Review: FIFA 13 (Xbox Live)
Time for one of the heavyweight names in modern gaming to arrive on Windows Phone. Electronic Art's yearly football franchise title, FIFA 13, was released last week on Xbox Live through the usual EA/Nokia exclusive arrangement. If you're able to download it and haven't done so yet, you should, because it's really well done.
The big appeal of FIFA over other Football games can be summed up in the opening screen. That's a lot of logos, and EA have licences with every one of them. That means they can use real world names for players, teams, competitions, and other ancillary details such as stadiums. This might not seem much, but it feels far better playing as Manchester United in the FA Cup Final than 'Manchester Red' in the 'Challengers Cup' that other games have to resort to.
Everything looks clear in the game, and it's important to be able to see all of your players and not only where they are, but how they are standing, where their limbs are, and what way they are facing. You've also got the fast moving ball, a cursor, pitch radar, the score, and more to fit in. Which EA have managed to do very well. There's also a subtle bias that puts the action and vital information towards the top of the screen, which is smart, because your thumbs will be taking up the bottom of the screens with the controls.
The other thing to point out, graphics-wise, are the abundance of action replays. Sometimes there's a hard cut from the game view into the cinematic, and at other points the camera swoops in from the player's viewpoint to show a replay of the action with an almost cinematic flair in the camera. Those shots that just miss, or look spectacular? You'll get a chance to watch them again as if it was Match of the Day. Probably the only missing part of the standard FIFA presentation is an in-game commentator to relay the action.
Back to those controls. The control is based around a virtual stick and button arrangement, and as expected the stick is on the left, and the buttons are on the right. But FIFA13 is a very configurable game, so lefties can switch the controls round, you can increase the size of the buttons (which is very useful), or have the stick floating (the centre of the stick is wherever you place your thumb down), or fixed. That covers most of the options in the virtual world, so you should find something in there that works, even if it takes a few games to be comfortable with it.
Like all football games, the controls have a subtle difference depending on which team has possession of the ball. If you have it, then the buttons are configured to pass and shoot the ball, otherwise they switch to changing the player you control and various ways to tackle the ball. I like that the buttons actually say what they do in each mode, rather than ask you to try and remember the layout from a help screen.
Movement in the FIFA games has always been key - the attempt to realistically model the running, balancing, and ball skills of a human, through simple controls, drives the designers. Play FIFA13, even on a mobile phone, and you can see this shine through. You can't turn on the spot, the ball doesn't stick to your feet, dribbling the ball requires you to watch what happens when you touch the ball, it's all very, very nice and on a par with a larger console version.
The same is true of the AI. There's no runaway scoring here that you might see in 'arcade' style football games, you'll need to think about how to get past your opponent's team, you'll be passing the ball and looking for position, and if that means managing the team to a certain extent, choosing formations, then so be it. You can even call out in the game to set your team's style with a two fingered swipe - towards the goal to attach, or back to defend more.
FIFA 13 is not going to be a game you master quickly. You can pick it up in a short time, but to get the most from the game you'll need to spend time practicing and mastering the details. To be honest, I prefer that - there is a time and place for a quick burst of action, and FIFA is not it. This is a game that requires the same deft touch and investment as a flight simulator or an MMORPG.
And that's why FIFA is one of the most popular gaming brands on the planet.
FIFA 13 on other platforms has a number of game modes, including a quiz and the ability to play as a single footballer throughout their career. These aren't present on the Windows Phone title - what we have is the regular 'tournament' mode that allows you to play through a season of competition or other specialist events, and setting up a quick match when you fancy a game with few consequences. Nothing fancy or complicated getting in the way, just a focus on the game.
That's actually some relatively smart mobile design - a complicated in-game experience, but one that is quick to get to once you have decided to play. Unfortunately, there's no online multiplayer experience here.
You're going to need a high-specced Lumia handset to play this game - not only does the title require Windows Phone 8 and 1GB of RAM, it's also another Nokia/EA exclusive title. In a way that's a disappointment, because FIFA 13 is one of the best titles I've come across so far to demonstrate the equality Windows Phone has with other gaming platforms. But that's balanced by the volume of Nokia users compared to handsets such as the HTC 8X and the ATIV S, which have the same base specs, to run this title.
Make no bones about it, FIFA 13 is a fantastic title. Yes it's missing some of the extra game modes and features you might find on a console, but the core experience is all here, it's very playable, and you're not going to finish this game in a few hours. It wouldn't surprise me if this lasts you through to the start of the new season, and right through to 2014 and the FIFA World Cup in Brazil... at which point I want to see FIFA 2014 World Cup Edition on Windows Phone.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at