FIFA 13 PS3 review – tweaked in all the right places

Last summer saw the big-money signings as FIFA was overhauled. Precision Dribbling was brought in for a record fee, EA Canada smashed its wage structure to get hold of Tactical Defending, and the back-and-forth over the signing of Player Impact Engine was the back-page story of the summer. This was an investment for the future, the backbone that would bring success for years to come.

But let’s bring out some sport-specific, seemingly contradictory accepted wisdom: you don’t change a winning team, and standing still is going backwards. Somehow FIFA 13 has embraced both of these philosophies, making subtle but noticeable improvements in the areas where they were needed, and adding features which, while they don’t immediately grab the attention like last year’s additions, greatly enhance the overall package.

FIFA – and, in fairness, PES – is at such a high quality bar these days it goes without saying that the basics of football are recreated unerringly, and a ‘start over from scratch’ approach to the on-the-ball fundamentals is about as likely as an England recall for David Bentley. Instead the focus here is on all those myriad factors that contribute towards making the virtual recreation feel like watching an actual game of football play out in front out your eyes.

For instance, off-the-ball running. The AI is now far more likely to make genuinely useful movements around the pitch, opening up passing avenues and angles of attack that wouldn’t have been available last year. Hold the ball on the edge of the D and intelligent players make those Barca-esque darts in behind the full back, checking and resetting if you choose not to use them.

It also stands out as far as your own full backs go: far more late, incisive overlaps from marauding players reflect that this position is more important than ever in an attacking sense. The corollary of this is that you often find your team is too gung-ho, neglecting shape and solidity in favour of making the most of their newfound freedom. It’s a problem against both the AI on higher difficulties and decent human opposition, and is the kind of thing that would have Roy Hodgson banging his head on the dugout with even more intensity than usual.