FIFA 13: Making football look easy

Hands-on with EA's subtly enhanced superstar

FIFA 13's success is making its new features barely noticeable.

Forgettable, even - but in a good way. Almost everything behaves as it should, so little stands out as obviously 'broken'. Bad teams are less cohesive, while poor players take clumsy touches - as opposed to weaker sides being artificially empowered, or exhibiting freakishly drilled AI.

Using star players' strengths is critical

MORE FIFA 13: FIFA 13 release date | FIFA 13 hands-on | FIFA 13 gameplay trailer | PES 2013 hands-on preview

Tackles result in realistic, unpredictable, spills, not automated certainties. When using top sides, your team mates make smart runs - not idle around waiting to be prompted. Mistakes are mistak-ier. Skill is skill-ier. Incompetence is... look, we'll stop there. It's a more natural, intuitive, game, largely free of the computer's (invisible) 'hand of god'.

First touch is the most obvious enhancement, that makes FIFA 13 trickier, yet more realistic, to master. Average players are more likely to mis-control a fizzing pass, or take longer to adjust their feet. Conversely, top players like Robben can take a speeding ball in their stride, and really leave defenders for dead. With weaker teams, you have to adjust your strategy accordingly.

Officer Dribble

Offensive AI is subtly improved. You spend less time cursing your team mates for standing still, more trying to pick out their overlapping runs, or diagonal bursts, with precision passes. Dribbling is more precise, though the distinction between Complete Dribbling and Precision Dribbling 2.0 sounds like a philosophical dispute between pushy parents.

Bottom line: you can face opponents square-on, like FIFA Street, allowing closer control in the final third; using rollbacks, dragbacks etc to buy space. It's often applied contextually (i.e. automatically), subject to player ability and makes more sense when you play.

Tackling is kinder, so a mis-cued button tap is less likely to result in an embarrassing air swipe allowing the attacker to sweep past. However, collisions are less predictable. Strong players like Puyol are favourites in a hefty challenge, but it's all subject to position and timing. It creates a much less predictable, or automated, game, where half the battle is reacting smartest to spilled balls. Ditto 50/50 headers in midfield - it's a real tussle.

The result is a more intuitive, free flowing game, made subtly more realistic via its myriad unpredictable spills and collisions. New modes are under wraps, but FIFA's Football Club - its 11 million strong online community a bit like Call of Duty Elite - is being enhanced.

Goalkeepers get new animations, but the game looks very familiar

Returning FIFA 12 players carry their stats over to FIFA 13, plus unlock new shop items (like kits, celebrations etc). EA claim FIFA is 'football's social network' - and there's precious little here to stop us tapping the 'like' button.