Games of 2012: FIFA 13

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.


I was originally hesitant to include FIFA 13 on my list this year. Despite playing more in my third year with the series than either of the two previous, most of my confusion from last year remains. The game remains difficult to learn the nuances no matter how much time you spend with it. Just a week ago, I finally figured out that when you’re taking a free kick, up and down are for the direction of spin, not where you want to place the ball (ala how you take a penalty). Yes, this took me three years with the series to figure out.

Even with its obtuseness, I have a much deeper appreciation for FIFA this year, because I’ve had a chance to see what an institution it is worldwide.

– Just about every soccer player cares deeply about how they’re represented in the game. There’s a certain measure of self-worth and pride related to how close to reality one appears in the game. Stats, placement in the lineup, and accuracy of the player model all matter on different levels. Dax McCarty, the defensive midfielder for the Red Bulls, was perhaps the most glum on the team about FIFA 13; mostly because he wasn’t in the team’s starting lineup (despite starting nearly every game this season), but also because his character model had been given clown-red hair instead of his actual strawberry blonde hair.

– It’s become the sort of game where EA must blow millions of dollars on promotion. There were a variety of game changes from 12 to 13, but the biggest (and most costly) was easily EA wrenching away the image rights for Lionel Messi from Konami. Observe this year’s “JOIN THE CLU13” ad and try to ponder the budget involved in getting some of the top names in the sport crammed in for so many little cameos. Even the parties are absurd, as best illustrated by Graham Parker’s amazing recap of the NYC launch party. (I didn’t get an invite this year; clearly this is the next big step towards my legitimacy as a sports journalist.)

– If you think free-to-play games on Facebook are terrifying, then you must not be familiar with FIFA Ultimate Team (or more commonly, “FUT”). FUT has a simple enough premise: open packs of cards, assemble a team, play as that team through seasons or tournaments. But the cards have limited contracts, so they can only be used so many times before you have to apply a contract card to extend their usefulness. You have to be cognizant of preferred formations, chemistry with nearby teammates, fitness, morale, and possibly which month the player’s birthday is. The in-game currency for winning matches is rarely enough to keep your team operating for very long, so soon you’ll turn to the marketplace in an attempt to buy and sell cards to achieve enough of a profit to keep things going.

There was a big rash of Xbox Live account hacking last year that was linked to FIFA. People would crack accounts, quickly purchase Microsoft points, buy gold player packs, and transfer all the cards to another account. It became known as “getting FIFA’d”. How many freemium games do you know that get used as a nickname for a specific type of criminal activity?

FIFA 13 is so engrained in soccer culture, it’s hard to not be into it if you’re into the sport. Journalists, players, front office staff, musicians, fans – everyone’s in. Come on – how many other games are going to lead to me talking smack with a player I respect?

FIFA 13 is available on just about every system known to man. My experiences were largely with the PS3 and Windows versions.

Endured Enjoyed

Games of 2011: FIFA 12

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2011 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. Instead of my usual end-of-year game recommendations, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2011 posts.


I’ve had a love-hate relationship with “serious” sports games.[1. By “serious”, I essentially mean “not NBA Jam, Mario Kart, or anything with motion control.”] They are rarely intuitive or come with strong tutorial modes. With manual size decreasing and annual releases churning out regularly, there’s a certain expectation that you’re intimately familiar with the series even before you touch a controller.

This is especially pronounced in EA’s FIFA 12. A scant manual of about eight pages highlights a handful of changes but doesn’t concern itself with telling you how the core game works. The game does launch with a tutorial, but mostly of a new defensive control system that doesn’t do a great job of explaining itself. Then, you are thrust into a giant menu system and left to find the mode you maybe heard about, once.

The gap between what you’re told and what you are expected to know how to do is greatest during the Virtual Pro career mode, where you join your favorite team and attempt to break into the starting XI over the course of a season. You typically only control yourself, and the first thing that will jump out at you is a numerical score next to your stamina bar. It starts at 6.0 (like most actual player rating systems do) and will fluctuate over the course of the game based on your performance. But the game never really tells you what raises your score and what lowers it. It’s pure trial and error in the hopes of eventually learning how to play in a way that the game feels is acceptable.

I understand that as the world’s best selling sports franchise, there’s little impetus in EA Vancouver spending time on a well written manual, or a tutorial mode that goes beyond “well, here’s a penalty kick, take it already, you fool!”. But I worry that so many sports games seem to be going down this road.

That said, I can’t be entirely down on FIFA 12, as it finally fulfilled my dreams of a online multiplayer sport. Shockingly, all of the FIFA 12 games I have played online have been lag free, have not been subject to any griefing or abusive voice chat, and generally have people who are not terrible playing. Strangely, it may have been the best multiplayer experience I had this year.

FIFA 12 is available for PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, 3DS, PSP, iOS, PS2, and the Mac.