The pitch is sacred ground in most parts of the world, and by that respect I look forward to paying my respects each year with a new iteration of FIFA. Some years, the respect is reciprocated; other years, the game simply “updates squads” and improves graphics. But while the latter is always true at its most basic degree (or so we’d hope), this year’s FIFA is special. This year, FIFA is on the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. And while last years FIFA on the WiiU would fall under the category of “next-gen,” it should come to no surprise that the definitive version will arrive on this year’s newest entrants. But how high does it raise the bar?
Although I could attempt to answer this question for you in terms of sheer graphical power, the game of football is a bit more nuanced than being pretty. Animations have been a key department of scrutiny. Previous entries have done their best to maintain a sense of realism on and off the pitch with player animations that were meant to convey authenticity. But it was never perfect since players found themselves finding their route to goal in dubious fashion, clipping legs and arms with Casper-like qualities that felt frustrating more often than not – at least for the other player at the other end of it. FIFA 14 makes huge strides to improving this aspect of the game as player models react far more accurately when hitting players, dodging tackles, and striking the balls. Signature shots are more imbued with franchise players, and even shots are now more accurately matching the hits associated with them. Even then though, these are aspects we expect improved – especially with the additional power available to developers now.
While I don’t necessarily believe that the graphical update should be reason any one person’s picks up the latest FIFA title, it would be disrespectful to the developers not to commend for the work done. FIFA 14 is gorgeous; characters models are much improved as one would expect, but the standouts are the stadiums and replays. The stadiums actually seem much more alive, and are beginning to feel more organic in nature. I say beginning because while the game does make large stride to improve the stands, and the stadiums as a whole, they’re not completely free of canned expression. But then I don’t think I will completely satisfy with the game stadiums until fans start running the field mid-match or the stands start running smoke from the bleachers. In truth though, every stadium is starting to have a real feel of life attached to it. It’s exciting to think where it might lead later on as the developers become much more accustomed to the hardware’s ins and outs. With that said, I tip my hat to the Ignite Engine, which has really put on a good first display on the next generation of games (as well as current generation).
I want to also mention the much-improved replays. If only because animations related to striking the ball are much improved, the replays themselves are beautiful and more exciting than ever to watch because they feel so real. That is something I have never said regarding previous FIFA titles, and rarely does a new entry catch my fancy with something so staple like a replay. If you enjoy the replays, this game truly does improve them. If you don’t, you’re none the wise, and have the power to skip them at your leisure.
In terms of gameplay, there have been some minor tweaks that have improved segments of overall play, mainly dribbling, headers, and skill moves. Dribbling plays out smoother, headers seem a much more realistic on impact and skill moves more feasible for less advanced players. However, FIFA 14 remains relatively the same in this regard, any change that is noticeable is marginal at best. Tactical defense is still the standard, and attack heavy gameplay remains a constant. It’s likely the nature of the best, but if not broken then don’t fix it. Any minor details that have changed are overcome in the first few games, soon to be engrained into your repertoire of football moves.
It is also worth mentioning the default camera angle, which takes a closer look at the pitch in a more… lively kind of way. The player and the crowds are clearly more in display, and with ball boys legitimately messing up and throwing two balls on occasion, you can appreciate the amount of detail that went into creating that level of “authenticity.” Or not – can drive you mad too at times!
Essentially, everything that has been added to this year’s FIFA feels like legitimate improvement. However, not everything can be perfect on that first go around. Although most game modes are retained, the omission of tournament mode remains the most questionable. In its place seem to be the improved physics and graphics, but I can’t fathom why it would omitted either way. FIFA Ultimate Team, Online Play, Career Mode, and all the others still come packaged in, but tournament play seemed to have gotten the boot for no reason. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is certainly disappointing. In addition, manager mode has gotten an overhaul and it is still up in the air if it was for the best. Perhaps “realism” was a mantra when making FIFA 14, because the knew scouting system makes the task of finding players a bit of a chore. Previous entries have given you lists of player rankings that you could base your decisions on, but now many players stats are hidden behind a veil of uncertainty. Finding the next big player may be rewarding, but its also frustrating with the level of poorly designed micromanaging FIFA has decided to employ. The idea is sound, the execution is not though. I’m certain EA Sports will improve this particular function for the next title, but here and now, its just utterly tedious at times.
There is nothing “wrong” with this game, in fact, it’s quite wonderful in its execution in most areas. With the exception of the manager mode additions, FIFA was primed and readied for these new consoles. However, improvements on the pitch are marginal at best and the omission of tournament play does not necessarily make this a must own on only next generation consoles. That said, if you have PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One, the current king of international football games still stands a top of the hill – and does so with a clean and smooth transition that is clearly on sides.