FIFA goes through a regular, well refined cycle nowadays. The series undergoes a drastic revolution before being slowly iterated upon and tweaked into an ever more impressive title. The last few years has seen FIFA evolve into a remarkably well-rounded and defined football title. Last year’s instalment saw a range of impressive additions with the first release on next-gen consoles, but this was the first year where it felt as though the franchise could kick on and really deliver on the new hardware. Unfortunately, FIFA 15 feels like another safe evolution of the series. It’s still an extremely impressive outing, but leaves a hint of disappointment in what is otherwise a palatable release.
Let’s kick off with the new additionals for this year. In an attempt to bring more context to each game EA Sports have developed a sense of emotion between players – a system dubbed ‘Emotional Intelligence’. The idea of having your players react more meaningfully depending on the scenario they find themselves in is an exciting one but unfortunately that’s just not what happens here. Players will square up – with one of what seems like half a dozen animations – after poor challenges, fall to their knees with their heads in their hands after missing a glorious chance to score, or express their frustration if they were open in the box and ignored in favour of a shot on goal. There are apparently over 600 animations for a variety of scenarios but it never quite feels genuine. Too often it feels forced or out of place given the players involved or events that have unfolded. Hopefully though it’s a system that gets more attention in the future and becomes a more complete element to the FIFA series.
Where bringing emotion to the game may have fell just short, the match presentation hits the nail on the head. Never has a football title exuded such glistening presentation consistently as FIFA 15 manages. The pre-match build-up, the in-game highlights, the team celebrations, improved fan reactions and more all come together brilliantly to produce a far more realistic match-day feel. When this is paired with another terrific soundtrack and fantastic visuals then it’s an ocular feast. The subtle attention to detail – such as: a ‘living’ pitch that wears as the match goes, moveable corner flags, and rattling goal frames – help to add to the experience, however minor they may be.
On the pitch though, FIFA 15 feels, as expected, like an iteration on FIFA 14. The collision engine – now without its buzzword title ‘Player Impact Engine’ – has been continually improved and this year is the best its ever been. Crunching tackles, outrageous fouls, cynical pullbacks, and physical man-on-man battles look and feel terrific. Of course there’s still the occasional bug, which more often than not isn’t an issue, but it’s difficult not to be frustrated if you see a player get sent off due to it.
New animations provide a fluidity that seems to improve with each passing year and the revamping of goalkeepers this year has been long overdue. As with many FIFA improvements, it’s not always something you necessarily noticed when playing in years gone by, but it’s not impossible to go back. Having been completely rewritten, the goalkeepers now both look and act more appropriately. Anticipating shots more accurately, adjusting for swerving balls, increased positional awareness but equally flat-footer on deflected shots – that are vastly superior that every before. Of course, there are still the fleeting moments when they pull an absolute howler, but I’ll leave that down to authenticity given its rarity.
Changes to the strength and agility of players, how they run, how they look, greater set piece control, the goal line decision system, improved player models and appearances, licensed stadiums, another great soundtrack, there are so many elements that see FIFA 15 continually improve, yet it still feels a reserved. Almost all of the updates are small (or at least, seemingly so) iterations that fine tune an already terrific football title. This probably would’ve been acceptable if it weren’t for the expectation of something more exciting on the new generation. It’s the harsh price you pay for year-after-year excellence.
Outside of FIFA 15’s gameplay, Ultimate team is as addictive as ever, though the addition of loan players isn’t exactly much of an improvement. If it’s a mode that has absorbed most of your time before then I suspect the same to be true again, but it will do little this time around to draw in new players. Concept squads is a nice idea but just far too fiddly in the current setup to be useful as a quick check of potential future purchases. Loans players allow you to use some of the more highly sought-after players on a limited, non-renewable contract, which is a nice update – though nothing revolutionary.
A reworked Team Management menu is a welcome alteration, making it more intuitive and attractive to change formations or make substitutions, though other than a few changes to the transfer network and player search there’s little of new to note here either. Pro Clubs Seasons is the same deal; just a few alterations to try to reduce wait times in lobbies and provide a little more customisation.
This feels like the year with the smallest amount of focus on the game modes and as a result little feels fresh and exciting – and I’m still waiting for the return of the Lounge Mode. Online play has worked nearly flawlessly on every occasion I’ve tried and the variety available is a strong as ever. Whether you want to compete in Online Seasons, fancy your competition a little closer to home with Online Friendlies, or want to team up in Co-op Seasons, there’s plenty of choice.
FIFA 15 is a victim of the series’ own success. It is without doubt yet another great footballing title, but it feels as small an incremental step as the franchise has offered in some time. Another like it and the shallow criticism will become more appropriate. For now, enjoy this year’s FIFA, it’s a little bit better than before.