Is the Wii U a competent console for sports games?
FIFA Soccer 13
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Soccer. Fútbol. Synchronized injury faking. Whatever you happen to call it, there’s no denying that EA Canada’s FIFA 13 has dominated it during this console generation. By staying ahead of the innovation curve and providing players with an overwhelming amount of options, the franchise has managed to avoid a lot of the accusations of stagnation lobbed at the sport simulation genre. But this year has exposed a pretty serious issue for the future of EA Sports’ most consistent series: The game can’t get much better.
|PROS||Same great game, “First Touch Control”|
|CONS||Inelegant user-interface, Some crashing and freezing|
|WTF?!||The Wii version is literally just FIFA 12|
On the pitch, FIFA is second-to-none. Madden and NHL are going through exciting and (mostly) successful transition periods, but there are still rough edges to smooth and scratches to buff out. FIFA is more akin to Sony’s The Show, as its gameplay is as honed and satisfying as it could reasonably expected to be on current hardware, with only the promise of minor tweaks and presentation improvements in the foreseeable future. This is a good thing–of course it is–but it does make recommending it every year a bit of a diminishing value proposition.
The touted improvement of this edition is “First Touch Control,” and, credit where credit is due, it is an appreciable improvement. The idea of the feature is that player/ball interaction was too precise in year’s past, as passing and dribbling was carried out with robotic efficiency. “First Touch” sets out to recreate the effect of random human error on a highly unpredictable competition, and the effect is noticeable. Hard passes are clearly less reliable, and you’ll see players attempt to reign in and control the ball with considerable realism. It’s a small thing, but it adds dynamism to the minutiae of the game that results in a more fulfilling whole.
However, that is the biggest difference between 12 and 13. Sure, there are other refinements–dribbling has been touched up, while CPU A.I. is more intelligent on the attack–but you wouldn’t notice these things unless you were either actively in search of them or incredibly dedicated to the progress of the series. There are a few miniscule legacy issues as well, including the occasional silly physics engine result or nonsensical commentator observation. The only real new flaw I encountered came abruptly, as the game froze on a loading screen. After it happened a second time I took a second to see if I was alone, only to discover that it was a known issue.
While that issue can possibly be resolved with a patch, my other concern will most certainly not be. The fact is that FIFA‘s front-end is overdue for an overhaul. It may seem petty, but the user-interface is downright ugly compared to Madden 13‘s, which streamlined the experience so hard that it made the stalwart “Franchise Mode” redundant. Meanwhile, FIFA is soldiering on with an excess of menus and sub-menus, many of which could serve to be combined, reorganized, or simply renamed. If you hop into “Be a Pro” mode expecting an equivalent of the NHL campaign of the same name, prepare to be surprised.
Of course, the clutter may be inevitable. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association and sundry other organizations represented in the game comprise a whopping 30 whole leagues and over 500 separate teams (or “clubs,” if you’re feeling especially international). The amount of data on the disc is simply staggering, even if there aren’t actually that many appreciable differences between many of the more obscure units. This sheer wealth of freedom, combined with the voluminous content of the software, portend an inevitable sensory overload. At a certain point we just have to put up with sub-optimal menus.
Speaking of observations most players probably don’t care about, the licensed music of FIFA 13 comprises quite an interesting collection. As one might expect, the EA Trax for the title are a bit more European in taste than other EA Sports products, but that doesn’t mean North American players won’t recognize any of the tunes. Perennial indie darling Band of Horses stars alongside of bands like The Heavy, which Americans only know from their song which happens to sample “Let a Woman Be a Woman” by Dyke & the Blazers. All in all, it’s not a bad mix, but it is curious to note the relatively less aggressive bent to most of the soundtrack, which stands in contrast to older versions of NHL and Madden which were more than happy to spotlight Wolfmother and Avenged Sevenfold.
There is one other feature that I’ve neglected to mention, but I do so out of honesty. “Football Club Match Day” is a mechanic whereby the game injects real-world soccer happenings into the narrative of your season. Injuries, trades, and general trends should work their way into both the gameplay and the commentary, just as MLB 2K12 promised. However, I’m not sure I feel comfortable delivering a verdict on something which, by design, is a long-term and community-driven experiment. What I played of it worked, but it could all fall apart in a few weeks. I guess we all just have to assume that these are the types of initiatives that EA is spending the online pass money on.
There are plenty of other things to touch on. Ultimate Team should be a familiar concept by now, but a new “Icebreaker Flow” system has been implemented to simplify it for newcomers. There are also a series of “Skill Games” which serve as a sort of incentive-based tutorial. In addition to learning the subtleties of defensive pressure and chip shots (which are admittedly difficult to make use of in a game), you can win bronze, silver, and gold challenges by mastering the techniques. It doesn’t have the pedagogical acumen of Gran Turismo‘s License Tests, but it’s an addition worth mentioning.
