FIFA '13 demo: First Review

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EA Sports gave fans the first chance to get their hands on FIFA '13 yesterday, with the launch of the playable demo.

Having shrugged off competition from rival Pro Evo Soccer, the FIFA franchise now dominates the football console gaming landscape, and the hugely anticipated next instalment is expected to be the best yet.

And, by and large, it delivers.

The demo offers glimpses behind the curtain, revealing just enough to get you hooked in. There's little in the way of revolutionary new advances, but there's plenty of subtle improvements to keep fans happy. And one of the main new ideas, MatchDay Live, genuinely looks like a bold new step.

Consoles linked up to Xbox live or the PS3 network will be constantly updating player form, league standings and match fixtures.

So now that Manchester City versus Arsenal clash will have relevant commentary - Martin Tyler will be bleating on about a top of the table clash or a relegation dogfight, depending on the club's real-life position in the league table.

And, as the Premier League season evolves, player form will be updated on a constant basis, adding or subtracting a few points off player ratings.

The gameplay itself has also had a facelift, and it's now more realistic than ever.

First touch control - a gimmicky feature in recent games - has been given a much more prominent focus.

Fire a pass at David Silva and the Spaniard will control it instantly. Try the same with Pablo Zabaleta or Per Mertesacker and the ball is more likely to shin off wildly.

Such a subtle tweak has quite a large impact. The way players move about the pitch has been altered, so stats better reflect on-pitch performance.

Play a eye-catching through-ball over the top and in the past it would be a given - your player would steam onto the end of it and slam it home.

But that's all changed. The first-touch feature means body position is everything, defenders now more savvy and better placed to make interceptions, and teammates more alert and willing to make bursting runs into the box.

Burrow down the flank with James Milner and dig out a cross only to see your entire flock of forwards milling about on the edge of the box was a frustrating sight, all toom common in last year's game. Leaving aside why James Milner was even on the pitch, that shouldn't happen any more.

Now you'll have Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko all surging into the box like a pack of wildebeast. Players respond as they would in real-life, anticipating breaks and moving into space as play develops.

This new feature - Attacking Intelligence - according to FIFA, just adds to the realism, blurring the boundaries between what's real and what's not. Although that's nothing new for game-fiends used to 12-hour career mode sessions.

For budding Roy Hodgson's itching to perfect the art of parking the bus, fear not, FIFA defenders have been equally equipped with a refurbished intelligence. And, in the demo, it was noticeable.

There's few more rewarding sights than watching a perfectly timed offside trap catch a slovenly striker puffing for breath in no man's land, and the defensive intelligence function makes this dream easier to achieve. To counter smarter attacks, defenders should be better positioned, and should use their particular attributes more effectively.

A revamped Impact Engine has ironed out some of the bugs from last year's version - so expect less unintentionally hilarious collisions between players - but competing for headers is now more realistic, and goalkeepers interact with their outfield counterparts a little less woodenly.

Games on the demo were far too short to properly assess the tactical free-kicks feature, but it sounds interesting.

A raft of new options including more players standing over free-kicks, multiple dummies and fakes and new defensive wall actions should pique the interest of those with tactics boards chalked up with complex free-kick routines.

But the marquee feature this year is Complete Dribbling. Having splashed out for the world's best dribbler, Leo Messi, FIFA has upgraded its dribbling gameplay.

Close control is now more important, and it's easier to beat defenders without resorting to button-mashing the trick buttons.

The CPU is still frustratingly effective at stopping you in your tracks - perhaps that's the new defensive intelligence or perhaps that's just me - but it's more rewarding when it comes off.

At first glance, FIFA '13 looks like another step forward for the EA Sports franchise.

It's not a massive leap, but on this early evidence, it looks enough to warrant dipping into the wallet.

This review was played on Xbox 360

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David Silva
Manchester City
James Milner
Carlos Tevez
Per Mertesacker
Premier League
Mario Balotelli
Pablo Zabaleta
Edin Dzeko

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