I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a diehard soccer (football for the rest of the world) fan, but interestingly enough, I have been playing every game in the FIFA series for the better part of a decade. Like baseball and basketball, it’s a sport that I would much rather play (virtually, of course) than watch on TV.
While I am by no means a FIFA expert, I have had the pleasure of experiencing many changes from year to year, which puts this year’s effort in an interesting position. On the one hand, the changes between last year’s FIFA 13 and this year’s iteration are minimal at best. On the other hand, while there are no major gameplay changes, the enhancements and polish between FIFA 13 and 14 are enough to make a good thing even better, making this the best FIFA yet.
I understand that with annual sports games, it’s difficult to “revolutionize the genre” with each new iteration. I get it; there’s only so much you can do with a fairly short development cycle that’s ongoing year after year. I’m not expecting each new game to blow my socks off. What I DO expect is anything introduced in the past to be polished up and improved upon, and this is what FIFA 14 does…though that’s not to say there’s nothing new.
For starters, player movement has been tightened up yet some more, resulting in less of an “arcade” feel and more grounding in realism. I know I say this pretty much every year, but that’s more of a testament to how much effort EA Canada puts into player physics year after year. As someone who plays both PES and FIFA, I always looked at PES as the more “sim” of the two franchises, while FIFA was the more forgiving, “arcadey” one. I would say that this year’s effort straddles more of a middle ground; it’s not as hardcore as PES may be with player physics, but it certainly isn’t a sprint button mashfest either.
FIFA improves on the Player Impact Engine of previous years by once again putting focus on player interaction with other players and also the ball. Momentum plays a big role as you cannot be sprinting down the pitch and suddenly veer off to the left or right with no pause. Players must plant their foot, pivot and cut, all while sacrificing speed and control. This lends a hand to the overall authenticity of the game while giving gamers more of an opportunity to plan ahead and really think through their moves. Add the fact that the Precision Modifier button for Skill moves has now been eliminated (now you just perform the same moves with the RS) and you have quite a bit of control over player movement at the tip of your hands.
Shooting has also seen some tweaks, and it all starts with the new real ball physics. I have to be honest; I never knew that the recent FIFA games did not have real physics for the ball. It’s a pretty specific thing that I just never really paid attention to, kind of like when Madden introduced “3D grass.” It’s nice to know it’s there, but I probably could have gone on with the rest of my FIFA playing life without knowing any difference. With that being said, what the ball physics adds to the game is more control and freedom when shooting.
You can now perform a variety of different shots such as blast dipping or swerving shots, and you can also now shoot while off balance or while being rushed. Player now have the ability to adjust their stride and approach angle to find the best position to score a goal. In addition to shooting, dribbling has also seen improvement, where skilled players retain more control over the ball while less skilled players will have less perfect touches and overall be less smooth. You’ll notice more uncertainty and frequent corrections with these less skilled players, so it adds an additional layer of strategy when you have to consider just who you want to get the ball to. Of course as with most sports games, in the hands of a truly skilled FIFA player all of this doesn’t really matter; they’ll still blow you out.
Your teammates’ AI has seen a significant improvement, and while it still isn’t perfect (really, what game has perfect AI?) it is leaps and bounds above what we’ve seen in the past. Overall, your teammates are smarter and make better decisions, often finding opportunities to run into space to make a play or breaking down defenses to create opportunities for you to get them the ball. They just seem more…aggressive overall, like they actually want the ball instead of just waiting for you to get it to them. On defense the AI will also be more aggressive in trying to win back possession or provide support when you need it.
The rest of FIFA 14 hasn’t seen too much of a change. The game’s presentation is still top notch, with some fantastic pre-game sequences and commentary. The graphics are by and large the same as what we’ve seen in the past few years, meaning they’re nice, but nothing to write home about. You still get a motherload of different clubs; over 600 clubs in 30 leagues spanning 16,000 players.
As far as game modes go, you should be familiar with what’s on display here. You get your Career Mode where you can take the reins of a manager or player, your typical multiplayer suite, a variety of skill games to help tighten up your technique, and of course the ever popular FIFA Ultimate Team.
If it’s one thing that the EA Sports games have really contributed to video game sports, it’s the revival of card collecting in the form of the Ultimate Team game mode. In case you have never experienced Ultimate Team before, it plays out like a mash of fantasy sports and collecting packs of trading cards. Long story short, you basically obtain packs of cards (tiered from low to high with correspondingly rated players in each pack), build a fantasy team with the players and items you get from your packs, and have at it. You don’t get to keep your players and items forever, so you are constantly undergoing this cycle of obtaining new packs, which you can buy with in-game currency that you earn by playing with your Ultimate Team.
UT includes current players alongside legends of the past such as Pele. If you ever wanted to see how Pele performs alongside today’s players, then Ultimate Team is the game mode for you. It’s incredibly addictive, and for someone like me who is borderline obsessive with collecting loot in games like Diablo or Borderlands, UT is simply awesome. As long as you have the currency, it never ends.
FIFA 14 is going to be in an interesting position as next-gen systems launch. The franchise will see one foot planted in the current-gen versions which uses a tried and true game engine, while the other foot will be dipping into the next-gen Ignite Engine. How much of an improvement Ignite is over the current engine remains to be seen; I suppose all we can do is wait and see. Moving forward, I wonder how much of a change the current-gen FIFA 15 will see from this year’s version. Regardless, FIFA 14 is the best FIFA to date, and a must buy for the footie fanatics out there.