Critically and commercially, FIFA now dominates video games football yet every year there's a feeling that this might be the year EA Sports slips up. It wouldn't take much - just a lazy update short on tangible improvements or some killer new game mechanic that ends up spoiling the game. Last year's effort, FIFA 12, sailed close to the second scenario at times, its revamped defensive systems and player interactions coming close to disrupting the flow of play. Yet this also made the game feel more authentic, and for most of us that was enough.
Well, FIFA 13 isn't the game to wreck FIFA's upwards momentum. Its new features might seem small - and some are undeniably gimmicky - but they cement FIFA's status as the world's best football game both on and off the pitch. Sorry Konami and the valiant efforts of PES 2013.
FIFA 13 Kinect and Move
Let's tackle the gimmicks straight away. FIFA 13 is the first of the FIFA franchise to embrace the Xbox 360 and PS3's motion control peripherals, with Microsoft Kinect and PlayStation Move support bundled in. Oddly, only Move gets motion controls as such, with an optional control scheme modelled on the system FIFA adopted on the Wii. The left analogue stick (or navigation controller) still handles player movement while passes, lobs and shots are mapped to the face buttons on the move controller. However, you now have a cursor you aim by pointing the move controller at the screen, and this affects the direction and power of your shots and passes.
It's actually a perfectly good system, but not particularly intuitive, and using it can impact the tightness and precision of FIFA's play. We suspect that the Move controls will be no less divisive here than they have been in Sony's first-party FPS games - you're either going to love it or you won't.
The Kinect control scheme wisely avoids the horrors of motion-controlled passing and shooting for voice commands that augment the pad-based gameplay, bringing options once buried in pause menus into the flow of the action. Shout 'Quick Tactics' or 'Mentality' for example, and you can pick between combinations of formations, strategies and attitudes, or set the team to focus on attack or defence.
You can call out substitutions, create your own custom tactical combos, and FIFA even goes so far as to watch your language for offensive words and tweak the officials so that they'll come down harder on your misdemeanours. The message is clear; don't suggest that the referee indulges in unseemly and solitary habits unless you want to see how much of a, you know what, he can be. Accuracy of recognition is very good, and helpful pop-ups remind you of the different options, but we'd have to say that the impact of swearing seems limited in practice. Perhaps EA could go further to punish potty mouths.
FIFA 13 Game Modes
Beyond this, there are extensions to the online and offline play modes we saw last time, to the extent that we're beginning to think FIFA needs a tutorial just to make it through the menu system. As in FIFA 12, you sign up for your favourite club when you first play, and the game keeps a tally of experience gained in both online and offline play, adding the points to the club's overall pot and ranking the teams by their average score. The 'Be a Pro' and 'Management' career modes return, and there's certainly long-term satisfaction to be had in taking your own player through the system, going out on loan to smaller clubs and trying to hold your place within a Premiership team. You can opt to play just as your player, or control the whole team during matches.
Online, there's even more effort to tie FIFA 13 into the community and into the world of real football. As well as Ultimate Team's cunning combination of FIFA action with Fantasy Football - now more accessible thanks to interface changes and new tutorials - and challenges in EA football club, FIFA 13 introduces a Game of the Week, giving you the chance to try one of last weekend's big encounters with the same teams and conditions. It's impossible to evaluate these things before release, but those who've made FIFA 12 one of the online fixtures of their lives should find plenty of reason to make the upgrade.