By this point it should be clear that FIFA Soccer 13 is a massive game with only very minor drawbacks. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind buying your sports title of choice each year then you have my recommendation. If you prefer to wait for the years that bring dramatic improvements or bold reinventions then you can probably stand to sit this installment out. The quality on the field is undeniable, but when you set the bar so far above the competition you have to jump even higher to impress people.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes and played for about 10 hours. The title was played on PS3, but is also available for Xbox 360. Different versions are also available for Wii, PlayStation 2, PC, iOS, PS Vita, 3DS, and PSP. A Wii U edition is scheduled to release after the console.
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FIFA Soccer 13 Review, 5.7 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
The Wii U is launching with roughly half a billion games. You don’t have the time to read that many full reviews (and we can’t write that many), so instead we’ll be bringing you a series of mini-reviews entitled “Better With Wii U?” We’ll still be publishing full write-ups for brand new titles, but these pieces will let you know the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of every port/re-release for Nintendo’s newest console.
HOW WAS THE ORIGINAL?
“On the pitch, FIFA is second-to-none… it should be clear that FIFA Soccer 13 is a massive game with only very minor drawbacks.”- Austin Y.
This year’s fútbol offering from EA Sports was great, but played it relatively safe. As I explained in my review, the annual franchise has just about reached the height of its quality on this generation of consoles, which results in less year-over-year improvement. The only standout feature was “First Touch Control,” a series of tweaks that more accurately recreated the unpredictable physics of receiving a pass.
We scored the game 9 out of 10 with a “Try it Out” recommendation. Read the full review right here.
WHAT’S NEW WITH WII U?
At first glance, FIFA Soccer 13 appears to be missing quite a few things in the transition to the Wii U. The new ball physics from the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions didn’t make the cut, nor did some of the more advanced modes like Ultimate Team.
However, the GamePad does lend itself towards quite a crop of unique mechanics. The first thing you’ll notice is that the controller’s screen makes for a better user interface than the game’s actual menus. A quick tap can get you into your friend list or onto the pitch in a matter of seconds. A helpful “Exclusive Features” tutorial integrated into the training mode will walk you through all of the new features, which is an absolutely essential tool for getting your orientation in the brave new world of modern Nintendo sports titles.
Some of the GamePad functionality is obvious. The touchscreen will display the same image as the television, but tapping on a player will pass it in that direction, with varying degrees of speed and accuracy depending on how long you depress the glass. Other mechanics are less intuitive. For instance, if you give the Pad a quick shake (or click the right thumbstick) the screen will suddenly gain a net overlay, allowing you to tap a specific area for a more precise shot. These are the more dramatic implementations of the Wii U’s unique controller, but touch and convenient menus are woven into the whole experience.
WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?
At first, I was horrified by the Wii U version of FIFA 13. Although the graphics on the TV were just as good (if not better) than the competition, the image on the GamePad was washed out. It was especially noticeable in the grass, which was clearly a entirely different shade of green. The new mechanics didn’t fare much better. Tapping the screen to pass wasn’t any better than using a button. Also, since you have to take your eyes off of the big screen to interact with the GamePad, almost none of the in-match features were a reliable option in the heat of play.
So, I endeavored to solely use the controller screen for a few matches. At this point, something strange and unexpected happened: I started having loads of fun. Sure, the GamePad screen is smaller and harder on the eyes, but the tap mechanics actually worked to the game’s advantage when your eyes are on the same screen. I played a couple of games using only the touchscreen to shoot and ended up scoring more goals thanks to the precision of goal overlay interface. I guess it’s a good thing soccer nets are the same shape as the GamePad–I don’t see this becoming a feature in NBA 2K.
The game contrasts nicely with Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition. Rocksteady’s port took a bunch of good ideas and filled the game so full of them that it become bloated. EA started with a bunch of terrible ideas and somehow made them work.
If you’re going to play FIFA 13 on the Wii U there are two ways to do it. The first way is to just look at the HD graphics on the big screen, while using a Pro Controller. This approach is perfectly fun, but does end up inferior to previously released versions of the product. The other way to is to go all-in on the GamePad. Turn off your TV and try to put away your preconceived notions. The touch controls take a while to get used to, but the result is an interesting new way to play that you can’t get anywhere else.
WHO SHOULD BUY IT? WHY?
A quick look around the internet will show that FIFA Soccer 13 is set to drop as low as $25 on Black Friday for the last generation machines. This, combined with an inferior feature set and some questionable gimmickry, makes the game almost impossible to recommend on Wii U. However, the software isn’t outright broken (or a port of an old game, like the Wii edition), so football fans who only have access to Nintendo consoles should definitely pick this version up.
The most important takeaway from this launch title is that sports games have a chance of existing alongside Mario once again. Now that EA Canada has a stable codebase and a solid understanding of the idiosyncrasies of developing for the Wii U hardware, next year’s installment should achieve parity with the other versions. With the inclusion of some interesting (and totally optional!) touch experiments, Nintendo’s platform may actually end up as the definitive sports game experience some time in the future.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes and played for about 6 hours. The title was previously played by the reviewer on the PS3.