As you enter the twilight of a generation developers have a history of doing one of two things. Either they make things bigger, faster, stronger, better in the hope of putting their own exclamation mark on the end of an era. Alternatively they save their big guns for the next generation.
It feels like EA have taken the latter option for this year’s iteration of FIFA. There are not many new features or revolutionary innovations to report on, making it very much a straight forward update over last year. FIFA 14 does everything that FIFA 13 did but with a few tweaks and with an extra coat of polish.
There’s shooting that feels “more natural”, a smoother dribbling mechanic and a smarter AI which allows your team mates to make smarter decisions and opponent some, let’s just say more stupid decisions. A good example of the AI is the offside aspect of a match; this is the first FIFA where I have seen the AI be caught offside and I have been playing since the late 90’s. All of this is only really noticeable if you are actually looking for it. This makes the leap between iterations this time, unlike the last few years, negligible.
This isn’t to say that the game doesn’t work well – it does. As with the last few years the matches are beautiful to look at and listen to, with the presentation and commentary being as close to watching a match on TV as possible. I did notice that during the eight games I played in the Chelsea team – before being loaned out – that the same discussion involving whether Torres was actually worth £50 million and if he would rediscover his previous form occurred in every single game. Most people would possibly see this as laziness and repetitive commentary. As a Chelsea fan I see this as highly realistic as this does actually happen in every single televised Chelsea game whether or not Torres is on the pitch or not.
This year the players initially feel a little slower than in past years but on closer inspection this is mainly due to the improved AI and the emphasis on utilising skill moves. You can no longer run up and down the pitch leaving defenders in your wake as you score for fun. The defence has tightened up considerably and goalkeepers are no longer easily fooled by a deft chip as you enter the box. For the first few matches, it is pure frustration trying to find a way of getting the ball into the back of the net.
The movement controls are certainly the biggest of the tweaks with players no longer gliding past the opposition but instead “planting and pivoting”. This creates a more strategic aspect to your play as you need to analyse not only who you are going to pass to but how you will receive the ball and protect it from the opposition players. The bigger “names” seem to have a stronger presence on the pitch as well. Get man marked by John Terry or Vincent Kompany and you know you are going to have a harder job getting a goal scoring opportunity than you would if you were being marked by Jose Fonte or Kyle Walker. Once you learn, and adapt to, possession and planning your attacks are key it becomes a much more enjoyable experience as you wave goodbye to the “score at will” days.
One of the strengths of the FIFA franchise has to be the sheer number of options in the game you play. One-off matches, tournaments and full career modes – managerial and player – are, as always, included. A number of “training” mini games, which act as a mini tutorial and a way of improving your skills, can be found either in the menu or serving as a loading screen of sorts before each match you play.
Another slick improvement is the adoption of a side sliding tile interface to the menu, not unlike Windows 8 or a smartphone. This makes browsing the wealth of modes and options a breeze considering the number of them.
As has been the case for the last two to three years my favourite mode is without a doubt the FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) mode. For those of you that have never experienced FIFA Ultimate team the best description is to imagine the Panini sticker collections of your youth mixed with the FIFA gameplay and a sprinkle of RPG added to the concoction, albeit with less dragons and arrows to the knee.
One of the Major FUT tweaks this year is the removal of each players preferred formation. The replacement is a fully customizable “Chemistry Style”. Rather than just boosting your chemistry rating by putting players of the same team/nationality/league next to each other on the pitch, you can now blend styles to get great improvements. A midfield “Artist” who has good ball skills would complement a forward “Sniper” exceptionally well.
This can end up in constant fiddling with statistics, styles, formations and upgrades, some of which can be boosted by both in game “FIFA Points”, real world currency or by card packs rewards. If you needed a spread sheet for Tiny Tower than you are going to need spread sheets, databases and macros for FUT.
Once you are happy with your formation and players it’s time to take them to field in the many cups and seasons – both online and offline – included in the FUT mode. Progressing through the FUT tournaments nets you FIFA point rewards which you can use to either purchase additional card packs or bid on certain cards in the auction – perfect if you have a particular player in mind but much more expensive than gaining the player through a card pack purchase. The downside of the pack purchase is that you could get anyone or, as in my case from the screenshot above, any one position. As well as FIFA points some tournaments reward you with prize card packs which include new players, kits, stadiums, managers, training upgrades and other consumables. Whatever way you look at it you now have a new group of players waiting in the wings for you to compare with your current first team squad and then either use or put up for auction – you best get that spread sheet out again.
The Xbox players also get a little something extra this year with the exclusive FUT Legends included, but not yet launched, in their version of FIFA. On the week of the Xbox One launch “Legendary” players such as Ruud Gullit, Gary Lineker, Pele, Gianfranco Zola and….ummm..Robbie Fowler will be included in the gold packs and will feature unique attributes based on their skills at the peak of their career.
FIFA 14 is ultimately the same fundamental game as FIFA 13. The hardcore FIFA players amongst us will no doubt enjoy this years version. The casual players who buy for a quick kickabout won’t miss much by sitting this one out. After all there is a next generation version to look forward to.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Format: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 Release Date: 27/09/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of FIFA 14 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 12 days on a Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.