The EA Sports FIFA franchise has had a pretty good run in recent years. With strong sales and stellar review scores, FIFA remains the king of the virtual soccer world. Last year’s changes pushed the series forward moving it closer to capturing the unpredictability of the sport itself. It was truly a fantastic game. One year later however I am asking myself how the development team can possibly make FIFA 14 any better than last year’s game. Going in I didn’t expect any sweeping changes. Lo and behold there are no revolutionary innovations here. There is no one feature that screams, “go run out to your local retail outlet and get this game now”. Yet the changes, albeit slight, are positive ones and FIFA 14 is very good game yet again. Fans of the franchise can purchase this years FIFA confidence but just be aware that this years version is all about tweaking and refining an already solid soccer experience.
When it comes to any EA Sports franchise it is all about the gameplay itself and the FIFA franchise is no different. So I will begin with how FIFA 14 plays compared to FIFA 13. In short, it plays very much the same, but there are some noticeable differences and some hardcore fans of the series may initially have a difficult time adjusting to it. This year the players seem a tad slower but that is mainly due to the improved AI, precision movements and how there is more emphasis on skill moves. You can no longer tear up and down the pitch, cruise past defenders and score at will. The defence has tightened up considerably and you will need to plan out your attacks with much more thought. At first, I did not like it as I found myself repeatedly frustrated finding it next to impossible to score. Yet after a few games I started to really enjoy it. I found I really had to plan my attacks and eventually I discovered that maintaining possession seemed to be the key to success.
Those new to the franchise, or who have taken a few years off, should be able to pick up the game with ease. Controls are largely the same but with a few exceptions. For starters you no longer have to hold down the Left Trigger to activate skill moves. Instead all skill moves are accomplished by simply moving the Right Stick. It makes for a game that feels more natural. Holding the modifier last year seemed a little awkward and I always felt like I was at a disadvantage when playing someone who clearly was able to use the modifier to its maximum benefit. So I give kudos to the development team for scratching that little feature from FIFA 13.
This year, EA Sports is touting the “Pure Shot” which is a new ball physics system which makes “every shot feel real”. Okay so here is the thing. Last year, I had the same feeling when I kicked the ball as it was unpredictable and yet again it remains the same. Goals were very satisfying last year and they remain satisfying this year as well. I noticed a few more finesse goals in FIFA 14 but all in all I didn’t really see many differences in terms of the way players shoot the ball. So when it comes to the “Pure Shot” I don’t feel the shooting mechanics have been transformed any great deal or at least I never noticed much.
The new precision movement controls are what I found more noticeable. Players no longer glide but rather they plant, pivot and cut. It makes for players that seem a little more sluggish at times; however, it also creates a little more thought and strategy in terms of how you will need to get by the AI and how you will protect the ball from the opposition. I should mention I found not only the defensive AI improved but the offensive AI seems a little smarter as well. My teammates seemed to always be in the right position and when defending they never seemed out of place. Bigger and stronger players seem to have more of a presence on the field as well. It just made it a little more realistic and certainly more of a challenge to score goals. In a sense, you really have to put in some effort to score goals as those ‘score at will’ days are over.
The usual slate of game modes and features all return in FIFA 14 and they are once again as deep as ever. You can jump online and play head-to-head against anyone in the world; you can create a FIFA Ultimate team which now includes “Chemistry Styles” that make players and teams unique; you can craft your ultimate dream team in FUT Legends; there is a co-op season mode; career mode; and more. It the deepest and richest virtual soccer game on the planet. The windows-like tile menu is a nice addition as well. I found navigating the various modes and jumping into a game incredibly easy.
I should mention that the “Skill Games” return and frankly they are better than ever. For those of you who do not know what the Skill Games are, they are tutorials of sorts that allow any level of user to learn or master the FIFA franchise fundamentals. They are mini-games that teach you the intricacies of each discipline, such as passing, shooting, crossing, dribbling, corner kicks, etc. I loved all the new additional games and found I could literally spend hours in the Skills Game refining my FIFA skills.
Visually, FIFA 14 is a good looking game. That being said, I have to admit that I really didn’t notice much of a difference from last year’s game. It is clear the FIFA franchise has run its course on the current generation of consoles. So I can only reasonably assume that not much else could have been done to make the game look any better. I should however mention that BC Place Stadium does look fantastic and much better than it did it FIFA 13. As a Vancouver Whitecaps fan (MLS), I certainly appreciated the improvement. There are a few more animations this year as can be expected but in the end the graphics remain more of the same. Likewise the games sound is very similar to last year with the exception of the music soundtrack. This is not a bad thing as FIFA 14 is truly a great sounding game by itself. Everything from the commentators to the fans singing, FIFA manages to create an authentic soccer experience.
FIFA 14 doesn’t bring any “game changers” to the table but what it does do is refine an already superb soccer game. A few tweaks here and there make for a game that feels a little more authentic and true-to-life. There is no question the franchise is showing its age on the current generation consoles and I for one am certainly ready to move on. The visuals do come across a tad stale; however, the game itself feels as good as ever, and well if you are looking for the best virtual soccer game on the planet look no further than EA’s most recent FIFA release.