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FIFA 13 review: EA Sports delivers once again... even if its first touch frustrates

New changes are 99% Messi, 1% Shawcross

FIFA 12 was meant to be the biggie: better collisions, tactical defending and precision dribbling. This year's FIFA 13 was meant to be a tiptoe in the same direction, a microscopic variation on a theme. And it is, apart from one small change - first touch control. It's key.

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In time, you'll learn its animations and angles, like raw mathematics. Robotic perfection is replaced by organic error, matches liberated from their mechanics by chaotic physics and made excitingly unpredictable as a result. Midfielders fudge passes. Goalies race to collect fumbled balls. Strikers sky absolute sitters.

Players are fallible, never consistently playing the perfect ball to the perfect player in the perfect position, and gamers on their toes quickly learn to capitalize. First touch control is an essential organic component in an essentially organic sport, one celebrated for the unexpected. In theory, unforced errors sound awful, reducing player urgency and frustrating via events outside your control. On the pitch, however, it leads to realistic surges of excitement.

CONGESTION CHARGE

The opposition are still a canny bunch. Set to tactical defending, a slow-paced tackling scheme established last year, they rarely commit to challenges and are rarely beaten by skill, even with the new shoulder button dribbling which allows tighter turns in tighter quarters. Instead, they back off all the way to the penalty area then congest the box as you spread passes and probe for weaknesses. You're suggested the same defensive scheme, holding one button to face up, and another to send in a teammate for pressure.

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Now, the focus is more on intercepting, to wait for the ball to come to you. It's more akin to herding sheep. Luckily, classic controls are optional, retaining all the fun and fluidity FIFA's built around. It's just a different game against AI.

Dribbling takes a back seat unless you're well-versed in the dozens of tricky flicks and spins pulled off by holding LT/L2 and wiggling the right stick, or if you've got a particularly brazen speedster who'll dash past defences and exploit EA's now more keener focus on player personality (just like real life, Ronaldo is unstoppable). Instead, passing is your primary weapon, the lofted through ball your silver bullet.

There's simply nothing like FIFA 13's multiplayer...

Multiplayer is FIFA proper. Computer-initiated first touch control flirts with human error, but there's nothing like the real thing, opposition who'll lunge in recklessly, or try crazy efforts from distance, or show a bit of skilful hubris and get punished.

Besides 11v11 (still ridden with ball-hoggers), head-to-heads with more accurate matchmaking systems to save your blushes, and custom games with lobbies, Pro Clubs now let player-created teams and Virtual Pro's embark on full seasons. Seasons consist of ten games - enough wins move you up into bigger and better leagues.

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New online options feature heavily. Match Day lets you recreate the week's games using updated squads. Ultimate Team, shipping on disc, sees you bidding and trading players through an online auction house in pursuit of a dream team. Football Club has famous scenarios to complete for classic kits, 'prancing bird' celebrations and Virtual Pro boosts. And Skill Games are an addictive set of cone-dribbling, hit-the-target, and set-piece training sessions.

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