I'm not a big fan of annual franchises. The FIFAs, Need for Speeds, and Call of Dutys of the world exist to satiate the mainstream gaming demographics' unquenchable thirst for newer content from their favourite franchise. Delivering more of the same formula, however, severely curtails their creative licence. Whenever a well-regarded developer works on one of these franchises, I can't help but think what a massive waste of talent that is. To use an extreme metaphor, that's akin to relegating a gifted fashion designer to making underwear—an endeavour that neither calls for any creativity, nor does it allow the designer to exercise his imagination.

On the other hand, games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Fallout, and Deus Ex can be equated to the Sistine Chapel, Eiffel Tower, and Pyramids of Giza. Each of these video game masterpieces shows as much creativity, effort, and excellence as is evident in these monuments of human excellence. To be fair, the NFS franchise at least has toyed around with diverse approaches to racing with mixed results. Sports games, however, enjoy no such liberty. It's a bit like making a thumbtack—you really don't have much scope for going crazy with new ideas here.


Seamless animations combine with excellent player and ball physics for a believable experience

However, that isn't entirely as bad as it looks. There, surprisingly, is an upside to this formulaic approach to video game development. While, the quality of most franchises crescendos from instalment to instalment, football games tend to be consistently good. This is a fact that's clearly evident when a newbie fires up FIFA 13 for the first time. The sheer number of game modes, seamless integration of online play, and a brilliant incorporation of real-world football league action within the game itself is mind boggling.

The quantity, quality, and complexity of features and gameplay mechanics evident in FIFA 13 can rarely be replicated in any other game—at least, not without severely compromising refinement of these numerous parameters. Each individual element of this football title is painstakingly created and works surprisingly well. It's not difficult to understand why this franchise is so brutally efficient. While other games have a couple of years to get things right, the FIFA series has been evolving over almost a decade. Although each subsequent instalment may not have improved drastically over the last one, this sort of incremental refinement amounts to a lot over 13 iterations.


The Player Impact Engine forces you to be aware of your surroundings

For starters, the physics engine was vastly improved in the last FIFA outing, with excellent collision detection and a sense of genuine weight to the players. However, the physics issues such as bizarre limb contortions and unnatural player interactions evident during tackling have been ironed out. What you now have are clean, life-like animations that make the experience a lot more believable. FIFA Street players will recognise the free-form dribbling, which allows a tighter control over the ball. The most visible difference this system heralds is the ability to dribble the ball in a direction other than that the player's facing. This adds depth to ball control and skilful players are rewarded with the ability to manoeuvre the ball through opposing team's defences quite dramatically, much like in real life.

FIFA 13's nod to realism doesn't end there. Unlike every single football game out there, players in this game don't seem to possess their own gravitational fields of sort that lets them trap speeding balls with certainty. An improved ball physics and handling system dubbed as First-Touch Control raises the stakes by factoring in variables such as player and ball speed, spin and the skill level of the virtual footballer to determine whether the ball will stick or not. This brand of unpredictability is more interesting than frustrating because now you have to pay attention to the ball and the player, as opposed to making wild passes and gutsy tackles without consequences. Sprint into an incoming ball and you're sure to lose it, but slowing down and tackling it with more finesse greatly increase your chances of capturing it.
Additional organic physics implementations such as the Player Impact Engine force you to think beyond fine tuning control inputs to maintain accuracy. In effect, you have to ramp up your spatial awareness, factor in ball and player speed, exercise greater control over dribbling, and otherwise really work hard to maintain dominance over the field. In FIFA 13, you can no longer beat the game just by placing your player in the right spot. No, the deeper control system and complicated ball as well as player physics call for a greater degree of control and finesse to succeed. Although this makes winning a lot more painstaking as an endeavour, more importantly, it becomes a rewarding experience as well. In short, this is simulation done right.

Fortunately, AI has been ramped up to keep up with the complicated controls and gameplay. Not only will the opposing team breathe down your neck and capitalise on your mistakes, but your own squad will also tear and jostle through your opponent's defences to intuitively take the aggressive and tactically sound positions. More often than not, it felt as though I was playing with my buddies who could anticipate my moves and capitalise windows of opportunities as and when they opened up. There were times, especially during defence, when my AI teammates would make life harder by fumbling passes and tackles a tad too often.


The aggressive AI and complex controls are more rewarding than frustrating

The graphics and sound may not show a marked improvement over FIFA 12, the player animations seem to be a lot more detailed. The collisions look realistic, the shoving and jostling animations loop in seamlessly, whereas all sorts of jumping, heading, and sliding is rendered with lifelike detail. When combined with a revised control scheme and an impressive physics engine, FIFA 13 makes for a very organic and believable football experience. The PS Move integration, however, is clearly perfunctory and quite awkward with all the gaudy, blinking icons that detract from the experience. It didn't take me long to decide that it's best to retire this gimmick and go back to using the Dual-Shock 3 controller.

The last year's major changes and the fine tweaks and refinements to those established mechanics in this game are best assimilated through a new tutorial system of sorts dubbed as Skill Games. This serves as a fun way to acclimatise to the newly-introduced complexities through a series of challenges that let you master the craft. The mini-games contained within this mode are fun on their own accord, which lets it transcend the banality of a plain vanilla tutorial affair.


The Match Day mode is a great addition for die-hard football fans

Once you have mastered various licensed world tournaments and familiar offline game modes such as Be A Pro and Ultimate Team, you can purchase an “Online Pass” for roughly Rs 350 and try your luck, well, online. There's nothing like playing a five-game tournament against a fellow gamer located halfway across the planet. FIFA 13 brings a slice of real life with its Match Day mode. This optional feature lets you maintain player stats in sync with their actual performance in the real world leagues. This is quite ingenious because injuries, transfers, and player form in the game is kept up to date with regards to what's happening outside in the real world—all by harnessing the power of the internet to affect gameplay.

The rival PES series has been considered as a fun arcade foil to the serious simulation-esque leanings of the FIFA games. It may not bring radical changes after the success of the last game, but it does distil gameplay even further by refining controls, adding complexity through improved ball and player physics, in addition to infusing a greater degree of depth with the First-Touch Control mechanic. It has widened the gameplay scope without sacrificing on fun and making the affair more frustrating. What you have here is a more rewarding experience that compels you to ramp up your game. The clever Match Day mode is a compelling addition to those who follow major international football leagues religiously, which is almost everyone who plays such games. The verdict is clear, if you liked FIFA 2012, this iteration plays like a refined version that doesn't stray too further from the winning formula.

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