It’s that time of year again, with EA’s FIFA series churning out the annual update in the form of FIFA 14. We’ve been promised changes to the core gameplay to go alongside the shiny new menus and updated team sheets, but what’s really different this time? Let’s take a look at the latest version of what has become one of the biggest series in gaming.
Once you flick through a few re-skinned menu screens, scored by the usual collection of new songs, the game’s key strengths hit you straight away – EA’s fully licensed approach to teams and players creates an authentic and exciting atmosphere around matches, and stadiums are packed with loud fans to really fire things up. When the whistle blows, the first thing to notice is the change to player movement. It’s all much more precise now, with different factors such as pace, balance and sharpness determining the success of each turn. Sprinting all over the shop simply isn’t an option these days, as you’ll quickly find even the top players losing control of the ball at speed. It all adds up to a rather more realistic interpretation of football, rather than the slightly Hollywood approach of previous FIFAs.
Tweaks have been made to the shooting system, with attempts on goal now much more reliant on factors such as positioning and timing than before. Whereas in earlier games scoring options could feel a little limited, now a properly executed technique can result in the net bulging from any situation, whether that be a 30-yard wonder strike or a scruffy header from 2 yards out. Every effort is at the mercy of outside factors, and a player being off-balance or the ball becoming trapped under his feet can foil shots in a pleasingly believable fashion.
The AI has been addressed, with teammates now doing a much better job of moving off the ball to create space, which is very useful as EA have focused on protecting the ball and slowing play. A more considered approach is encouraged this year, and the simple combination of a speedy forward and endless lofted through balls won’t be enough to win matches anymore. Opposition defenders are more dynamic too, and the game is just a better experience for it. The volume may still be turned up a little from the real sport, but FIFA has improved as a simulation as a direct result of this side of the update.
Career mode is back, and budding managers are encouraged to use the game’s new Global Scouting Network system to identify improvements to their squad. Youth scouting is still a viable route to take, but the cost of this has been upped slightly to address balance issues, and we’re not-so-gently nudged towards the previous route by it taking up the majority of the picture in the game’s hub screens. In truth, it’s just a slower way of searching for existing players, and after your scout returns telling you excitedly about a young Argentine in Barcelona who looks like he might be a bit useful, you do begin to question the worth of the feature at all. Apart from that, it’s the same career that we all know and love, and we’re sure that this will become a time sponge for FIFA fans.
The big question is whether this is a big enough improvement on FIFA 13 to justify an entire new game. The answer is a tentative yes, with the subtle changes to the gameplay successfully addressing the previous game’s issues while improving the core experience one more notch. There might not be too much by way of innovation here, but FIFA fans know what they want, and this mostly delivers.
So perhaps this is nothing too revolutionary, but FIFA 14 is a decent update on the existing template. The new features may be subtle, but the improvements are, for the most part, logical ones. It certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel, and is some way off from being a perfect simulation, but FIFA will always attract fans with its fast-paced play and visual sheen, and this instalment is no different.