With every passing day, it looks less and less like the NHL and its players will manage to salvage even an abbreviated 2012-2013 season.
Maybe it’s no coincidence, then, that soccer looks like a viable alternative both in the real world and in video game land.
“FIFA Soccer 2013” (multiple platforms; $59.99) gets everything right. I can’t remember the last time a sports video game felt so natural and easy to play without being condescending toward its players. There is an ease to “FIFA 2013,” a natural sense of control born of a physics engine that offers something like the natural acceleration of actual running, complete with the burst of speed the best players can summon when they see nothing but a single goalie and that giant gaping maw of a net in front of them. A fight for the ball feels tactile and intense; diving to make a fingertip stop in net is nearly as exhilarating here as its real-life counterpart.
Somehow, “FIFA Soccer 2013” pulls this off by pushing the sort of presentation that diehards will find appealing. The default camera is zoomed out to offer a huge view of the pitch, and while this reduces the visual whiz-bang factor of the game, it allows you to watch plays develop. Even though you’re only controlling one player at once, you’re watching your teammates do almost precisely what you hope they will. They form triangles and diamonds on the field. They open up lanes for you to pass through.
It is the first video game to make an argument for soccer as “the beautiful game.” Every moving part has a purpose. Every player is doing a dance with at least three others, and there is purpose to every second of every game.
Aside from the gameplay, the framework in which you play is very well put together. The card-collecting “Ultimate Team” mode is the most balanced of these modes in any EA Sports game, one in which it actually feels as though you could eventually work your way to a solid team without spending money on expensive packs of virtual cards.
Playing as a virtual pro online or against the game’s AI is a fantastic experience, even as the shifts in perspective that come with playing from the point of view of a single player can be disconcerting. And the plethora of leagues and gameplay options in the multiplayer portion of the game ensure that there are modes for every skill level. It even allows being a single player on a team entirely otherwise controlled by another player.
Even the soundtrack, a part of these games that tends to be overlooked, is impressive. Artists from Santigold to Metric lend an independent, artistic feel to the game, while the inclusion of bands like Kasabian and Bloc Party give things a distinctly European feel. It’s a soundtrack that rocks without drowning the listener in testosterone.
“FIFA Soccer 2013” does soccer the way you’d hope for it to be done. It makes a strong case at being the best sports video game released all year. It’s extremely easy to recommend, whether you truly love soccer or you’re just looking for a decent replacement for hockey.
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