FIFA 13 delivers the thrills

Posted by James Martin

Snoop Lionno_source / Dipasupil/Getty ImagesFIFA 13 kicked off to plenty of hype, but the game delivered the substance, too.

When the fixture schedule came up for the fall European season, there were some high-water marks that supporters jotted down on their calendars: United vs. Liverpool, Chelsea vs. Arsenal, Barcelona vs. Real and Inter vs. AC, to name a few. But Sept. 25 trumped all those clashes by a country mile. Because unless you're living in the Stone Age, you were one of those queuing up at your local GameStop to purchase EA Sports FIFA 13.

The buzz in ESPN FC HQ was palpable all week. The day before, advance copies of FIFA 13 made a certain individual more popular than a dealer at a Phish concert. On the game's debut, Snoop Lion -- sorry, but switching to reggae never really worked for the Bad Brains and I'm not buying it here, Snoop -- came by to show off his moves (or lack thereof).

So, what's to like (or not like) about FIFA 13? Here are some impressions from ESPN FC's in-house FIFA fanatics, along with my own impressions, in no particular order.

First touch spot-on
Perhaps the biggest change with the new FIFA is the “first touch” feature. What this means, basically, is that the player you control no longer has Lionel Messi-like ability to have a ball stick to your feet like Velcro regardless of the quality of the pass. Your first touch will depend on the speed of the pass, spin on the ball and how fast you're running -- these things all contribute to whether you'll receive the pass to keep the attack going, or lose possession. This makes for a more challenging, more realistic and more fluid game-play experience. Frustration levels may rise at times, but overall it's a welcome addition.

Control of ball
You can have tighter control of the ball, especially when you hold down both triggers, and you can move around defenders with the aplomb of David Silva. ... But it takes quite a bit of practice, especially if you're playing a real match against teens whose combination skills made this lifetime gamer go crying back to Donkey Kong for a quick breather.

Offensive blunder
EA didn't fix one glitch from the previous version. When you kick the ball forward, sometimes the player marked to receive the pass starts to back away from the ball, allowing someone on defense to swoop in and steal possession.

Parental control
Joining a team for a friendly online is a highlight of FIFA. You select your team and position, maintaining positional discipline and finding ways to link up with your cyber teammates. Just remember: You hear others, and they hear you. Suffice to say, one 8-year-old now has new and creative ways to use the English language, and one father/husband hasn't heard the end of the lectures about being a "responsible video gamer."

The arena
It has a function now, as you can improve your skill sets through obstacles and targets. Pretty choice.

Getting smarter
The AI of the keepers seems to be improved -- not saying all of them play with the smarts of Iker Casillas, but there are fewer instances of what's-he-doing-flapping-at-that-ball experiences. What's more, on counterattacks, computer-controlled teammates seem to make smarter runs in behind the defense, opening space and creating havoc. Just the ticket if you're playing as the new-look Arsenal that is built upon surging forward after soaking up a bit of pressure.

Speak up!
Haven't tried this enough, but the Xbox version has very good integration with Kinect. You can bark orders (OK, preset commands) to change tactics or motivate your players. Strangely, EA didn't give an option to tell your players to @#$#@$ @#$# @#$@#. And occasionally a command doesn't register, leaving you as frustrated as Alex Ferguson when he yells at Nani to stop the step-overs and pass the ball to an open teammate. Still, it's a cool feature.

Not much different than the previous version, and this is a good thing.

Bottom Line: You've probably bought the game already, so share your thoughts below. If you haven't, get it. There aren't many other titles out there that will fill the hours between Premier League weekend matches and weekday European fixtures with so much nonstop entertainment. That said, if you value your sleep or significant other, proceed with caution.

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