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.