Find out whether this year’s FIFA is worth the effort…
With EA talking up the impact of their next-gen exclusive Ignite Engine for future sports titles, it’s easy to get the impression that the current-gen spec of FIFA 14 is a bit of a stop-gap. A means to keep the restless football masses happy before those shiny new consoles launch in November, and all the learnings of the current FIFA engine can be binned in aid of shinier and higher resolution pursuits.
FIFA 14 will, we suspect, be the final entry in the series primarily developed for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but that doesn’t mean EA Canada has rested on their Sky Sports emblazoned laurels. Rather than just adding in more superfluous TV-friendly features or game modes, all of FIFA 14‘s major enhancements translate to a better simulation of the beautiful game.
These improvements have been dubbed Pure Shot, Protect The Ball and Precision Movement by EA’s marketing department, but on pitch these translate to substantially more believable player movement between sprinting and coasting states, the ability to shield the ball away from the opposition by holding the appropriate shoulder button to slow down play and most dramatically of all, much more varied shot choice.
A player’s position in accordance with the ball still affects the nature of a shot produced but now it’s possible to attempt lobs and curlers with a quick tap of either shoulder buttons, as well as more audacious manoeuvres like bicycle kicks, scissor kicks and half volleys by pressing and holding the Left Trigger/L2 flair button. This system was in last year’s game, but the tweaks EA Canada has made to player-ball interaction for FIFA 14 mean that the not-so simple act of hitting a ball into a net is much more nuanced and satisfying this year.
All three of these inclusions feed into one another succinctly creating a much tighter and more fluid match experience. The pace of the game is simply much quicker with players able to zip around the ball with increased ease and pull off truly stunning goals as long as their timing is right. Experienced and new FIFA fans just need to keep in mind those trigger and shoulder button modifiers and they’ll have some great replays to savour.
That is of course as long as they have truly talented individuals like Messi, Ronaldo or the more recent golden boy Bale in their team of choice. Unfortunately talent from the lower leagues is still treated with borderline disdain with no official stadiums outside Europe’s most famed sides.
This is a complaint that has been aimed at FIFA before, but it’s very grating to see it repeated year after year. There’s definitely a case of the haves and the have nots in FIFA 14 with a considerable number of Premier League teams not having their stadia featured in the game. Seeing Ivy Lane where St. Mary’s should be is weird and for a game which is otherwise licensed up the wazoo, with Sky Sports logos emblazoned everywhere even on player’s sleeves, there’s no excuse for it. EA has spent money on buying up these licenses, so the least they can do is use all the content they have exclusive rights to. Sure not every FIFA fan would be appreciative of playing in stadia outside of Europe’s elite teams, but having more official stadiums in the game from the top tiers and lower leagues would undoubtedly win a lot of favour from fans.
Brief football equality issues aside, game modes for this year’s edition still revolve around Ultimate Team, Career and Be a Pro primarily, with Pro Club where everyone chooses a role in 10 vs 10 online matches and Co-op Leagues also featuring. All these modes have remained the same as they were in FIFA 13, with Ultimate Team now bolstered with superstars from yesteryear in addition to modern players and the ability to play random matches against other players on a match-by-match basis. Year-on-year Ultimate Team has been getting bigger and bigger as more and more gamers indulge in the card collecting frenzy of forming their ideal team, and in FIFA 14 Ultimate Team has been given an even bigger slice of the main menu. Honestly we’ve never really been fond of this mode as spending real money for simulated cards enrages the pre-pubescent Panini sticker fan within us, but we do understand the appeal.
Unfortunately overly-simplified menu design doesn’t really explain any game mode in any detail aside from a snappy feature name which is jarring at first, but after a while players from either casual or hardcore camps will find a game mode to their liking.
The distinctly offline Career mode proved the most entertaining for us, with players able to guide any team of their choosing over multiple seasons; managing transfers, balancing accounts and striving for the top tier in addition to playing or simulating each game. Be a Pro was also good for a laugh. The lines between the two modes have also blurred a little more this year, as players can control an entire team in Be a Pro in addition to their custom created professional which helps to vary up playing through multiple seasons.
The only ‘new’ area of FIFA 14 that we haven’t talked about is the addition of Jeff ’King of the Catchphrase‘ Stelling and fellow Soccer Saturday favourite Alan McInally into the commentary mix, complimenting the dry and increasingly disinterested talents of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith. The new duo help the ‘just like TV’ nature of match presentation with Jeff introducing matches while McInally occasionally interjects during matches to give audio updates on what’s happening at other grounds in any given league.
Some strides have been made with Tyler and Smith having more club specific banter for teams, like bringing up recent financial troubles, successes, key players and the like but these are repeated with such consistency, sometimes even within the same match, that we found it impossible to tolerate their inane cobbled together chatter. Especially when they utter such insightful comments as “That player is injured, he’s probably going to have to go off” or “It is offside, but you know when you’re offside, you’re offside.” They make Michael Owen’s colour commentary on BT Sport seem positively electrifying.
Undoubtedly this year’s game has some issues, but in truth these problems are on the periphery. On the pitch, FIFA 14 offers the best experience of any football sim and as a send off to the current generation of consoles that’s rather fitting. The Emotion Engine, set to debut in the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of FIFA 14, will undoubtedly revolutionise this series across the board, but until then fans at least have an experience which will keep them busy and fulfilled long into the year ahead.
A fitting and polished football-themed goodbye to the current console generation.
Tags: FIFA 14
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