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Given the amount of regional column inches dedicated to the inclusion of the Saudi Pro League in Electronic Arts’ latest instalment of its most famous franchise, it was perhaps easy to forget that behind the face of Abdulaziz Al Dosari on the cover lurked some significant tweaks under the game’s bonnet.
Thankfully, it won’t take long after switching it on before these become apparent. From the on-field ball-chasing antics, to the various game modes, even to the bits between the games, Fifa 13 has enough added elements to ensure even penny-pinching owners of last year’s offering will be forking out once again.
Perhaps the most noticeable addition on the pitch is the first-touch feature, which adds an air of unpredictability to attacking moves. No longer can you simply boot the ball at a player and expect it to be magnetically drawn to his foot. If you’re controlling someone perhaps not playing in the Spanish midfield, it could well just ricochet off his shin, and skill will be required to deal with it accordingly.
Dribbling, too, has been finely tuned, with closer control nabbed from Fifa Street, meaning you have more time on the ball to perfect Messi-like runs before you plot your final deft touch, while defensive tactical updates from last year seem now more fluid and the AI much better at launching attacks on goal.
For free kicks, which are still stupidly difficult and something only the seasoned pro can master, you now call up a third player to try to confuse opposition defenders, who might not be quite so confused when the ball goes sailing over the crossbar once again.
A new skills games mode is a welcome addition, featuring a series of tutorial challenges, from chip passes into buckets to crosses on to targets in the box, with progressively harder bronze, silver and gold stages to complete.
Other nice touches that should raise a smile include the downloading of current, real-life stats for the match-day feature, meaning the commentary and player stats will sometimes reflect what is actually going on in the world (so Nani’s rather poor start to the season for Manchester United could well be reflected with a few dropped points).
Then there’s the Ultimate Team, a bizarre but painfully addictive blend of top trumps, football sticker collections and Pokémon, in which you must form a team from a pack of cards and, building on last year’s version, compete in seasons and take on challenges.
As ever with Fifa, it’s the little touches that add to the whole spectacle. Career mode now has the weekly results read out in the classic BBC style, while you can also now take your Pro to play or manage on an international level. The new skill modes, while being a separate component, appear while the games load, meaning that itch you’ve been needing to get at is just going to have to wait.
It seems perhaps harsh on Konami that just a week after it launches its best edition of Pro Evolution to date, Fifa once again superglues itself to the throne, and that’s even before you’ve taken into account inspired localised touches such as Arabic commentary and now the Saudi Pro League. But if you’re going to feel sorry for anyone, think of the poor folk now having to think of new features for Fifa 14.