I’m not a Soccer fan. Every few years I go through a phase where I decide that it’s finally time to see why everyone enjoys the game so much. I sit down, watch a match, get intensely bored about halfway through and go and find something else to do. I guess, having been raised on Australian Rules, I’m used to games where goals get scored every few minutes, rather than once or twice in a match, if you’re lucky.
I’m saying this so that we’re clear about my approach in reviewing FIFA 13. The last time I even tried an EA soccer game was the 2006 World Cup game on the XBox 360, and while I enjoyed that, it proved to me that, in general, sports sims just aren’t my thing.
But now, here I am, iPhone 5 in hand, loaded with a copy of the iOS version of EA’s venerable FIFA series. After you wait through the interminable loading screens and unskippable front matter, the game blasts you with terrible music and gives you a pretty hideous-looking title screen.
We’re not off to a great start.
Fortunately, things redeem themselves after this. FIFA 13 offers three main game modes: Quick Match, Tournament, and Manager Mode. Quick Match is as you’d expect: A quick and simple match between two teams. Tournament offers a season in one of the many leagues that the game has on offer (including our own A-League). Manager Mode is the full football-manager experience. I’ve never understood the appeal of team management, but the success of soccer management titles since the early 1990s explains why this mode exists.
Tournament mode offers the full tournament schedule for the current season, and the game will download updated player rosters and stats each week, so you can match your in-game performance to your team’s real world performance. It’s great to see features like this make it down from the console versions of EA’s sports title into the mobile version.
While these kind of features make the game feel like it stands alongside the console versions, the visuals and sound do not. Graphically, the game looks decent, though not the best-looking iOS game. Players are recognisable, and at most of the angles you’ll be playing at, the shortcomings won’t be too obvious. Unfortunately the game’s replays show every low-resolution texture and a bizarre, almost glowing ball. I know the game has to run on a wide range of iOS devices with differing specifications, but even the venerable iPhone 3GS is capable of better than this.
One nice aspect of the visuals, for iPhone 5 users, is that the game fully supports the 16:9 screen ratio, meaning you won’t be touching empty black areas while playing.
The audio is functional, but limited. Aside from the dreadful music choices for the title screens and menus, there’s some nice, atmospheric crowd noises. Chants and other assorted noises come out really well, especially with a decent set of headphones. Commentary is a bit of a mixed bag. I understand that there are restrictions on size and other aspects for the in-game commentary, but hearing an A-League game commentated by Standard Issue BBC Sports Commentary is a little weird. There’s a wider variety of commentator lines than I expected, and several well-known players in the A-League have their names in there, which is nice. It’s still fairly easy to get the commentators to repeat lines over the course of the match, however.
The Soccer gameplay is pretty good for what it is. In general, FIFA 13 uses a virtual joystick and button setup. There’s also skill shots that can be activated by sliding from a skill shot button to points on a grid. This isn’t the easiest thing to get the hang of, but allows for a lot of finesse once you do. The game also makes good use of the touchscreen by allowing you to tap players you wish to pass the ball to when attacking, or control when defending. It can take some getting used to, but adds another layer of strategy to the game.
All this adds up to about as decent an approximation of the World Game as you’re likely to get on a mobile device. It’s unlikely to ever win me over from my Hawthorn-loving ways, but having the A-League in there is enough to keep me interested, and, of course, all the popular leagues from around the world are represented in the game as well. If you’re an iOS-owning fan of the game, then you’ve already decided whether or not you want this on your phone. If not, however, then the game is unlikely to win you over.