one of the top clubs in the entire world. A club known for developing and producing quality talent consistently. I'm still a bit shocked. I reviewed the offer, debated for all of a minute, and then signed on the dotted line.
Here I was with my 17 year old phenom in the making and having just signed with a club I could only dream of getting an offer from, and yet, I just knew something was going to prevent me from experiencing La Liga glory. That's when I moved to Real Madrid and found myself squarely at the bottom of the Squad Rankings. The Squad Rankings rank all players on the squad numerically with players constantly moving up and down as their form and play dictate. It would serve to reason I would be dead last, I hadn't really played much, and none at this level of competition.
I waited through 3 then 4 matches. I waited through the domestic cup matches. After about 7 or 8 of these matches being simmed, and not moving up at all, I decided I needed to show I was able to play. I had to find a way to force myself into a position where starting would be an option, or at least being a substitute on the bench. I requested a loan, and within a couple of days received a request from Shrewsbury.
Shrewsbury is where I find my player today. I'm still only 17, and I haven't even completed my first full season. Still, I have found the intrigue of moving clubs, finding my niche, and developing a rapport with my fellow teammates enough to keep me wanting more. I doubt it will take me more than a few weeks of playing in this manner to grow weary once more of the repetition, enough so I may switch to Seasons Mode or possibly to Manager Career Mode. Either way, though, I am thoroughly impressed so far, and this iteration of FIFA has finally caught my attention in the right way.
On a side note, one of the best features is the ability to play for club AND country through use of International teams and matches. This is a huge improvement, as it actually allows for more playing time for those not out on International Duty (development made easier, woohoo), and also adds to the overall realism feel. Kudos to EA for finally including it.
What have been your experiences with the game so far? Do you have the game, have you considered purchasing it? Let me know in the comments section. Perhaps, if you have it for the 360 like I do, we can even play a match or two online -- one where you thoroughly dismantle my dignity...