I recently went, along with OS big boss Steve Noah, to EA Canada’s headquarters to have a sneak peek at FIFA 13. We were shown a 90-minute presentation (most likely one of the longer ones for events like these) about the new features in this year’s game. We couldn’t talk much about it initially since everything was embargoed… until today.
Hallelujah for the embargo lifting!
Overall, from the presentation, I went home with two main conclusions: That it’s hard to hold in six cups of coffee over an hour and a half, and more importantly, the FIFA team isn’t kidding about their continuing dedication to realism.
Attacking Intelligence is, simply put, EA’s attempt to get the ball carrier and his AI teammates on the same page. Many times in FIFA 12, AI players make futile runs into dead ends that don’t help the player one bit.
This year, teammates will be more contextually conscious. We were shown examples of how the AI can not only detect that a certain player is a primary outlet for the ball carrier, but also that another player can anticipate that and position himself accordingly should the play progress as expected. The best case scenario, in practical terms, is that we can play a more fluid style of passing, like a series of quick one-twos, instead of constantly having to hold the ball up for few seconds and wait for AI players to get into position.
Not only will the AI make smarter runs, but it also looks like they will take a better route there as well. New this year is the ability for AI teammates to time and curve their runs. An AI player in FIFA 12, in the words of gameplay producer Aaron McHardy, “knows where he should be, but he doesn’t know how to get there.” He will in FIFA 13.
In a few video examples, we saw players checking and timing their runs, as well as curving them to find space in the channels.
I’ve always been skeptical of the dramatic names given to a game’s features. But even if I rolled my eyes at the sound of Complete Dribbling, I do admit that this is one of those seemingly small additions that has the potential to open up a brand new world of possibilities for players.
Again, going along with the FIFA team’s theme on greater realism and fluidity, Complete Dribbling gives players the ability to separate the dribbler’s facing direction versus his moving direction-- something that isn't possible in FIFA 12.
In the example we were shown, the dribbler’s body is positioned towards the net while he dribbles sideways. Doesn’t seem like much, right? But what this can lead to is (thank God) a lesser reliance on the skill stick, as you can now try to shift defenders with just a well timed change of pace, and then quickly whip in a cross without having to make another turn. If you’re in the box, you can unleash a shot quicker and more accurately, because you have the option of facing the net while evading defenders, as opposed to turning 90 degrees every time you change direction.
First Touch Control
First Touch Control was the item that the FIFA team seems most excited about, and for good reason. In FIFA 13, no longer will every player have super glue on their boots when they trap the ball. Instead, the game will recognize “contextual trapping”, which takes into account multiple factors like pass trajectory and pace, the skill of the player trapping the ball, and the amount of pressure he is under.
This is a great—if not just a little overdue—idea for a variety of reasons. The biggest one being that it will make both AI and human players think again before trying to take a long hoof down with, say, Martin Skrtel instead of booting it into the stands.
On the whole, it has the potential to make the game a little more “chippy”, if you will. FIFA 12, with its emphasis on possession play, perhaps tilted the game too much and it became almost too methodical. First Touch Control can help add more unpredictability into the sequence of play, and force players into reacting to these events as opposed to constantly sticking to plan A.
To add my two cents worth of conjecture, I can see this being helpful for players who may not want to play the Barcelona style. Surprisingly, long ball teams may benefit most out of this. Previously there was very little incentive to hoof it up, since defenders could take it down and play it with the greatest of ease. But in FIFA 13, you can conceivably punt it and then look for a bad touch to break quickly.
Player Impact Engine
Happy birthday, Impact Engine. For its second year in the world, the FIFA team has decided to improve upon it.
To answer perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions in the FIFA forum: Yes, the referees will be improved, according to the devs. While he didn’t address the lack of cards issue specifically, producer David Rutter tells me that referees in FIFA 13 will better recognize what is a foul and what isn’t, as the team continues polishing the Impact Engine and its impact (sorry) to other parts of the game, like the officiating.
In addition to a slew of new animations, the biggest feature this year is the ability to push/pull and jostle even if neither the attacker nor the defender has touched the ball. The example we were given is that if a player plays a through ball, the teammate running onto it and the defender marking him can tussle before they reach the pass. Also, the push/pull module this year will take into account the two players’ strengths, in addition to their proximity. So conceivably, as long as you’re fairly close, your hulking defender may just have a chance to nudge a slippery eel like Messi off the ball.
And oh, speaking of the Impact Engine, the FIFA team also promises that they will clamp down on the virtual players' PDA. That’s too bad, I like it when footballers show how much they appreciate each other with a gentle kiss.
Tactical Free Kicks
The last of the big five features, Tactical Free Kicks does exactly what it says on the tin. Players will be given more options when they take a free kick and when they defend one. We were shown examples of an attacking team faking a kick to tempt the wall into jumping or charging, and we also saw some dummy runs and creative sequences to try to open up play. On the other side of the ball, defending teams have the ability to add or subtract to the wall, placing as many or few players as you like, and the wall can jump any time the player wants (for however many times) during the course of a free kick.
First, addressing the community questions, a fair many of you have asked if teams will play more like their real life counterparts. Don't expect any dramatic changes. The FIFA team didn’t talk much about it, and while the new player intelligence may help differentiate the great from the good teams, it doesn't look like there will be a lot of changes in team management AI-- but then again it is early days, so there's still hope.
Also, as the preview event only dealt with gameplay, unfortunately we couldn’t get any answers about changes in Career Modes or online. However, that sort of stuff usually begins to trickle out a few weeks from the initial big announcement, so do stay tuned to OS.
Defending is my main concern after watching the presentation. It seems like they’ve given players a lot more tools, and made it more intuitive, to build an attack; but what we didn’t see or hear much was if we are going to be as effectively equipped in foiling it.
McHardy addressed AI defending by saying that even with all the new intelligent runs and dribbling improvements, the basic principle of defending hasn’t changed—that the marker doesn’t care why an attacker is running, he just cares that he is, and will pick him up accordingly. That’s a fair point, but there has also been no mention of any improvements for defending a ball carrier. Last year, Tactical Defending made marking “looser”, in the sense that it relied more on human reaction than computer automation, and consequently many felt that tackling was too difficult because it was hard to time correctly. Now this year, we add in Complete Dribbling. It's probably just the cynic inside of me talking, but there is a nagging fear that defending may be even harder this year.
A safe bet is that there will be polishes here and there to the defending system. To be fair, defending, unless it’s something big like Tactical Defending, is hardly sexy enough to make it in as a big feature. So it is my hope that there will at least be tweaks happening under the hood.
Besides, McHardy repeatedly mentioned the word balance in his presentation, so the fact is that the team is very conscious of the playing field being too tilted towards one end.
Ultimately, while it’s certainly not as revolutionary as last year, FIFA 13’s feature list still sounds pretty damn impressive. Perhaps the biggest theme I got from the presentation is the team's laser-like focus on giving FIFA users as much ability to emulate real life as it can, which is never a bad thing. And while we can never be sure how well these new features will be implemented (or how many of last year’s bugs they manage to quash) until we get our hands on the game, there’s just very little reason to think FIFA 13 will take a step back given the series’ current upward trajectory.