Another year, and EA Sports have delivered another high quality release in their long-running FIFA series. This much should come as no surprise to anyone who has played FIFA in recent times.
It's a continuation of one of the gaming world's more encouraging stories. When the FIFA series was turned around in 2008, it was with a rejection of trigger-happy arcade gameplay in favour of a more measured simulation of the beautiful game.
It was a brave move - one might compare it to FC Barcelona trusting that their short passing game would bring them success in an era when it was believed that you don't win the Champions League playing pretty football. Both Barcelona and FIFA's bets paid off.
Since that dramatic rehabilitation of the FIFA series its ratings have sky-rocketed and ever since then, the series has held to its new direction offering little more than annual refinements.
Of course, annual refinements are not so bad if you've got something decent to start with. But you can’t put that on the back of the box or in press releases – which is why every new FIFA game comes with its own set of flashy new gimmicks.
So then, FIFA 13 tries to involve you more deeply in the game's two convoluted point systems. It is the usual business of earning points and spending them buying special balls or boots in 'the catalogue'. All of this is no more than superfluous padding that does not add anything to the game - unless you're the kind of person who has to collect everything there is to collect.
The other two headline changes is that the game is now much more integrated with what is happening in actual football leagues and that instead of just dribbling about you now get to play mini-games while matches load. Neither of these makes a huge difference to the game, but I guess some would enjoy how easy FIFA 13 makes it to replay that premiership game from the weekend.
In the end though, soccer games are about playing soccer and in this respect FIFA is not much evolved. The sense of physicality may be somewhat improved and play might feel a little more dynamic, but the changes over the last two editions of the game are in reality very small.
The visuals are still as crisp as always, passing the ball about just feels right, and the whole thing is immediately satisfying. Also as in recent years, patient football is amply rewarded. In other words, everything that made FIFA 11 so good is still intact.
That said, the problem of gameplay patterns emerging over time is still not solved. Even in 12, after a few hours of play you'll find yourself scoring roughly the same goal over and over again. Seeing these patterns emerge is always a bit disappointing, in the way that it's disappointing to see through the supposed magic of a card trick.
In fact, given that FIFA games do not change that much from year to year, a more sensitive metric for quantifying future progress might be to measure the time from first running the game to the moment when you first sense the game's underlying clockwork shining through.
The problem is quite simply that there are difficult AI and physics challenges – but mostly AI – that hasn't been solved yet. It is after all AI that determines whether players run into space, gang up around the ball, or rigidly stay in position. FIFA 13 does as good a job as any game of recreating the ebb and flow of real football, but it still isn't quite there.
The other aspect in which this AI problem is apparent is in the lack of variation between matches. Things have improved over the years, but we are still far from the variety of playing styles and just sheer randomness of real football. You don't just end up scoring the same goals over and over, you also end up playing roughly the same matches over and over.
If all this sounds overly critical, that is not the intention. FIFA 13 is probably the best soccer game ever made. It is just that it is only very marginally better than FIFA 12 or FIFA 11 before it.
The low-hanging fruits of better graphics and licensing deals with the top European leagues have essentially been picked. Taking things up another significant notch will require much more than mere tinkering with the existing formula. There is no use skirting around this.
The reality is that FIFA's annual release cycle is driven by market forces and not improvements in the game itself. If you look past the newness factor, there is little reason to recommend this game over any of the previous two FIFA games. On the other hand, and it is worth repeating, FIFA 13 is probably the best soccer game out there – albeit by a whisker.
Score: 9 out of 10