Tis the season for the next generation. What this means is that the Xbox faithful have an entirely new version of FIFA to dive right into. FIFA has been available on the 360 since September, but with the promise of gameplay improvements that aren’t on the previous generation, I and many others have been excited to see how things panned out. Now there are improvements to the game. But it doesn’t really change that much to be honest. Read on to find out how it all panned out.
Let’s jump straight into what matters most, the gameplay. I’ve been very vocal about the fact that I feel they may have ruined what they were getting so close to with last year’s game, even since I played FIFA 14 on the Xbox 360. The game is trying to become as real as a football sim has ever been. Not to say it’s not realistic, it’s just that some things have been thrown in that do not compliment what made FIFA 13 such a great game. For example, rubber-banding appears to exist now. Rubber-banding is a term that would only be familiar to avid fans of racing games. What it means is that when you, the player controlled driver is way out in front with no chance of ever being caught up, the game will automatically make trailing cars speed and turn outside of their capabilities to constantly make it a close race. EA Sports have adapted this to the defending. Defenders as slow as say Per Mertesacker will blister towards a player with lightning pace like Theo Walcott from out of nowhere. Essentially what I’m getting at is, if you initiate a through-ball to an extremely fast player, he will fumble his first touch slightly and do a light jog no matter how hard you hold the sprint button. Whereas the defender will Usain Bolt this newly crippled gentleman right down to the ground. It’s all in the name of balance, but if EA Sports want to go for realism, balance just doesn’t exist in football. There’s only skill, momentum, and luck. It’s still a very, very good game. I just feel that it has taken a step back from FIFA 13.
Those are my thoughts on FIFA 14 in general. Let’s talk about what’s specifically new to the Xbox One version. The very biggest in terms of gameplay changes are the amount of players that can now challenge for a header. It’s no longer attacker vs. defender. I have even been anticipating a header and had my own CPU players nab my chance from the air for a goal (not that I’m complaining). You can even beat goalkeepers to the ball now. It has been a pet peeve of mine for years that a keeper would automatically win the battle if he went up for it. EA Sports have remedied my concerns in this aspect, and I hope it’s a feature that stays forever. When the player impact engine arrived in FIFA 12, I was very excited. Finally players would react as they should and fall over when they should. Of course it was a mess that had the Fus Ro Dah effect. It has however been perfected here. Players completely react to every collision as they should. You might wonder why I’ve highlighted this since it was apparent on the Xbox 360 version. There is absolutely no clipping whatsoever in any challenge in the game. Not one arms slips into another player’s arm. No legs sinking into the opposition player’s stomachs. It’s just perfect and is quite wonderful to watch. The game also boasts hundreds of new animations motion captured by players such as Gareth Bale and Robert Lewandowski. The only ones that I frequently see are a new long ball that is executed when you attempt to switch flanks. I have noticed some new clearances. But with the literal thousands of situations and angles that you might find yourself in, you’ll certainly see many of these animations on your journey.
It’s strange that the absolute best improvement in this game is one that I would hear about and shun immediately. Ah hell, it’s not just the best improvement, it’s the best part of the game, period. EA Sports’ new Ignite Engine adds so much to the beautiful game that you cannot even imagine. It truly needs to be experienced to understand how amazing it really is. Ignite is an engine that claims to make the sport feel ‘alive’. Crowds are no longer pasted cardboard drones. They are living 3D people who will react to every situation with cheers and boos. The sound that it gives out is astounding, the booming roar when you score an important goal in career mode is especially gratifying. It’s not just the crowd that reacts, the players themselves do. Let me throw out a situation. You’re losing 1-0, and have just equalised to make the score 1-1 with ten minutes to go. Your players will put in the extra effort, they will run themselves ragged to get a goal. If the ball is out of play, they will sprint to take the throw-in or corner to get the ball in-play as quickly as possible. EA have even been working with Sky to configure how the camera angles should work for replays. Man is it ever beautiful. I actually find myself watching almost every replay as I hear people scream through my Kinect to skip the little scene. The cameras will highlight important players, more so in career mode than anywhere else. It will even show another replay of a goal you’ve scored way into the match, just as it would in a real game. EA’s presentation in FIFA 14 for the Xbox One is the best it ever has been, for any game, ever. Have a look at the Ignite trailer to see just how good it is.
One big question that was on everyone’s lips these past few months is will it actually look any better on the Xbox One than on the Xbox 360? In short, yes and no. If you’re expecting the players likenesses to look any more realistic, you will be left disappointed. However, with most of them now being scanned with the new Starhead technology, they look as real as they ever will. Now that it is rendered in 1080p and at 60fps, the game finally looks as it should. It’s a beautiful, glossy, ultra-realistic affair that shouldn’t be missed. I’m way more invested in the story being told on the pitch than the actual game itself. If I sign a player on career mode, I want to see that highlighted during the pre-match presentation. I want to see the close-ups of my new star as Alan Smith gives his terrible opinions on any and everything. I mean, god damn everything about the presentation of this game is so spot on it even makes me want to try out Madden and NBA Live which is certainly not my bag.
The rest of this review will be focused on the features of the game that are already available on the Xbox 360 version. So if you’re familiar with FIFA 14 already, just skip on down to the summary. Career Mode makes a triumphant return to the foray. It’s more or less the same, except for the way transfers work. Now there’s the Global Scout Network. This is a feature that enables you to send your scouts out to certain countries and look for players with the credentials that you need. You can no longer see player ratings before you bid on them unless they are prolific stars such as Lionel Messi where everybody knows the talent that he beholds. The scouts give a prediction of the players stats and will even give an estimation of the amount you would need to bid on them to have a bid accepted. An annoying feature returns from previous years. If a player is 30 or over, it takes but one season for them to lose every bit of skill they ever had. I understand players declining in talent as they grow older, but the amount that they do in FIFA 14’s Career Mode is far too drastic and unrealistic. The way that the Ignite Engine uses the cameras to focus on players in Career Mode is particularly titillating. It will focus on players who might be making a debut, or have cased disruption in the changing rooms, or even just players that are currently in-form. It then accompanies this with a quick quip from the commentary team. This all adds to the experience and makes it feel more real.
Ultimate Team is another entry that makes a return to the FIFA franchise. Of course it would, it is the cash cow of the entire game. There are only minimal changes to this mode but they are definitely for the better. You no longer need to have matching formations for your players to have better chemistry. You can also now invite your friends to an online friendly to play their Ultimate Team squad. Why this was never implemented in the first place is beyond me. That is where the changes in the mode lie, it doesn’t require much to improve it to be honest. There is another new entry that is exclusive to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One version, however. Legends are now present in the Ultimate Team. Amazing players like Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola are now a part of this wonderful, soul-draining game mode. I do think it was a little bit cheeky advertising the legends as such a big deal for the console exclusivity as the rarity in achieving the players is extreme. As rare as getting a Ronaldo or Messi in a pack if not more.
To sum up, there are many improvements to the next generation iteration of FIFA 14. It’s definitely better than the previous gen version. Some of the gameplay has taken a dive from FIFA 13’s excellent play. In the words of Paula Abdul, it took two steps forward, and two steps back. This doesn’t stop it from being a top notch game, however. I think that EA Sports will have achieved the dream of having the very best ultra-realistic football game that has ever and will ever exist by FIFA 15. I definitely recommend this one to the legions of fans that follow the sport. Its value is also lowered by the fact that many hundred thousand day one editions came bundled with a free copy. So pick this one up for a price as cheap as chips. Chips in Central London that is.
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