EA has a bit of history when it comes to releasing versions of FIFA on new consoles. No matter how many years the series runs for or how many formats the game is released on, the first edition on a new machine is always a bit hit and miss. You can track that all the way back to the days of the Sega Megadrive and EA’s first console-based FIFA title - FIFA International Soccer – which was in rude health and sitting at the top of the sales charts month in, and month out. The second Sega dropped the Mega-CD onto the shelves, EA released a new full-priced version of the game for it, one that was identical in every way to the cartridge edition – barring the inclusion of an FMV intro and a few extra crowd chants. Their second bite at the cherry generally brings everything back in line, though, and that second version is probably what most die-hard football fans will have to wait for in order to get their fix. The reason being that FIFA 13 for Wii U is a little bit of a strange package.
The box has the same general design as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of FIFA 13 do, and even run with the same “Join the Clu13” font trickery used in this year’s advertising. The problem, is that the game is actually pretty much identical to the 360 and PS3 editions of last year’s game, FIFA 12. In fact, when we say “pretty much identical,” we mean “you wouldn't be able to tell the difference if you couldn’t see which controllers were being used.”
And this makes FIFA 13 a tough game to review. FIFA 12 was a fine game indeed, but knowing how much of an improvement the sequel was, is it still right to score it with a nine or ten as would have happened at this point a year or more ago? It comes down to the age-old argument. Is a £40 copy of Tekken 2 on the PS1 still worth 9 marks out of 10 today, when the similarly-priced Wii U edition of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 blows it out of the water in every possible area? For us, the answer to that is no, as much as we love a bit of retro.
Sorry, EA, but it isn't going to happen. We know the difference that the “real” FIFA 13’s new First Touch Control made to the formula, and how much more fun, fast, and fluid that made the match engine feel. We know that your tweaks to the collision engine, animations, general graphics and AI also pushed the game to a whole new level, and set the competing football titles an even higher benchmark to reach for. Being able to manage an international team or get our created player into the World Cup finals gave us something extra to play for, too. Without all of that, you've given Wii U owners a full-priced cut-down edition of the old version of your game, switched in the new teams, players, and soundtrack from the latest version and then stuck that new version’s logo on the box. That really isn't cricket, especially when you were already on a bit of a sticky wicket with Nintendo fans.
Back to football, and it would be unfair to say that an attempt at innovation hasn't been made. The new GamePad controls do come in handy when it comes to tacking free kicks and penalties, even if the results do feel a little hit-and-miss at times. When you have managerial control of your side, making substitutions and tactical changes is a breeze with the touchscreen, and you’ll feel a little bit like Gary Neville giving in-depth analysis on Monday Night Football as you change your team’s entire approach in just a few taps. They aren't all winners though, as the facility that allows you to control a player’s attacking run by selecting him and dragging an arrow on the GamePad is next to useless on anything but the easiest difficulty level in single-player games, and completely useless in multiplayer. Generally, by the time you've looked away from the match, found the player you want to move, moved him, and looked back at the action, you will have been tackled. Unfortunately, the player tends to make the run anyway, meaning that he sprints on while everyone else is tracking back to defend after you've turned possession over incredibly cheaply.
Touchscreen shooting is also a bit of a damp squib for similar reasons. When you’re in front of goal and you've got defenders closing in on you, it feels alien to go through the rigmarole of shaking the GamePad violently to activate the new shooting mode, and then tapping (and holding) on the screen to aim your shot. It’s worth noting that alternatively, you can press the right stick in to activate the mode, but it still feels overblown and needless when the alternative is to press a button that you already have your thumb on. Again, if you haven’t already been tackled seconds before, your player will have adjusted his footing to avoid an incoming challenge and by the time the shot is taken you end up with a weak daisycutter taken with your striker’s wrong foot, rather than the rasping pearler into the top corner that you were going for.
If you've never played FIFA 13 (or FIFA 12) then – gimmicks aside - this edition is still a fine football game. For us, FIFA has been far and away the champion for a number of years, with pixel-perfect passing, great atmosphere, and the ability to control tactical nuances that can truly change the outcome of a match. The Wii U keeps up well with the action visually, although there are occasional slight drops in framerate when the camera pans during a match. A whole host of online modes are missing - most notably Ultimate Team – but offline features such as building up your Virtual Pro or trying to lead your club to victory through the massive Career Mode are still great fun – and addictive. There’s an advantage here to having the old game code in place as compared to the new, too, as you can still be a manager of a team in that Career Mode and include your Virtual Pro in the side – a feature that has been (in our opinion, mistakenly) taken out with the yearly trash on other systems. Local multiplayer fans will be in footballing heaven as well, as if you've got a few friends who all regularly play, the addition of a co-op career where up to four players can play on the pitch at a time whilst one manages the tactics with the GamePad is a great boon, and well done.
But even with the on-pitch action being great in 2011's terms, and the off-pitch damage not being too severe, it’s hard to recommend FIFA 13 - simply because we know what it should be like.
FIFA 13 for Wii U is a fine simulation of the world's favourite sport. In footballing circles, the only game that beats it is its own sequel, which is already out for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and also happens to be called FIFA 13. The chances are that if you’re really into football games, you've been playing FIFA on one of the other home formats for a while and will have played this edition of the game to death already. If you aren't, then you’ll have no interest in FIFA 13 anyway. That makes us wonder exactly who EA was targeting when it drew up the plans for this one.