Edging along the generational boundary between the seventh and eighth generation of consoles will be a tricky one for the next year or so, especially for some of this generation’s biggest titles. FIFA is undoubtedly worthy of being in the echelon of videogame history after year upon year of improvements to ensure its dominance in the footballing space.
The last few seasons have each seen slight alterations that, albeit potentially subtle, have had a dramatic impact on the pitch. Whether it’s been the Player Impact Engine, Precision Dribbling or First Touch Control they’ve changed the way FIFA plays – to the degree where it’s next to impossible to go back. The new additions have always invigorated gameplay in a positive way and this year is no different.
Whilst the key buzzphrases this year are ‘Real Ball Physics’ and ‘Pure Shot’, it’s the combination of these with a new player movement system that implements a more “realistic” step to each footballer. They can no longer stop in an instant as they now require the leg positioning that a real footballer would in order to turn sharply. It initially feels incredibly odd – as though each player is lagging behind your commands – but that quickly dissipates. As it has been each year recently, after a game or three you settle into the new methods and begin to understand their benefits.
It creates a more fluid game that can create some simply breathtaking moments. The air of being a videogame flows away as you start to turn defenders, intercept key passes or drive inside to unleash a thunderous shot in ways you couldn’t before. More “moments” happen thanks to this new system, both defensively and offensively without seemingly having disrupted the balance between the two.
As mentioned earlier, there’s both the new shooting mechanics and ball physics which makes long-range shooting the best it’s ever been. Neither obscenely overpowered or devilishly dissatisfying having a pop from outside the box will see the ball dip and swerve, occasionally rooting goalkeepers to the spot. The man with the gloves’ ability to pull off some world-class saves helps to even the playing field though – no longer do 30-yard screamers feel like glitches.
Speaking of goalkeepers, their ability to parry shots out of the danger zone is vastly improved. Meanwhile, AI is more intelligent with their runs and positioning, with tactics seemingly playing a more vital role than before. If a game becomes congested then widening your formation can help dramatically, likewise putting more men in midfield if you need to take control.
It’s not a set-in-stone formula of course, but their impact feels greater than before and when combined with improvements across the pitch – strikers try to lose defenders, players fill in if a defender comes marauding out David Luiz style, last ditch tackles are simply brilliant and no longer concede ridiculous free-kicks, and greater variation in pass accuracy and animation stops games from becoming stale – make it the best FIFA yet.
“FIFA 14 is a terrific footballing title and well worth your time and money but hopefully the release in a few months time will be even better.”
Such quality does tend to highlight the flaws more strikingly though, with commentary being the biggest offence. Whilst infrequent glitches with the impact engine are forgivable, the constant repetition from the dry commentary team are not. After playing a rather high number games it’d be fair to have heard some of their story or lines repeated – especially if you play with the same team, however, they’re repeated almost immediately after one-another if similar events unfold. It sticks out like a sore thumb and becomes incredibly irritating when met on a match-by-match basis.
The presentation is a slick as ever – though the occasional lagging in the menus is immensely jarring. A new menu style was a wise choice and its implementation is wonderful. By simplifying the options EA Sports have made it far easier to access not only what you want, but what you play the most. Whether that be Ultimate Team, Career Mode or the Skill Modes it’s all at the tip of your fingertips rather than hidden beneath a pile of submenus.
Speaking of those three modes, each has seen its fair share of improvements. Ultimate Team, whilst never something I could stick with, is expertly explained and primarily the same mode that fans know and love. Formations have been dropped from player chemistry however, so you’re no longer restricted to fit them into their preferred layouts. Managing your squad, transfers and consumables is still at the heart of the mode as you try to build the best team that you can. Whether you’re a FUT Founder or a newbie then it’s a terrific mode and one I intend on continuing this season.
Career Mode is still split into two sections: Manager and Player. The latter doesn’t seem to have an overhaul beyond minor advancements, but the Manager Mode includes seeing both the introduction of the Global Transfer Network and changes to the negotiations of transfers. The Network is a new addition within FIFA 14 and changes the scouting network of Career Mode, allowing you to send off scouts to various locations to search for specific types of players, of specific ages, for specific positions. It feels a little messy in execution but does provide a good avenue for finding players. You can alternatively of course still search of specific players and once you’ve opted to bid you can re-negotiate with the club over fees, wages, player swaps, etc. Likewise if a player of yours has been bid on you can send back a counter proposing, or decline all future bigs for that player – a system that has been long overdue.
The Skill Modes have been vastly improved and updated from FIFA 13, the year of their introduction. They are far cleverer than before and are incredibly useful for improving particular aspects of your game. Unfortunately they still cannot be used to improve your Pro – an area of FIFA that is still somewhat lacking despite the impressive nature of the mode.
Elsewhere, online has seen the introduction of Co-op Seasons, allowing you to partake in the brilliant Seasons mode with a partner as you face up against two others. This is entirely separate from the single player Seasons so don’t worry about having to choose between one or the other.
Typically I encountered some severe lag post release with FIFA so that’s something to consider, however, in the multitude of games so far there has been next to none which makes taking the game online a joy. Obviously there’s the usual FIFA quitters to deal with but beyond matching you against similar stated players there’s little EA Sports can do.
With an impressive visual style and gold standard mechanics FIFA 14 is the best FIFA to date. It feels strange having said that for the third year running but EA Sports continues to improve in such a defining manner that it remains true. FIFA 14 does, at times, feel like it’s straining on this generations hardware to the switch to next-gen couldn’t come soon enough for the franchise. FIFA 14 is a terrific footballing title and well worth your time and money but hopefully the release in a few months time will be even better.