With every new season football fans face a number of major dilemmas; do they buy a new shirt, renew their TV subscription, renew their season ticket, and do they buy the latest addition to the FIFA
franchise? Most diehard fans will do most of the above, after all it is about supporting your team, but there is always a question of doubt about investing in yet another year of EA's FIFA
franchise. Is it worth it? Will it be the first name on the team sheet, or relegated to warming the bench this season?
In the previous couple of releases, FIFA
titles have included a number of significant game-changing features, such as the impact engine. On the surface, this year's list of features seemed to be less intriguing. Fans were also worried the development of the game for next-gen platforms might impact this year's 360 version and make it little more than a database update.
The first change that will be immediately visible is the new interface. Gone is the old shiny, semi-skeuomorphic interface and in is the new flat tiled interface similar to Windows 8 and Xbox dashboard. It looks cleaner and sharper but does take a little bit of navigating to find where all of the options are now hidden. A nice touch is that the friends update stream is displayed on one of the tiles on the home screen, so you can immediately see what friends have been up to, and how successful they have been in attempting to beat your own scores.
Tucked away behind the various screens and tiles, all of the standard game modes make a welcome return with the addition of co-op seasons mode, where players can compete in games of two-versus-two for the first time. All of the mini-games return, although this time they are a little more challenging with the inclusion of moving elements, such as dummies moving along tracks and other moving targets. Where there's a challenge, there's a leaderboard, and each of the mini-games now have associated leaderboards that show your friends' scores and notifications of when they have just overtaken you in one of the challenges.
The increasingly popular FIFA Ultimate Team mode has also been given a make-over, including the flatter, cleaner interface along with the players now appearing on shields instead of the previously-used trading cards. However, there are more than just cosmetic changes to the gameplay in FUT with the all-important chemistry system receiving an overhaul. The formation modifiers are gone, so players can play in any formation as long they are in the correct position. Furthermore, players can receive chemistry modifiers for the first time. These cards change different player attributes enabling a player to become a marksman, sniper, hawk, powerhouse, architect, or any one of the 24 different styles included. Ironically, even though the individual formation modifiers are gone, there are actually more formations available for FUT players to choose from, allowing players to pick a formation that suits their style of play and player selection the best.
However, it is out on the field of play where the real changes are seen and felt. An initial perusal of the changes and features in the new title might seem a little underwhelming when compared to previous installments. Real ball physics, pure shot, precision movement, teammate intelligence, and protecting the ball; nothing seems too earth shattering. Taken individually, each aspect does not seem to make much of a difference. Taken together, however, and it all becomes game changing. It is certainly a case of the whole being so much more than the sum of its individual parts. FIFA 14
begins to blur the line between simulation and game. The improvements to the player physics and momentum, the ball physics, and the increased AI of the other players make the game feel so much more realistic and immersive. Momentum will prevent players from making unrealistic turns, stops, or sprints. They will stumble realistically as they get knocked off balance and try to recover. They will also lose their balance when running into other players, having their shirts tugged, being pushed, or going shoulder to shoulder with opponents. This is more than just an aesthetic, it also has consequences for passing and shooting. While off balance or out of step, the player will not be able to hit the ball as cleanly; passes can go astray and shots wide of the mark.
All of this realism has a price. FIFA 14
begins to play just like a real game and the pacing feels slower. Gone are the days of flying down the wings or racing through midfield. The player will need patience to play through midfield, probing to find a way past the sharper and improved AI players. The AI has been significantly upgraded with players closing you down quicker. They're more likely to block and anticipate your passes.
Fortunately, your own AI teammates have had a similar upgrade and do a much better job looking for space and making better runs. However, reaching them with the correct pass becomes a challenge. Passing itself has become more refined requiring finer control over direction and pace. If either is misjudged you can count on the opposition AI intercepting the pass. Quickly tapping the 'A' button and 'Y' button to mimic tika-taka football will just not cut it this season. Passing has become an art form and a key component of the game. The ability to hold and control the ball will be crucial for success this season.
To aid the player in this respect, EA has given players the ability to shield more physically than before. Pressing the left trigger will have the player block or even back into oncoming players, keeping the ball away from them. The ball physics have also been tweaked so that the ball will act more like its real world counterpart as the players try to keep it under control. When passing and shooting the ball will also behave more realistically in the air, giving players the ability to put swerve and dip on it more than ever before.
Obviously, the individual players on the field must have the skills to control the ball the way they want. The difference between the lower level players and the superstars is much more apparent. Lower division players push the ball further out, tend to lose possession more often and more easily, and won't be able to perform the dips and swerves that the likes of Messi and Ronaldo are able to pull off.
All of this means that there is a transitional learning curve for players moving from the previous title to this year's offering. Players will have to get used to more realistic physics and movement in the game. Passing through the midfield requires patience and demands more control over the ball. This is something that will take a certain amount of time before it feels natural, and can lead to some challenging and sometimes frustrating games during early matches.
Ultimately, these changes begin to feel rewarding, more real, and all the more immersive with a bit of time. On Pro levels and higher, you will no longer be winning with cricket scores, games will only be won by a couple of goals at most. The much more realistic FIFA 14
leaves its predecessor feeling more like an arcade version in comparison.
The only minor gripe is that the actual match graphics have not been improved so the pitches, stadiums, and crowds look the same to previous years. It's a shame in some respects given that the rest of graphics have been given an overhaul. Although looking the same, the crowd audio has been improved as they will now respond to the play on the pitch with appropriate noise, adding to the sense of realism.
Achievement wise, there are slightly fewer achievements this year -- a paltry 43 -- none of which rely on blind luck when opening a FUT pack. The achievements cover online and offline modes, and a few of the simpler ones are merely there to encourage the player to try out some of the new features, such as changing the captain of your FUT squad. The full 1000 gamerscore should be attainable by all players with sufficient time to play through the necessary careers and seasons.
Overall, the game is an improvement on last season. The FIFA
team has not rested on their laurels nor have they been distracted by the Xbox One development that has been done. It remains an epic football package with all of the game modes, online and offline, backed up by the usual brilliant soundtrack of 37 extremely varied songs.
fans will realise that, once you have played and adapted to this version, there is simply no going back to the previous installment. For these fans, the new version is an absolute five star game. For those who aren't quite as fanatical, it gets four stars for being such a complete sports package.
The reviewer spent around 20 hours playing the early access and a personal retail version, covering two careers, FUT, and online modes. In that time, 24 of the 43 achievements were unlocked.