Perhaps as a West Bromwich Albion fan, I’m spoiled when it comes to not being trampled over by the big boot of footballing bastardry. Bloating the game beyond all recognition over only a couple of years, creating a culture of isolation and disaffection in which beloved fans are extorted beyond all rhyme and reason. Sure, they may get to see brilliant feats of footballing mastery, but at what cost? The most anyone will pay to see a Premier League Match at The Hawthorns is £39, with the majority of games at a mere £25, paling in comparison to the not just the big boys, but pretty much all of the league. It’s been a long time coming but FIFA now seems to be caught in the vice-like grip of official licensing, the equivalent of Queens Park Rangers, charging a ludicrous premium for what is but a mediocre replication of last season, and it took me FIFA’s biggest and only rival to realise this.
For vast swathes of video gaming history, annual releases like FIFA or PES have always been dismissed by the uninitiated as meagre aesthetic upgrades with very little in the way of legitimate innovation. For a long time I was a staunch opponent to this view, putting it down to little more than anti-football elitism. Strip away the marketing, database updates, licensing and glitz, and what does FIFA 13 really leave us with? To a series newcomer, it’s an excellent foray into a delightful dose of arcade football, but to mainstays it serves up little in the way of new content whilst failing to address many of its predecessor’s shortcomings.
There also seems to be an alarming fixation on retweeting the hooting knobbery of reserve team Premier League footballers’ sick bantz upon having EA’s triple-A thrust upon them. It’s complete genius, tapping into an entirely limitless source of free, high-profile exposure, but the substance beneath seems to be somewhat lacking. Even the face-scanned masses of Manchester City’s likenesses don’t seem to warrant the outlay, even PES’ unlicensed depictions of West Midlands Stripes’ Peter Odemwingie is far more authentic than that of FIFA’s limitless cash reserves.
The FIFA brand is also slowly migrating to premium status, inching its way up to the £45 bracket along with the likes of Call of Duty, but in the case of FIFA is there enough new to warrant even the lowly £40 bracket? Call of Duty, whilst arguably an amalgamation of greyish sludge, repeating the same formula and framework, at least serves up new maps, missions and an entirely ‘original’ campaign in each outing, which is only possible through having biennial development cycles.
Is there an argument to be made for a ‘core’ FIFA game to be released once every two years, with paid ‘booster’ packs in the meantime for each transfer window update, much like the Euro 2012 add-on? Possibly, but the Euro 2012 DLC isn’t exactly a shining example of this. FIFA 13 is also the most bug-addled member of the family to date, half of my sessions have resulting in having to go back to the dashboard or refresh the game altogether, suggesting a mad rush to get the game shipped without the polish of its predecessors, symptomatic of having but a year to create a game. Not to mention the rather unsavoury Wii release of FIFA 13, literally identical to FIFA 12, as uncovered by NintendoGamer.
Small additions like the Skill Games, or the extension of Seasons to Be a Pro mode are very much welcome, capping off the football experience, but so many technical issues from FIFA 12 have been left unaddressed. The Impact Engine still has a tendency to pin players to the floor, or leave two players twitching like they’re mid-seizure. The pacing also seems a little off, sometimes feeling more like the dying embers of a Blue Square Premier play-off final rather than a clash of the titans, both absurdly fast-paced but also, somehow quite lumbering and cumbersome. The first touch physics add some degree of additional ‘realism’, but still lack that visceral cutting edge which PES possesses.
The fundamental difference between PES and FIFA is that whilst FIFA may allow you to occasionally score the most ludicrous and spectacular goals imaginable, often they don’t feel earned.PES, on the other hand, might not allow for triple-pike back summersault bicycle kicks, but the extra fluidity in gameplay and the sheer incision which the Player ID system provides for the megastars provides a far more satisfying game experience.
Yet, I keep coming back. Wether it’s that it remains one of the last bastions of true, sofa-based competitive play with friends, friends who’ve played FIFA for years and will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to even consider PES, or a certain indefinable essence which somehow just catches you remains to be seen. In some ways it’s a guilty pleasure, continuing to play through a combination of obligation, peer-pressure and something undefinable, knowing deep down that I should know better. Are we addicted to FIFA, utterly blind to its pitfalls and shortcomings? Perhaps. Will I carry on playing? Almost definitely.