One thing I’ve learned this year from playing all the different sports games making their current-gen exit, is that companies seem to be playing it safe (mostly EA Sports). Mind you, they are making the right tweaks and subtle additions to help provide a more complete game experience, but it depends on the franchise and what tweaks were made. When it comes to FIFA 14, you get the sense that EA Sports did indeed play it safe, this is in no way a bad thing. A franchise that has grown and overtaken the world by storm, FIFA can afford to play it safe when the next-gen version is just a month and a half away. With tweaks to Ultimate Team, Manager Mode, and some gameplay elements like Pure Shot; does FIFA 14 play it too safe?
When players go through their first game of FIFA 14, they’ll notice that the pacing of the game has changed. No longer will players go through passing the ball quickly and speeding through defenders. This year players will react more organically and realistic to the ball. When gathering a pass they will slow the ball down to gain full control and make their move. The ball is a little bit more unpredictable with the new “Real Ball Physics” EA has been advertising and that does show. The ball can be pretty unpredictable depending on the situation, player, and part of the body along with angle the ball hits. This creates a more slowed down and strategic pace of FIFA, at least on the higher difficulties. You can still turbo your way through defensemen but you have to be smart about it. Don’t expect to go Messi with every player on your team.
With the ball physics, a player’s weight is factored in more than before. When kicking the ball, it’ll all come down to how he hits the ball, the strength of the kick, and the angle of which the ball comes to his foot. Shots that used to be sure goals last year are more unpredictable but when you have a clear shot, the “Pure Shot” mechanic that is in the game will give players more control of shooting the ball at the net. With all these different physics for the ball and your player, FIFA 14 takes on a realistic route that hasn’t been seen in previous FIFA games (which is hard to believe).
The game is also more physical. Jostling for the ball and position becomes a back and forth battle between players and what makes it great is that, like the rest of the gameplay, it feels organic. It doesn’t feel like they are locked in some sort of animation or if there is some sort of force field around the players. This really helps defenders because they are able to counter players who love to try and slip away from them. You still have to be patient on defense if you wish to get your opponent to turn the ball over, but with the physics and tools at defense, this is possible. It helps the game feel balanced and not all about the attackers.
While the gameplay overall feels just right, the AI does tend to have problems on both sides of the ball. On offense, the AI doesn’t seem to want to act like a team. What I mean by that is that sometimes when you have control of the ball, the AI doesn’t always know where to go unless you are pushing forward. If a ball gets lose, the AI won’t really go after the loose ball to try and regain possession. By the time you realize this, the computer would have already gotten the jump and taken advantage of the situation. The same can be said about the defense. What you start to notice though is how the game starts to feel more like a one-on-one type of game between you and the defender (or attacker) as you wait for the AI to position themselves in the best position. It’s something that can be tweaked in the sliders but I haven’t noticed too much of a change.
Difficulty wise, amateur and semi-pro make the gameplay feel like FIFA 13 in which you can just run around and do what you wish while taking a ton of shots. On the higher difficulties, the game feels more realistic, balanced, and strategic. The computer will make you pay if you aren’t patient but they don’t have that overpowered mode that tends to occur when they are down near the end of the game. They are however tough when it comes to possession. Once they have the ball, it is difficult to get it back. This is something that can also be fixed with sliders as well.
Whether you play online or offline, there is a mode for everyone to enjoy. From the new Co-op Seasons for players to bring along a friend to take on the world, to Ultimate Team, to the new Manager Mode for those offline single players. There is so much to do that hardcore soccer fans will have a hard time putting the game down for a long time. For those more casual, there will be plenty to explore and sink your teeth into that will justify the games $60 price tag.
Manager Mode ended up getting most of the changes in this year’s game with the new scouting and transfer system. No longer will you automatically know a players overall and pick him up to add on your team. You will now have to depend on your scouts more realistically and conduct enough research to get the player you want as well as their exact attributes. Players will be spending a lot of time in this area when not in game if they wish to put together the right team or fill in that specific hole on the roster. You’ll even be able to go into bidding wars with other teams to try and get the player you want and you’ll even get transfer offers from other teams to help grow your salary or dump a player you don’t want. There is a lot of depth and if you are a manager junkie, you’ll be pleased to lose hours in a day to this mode.
As with any EA Sports game, Ultimate Team may be the mode that gains most of your attention. Whether you play offline or online, collecting and building your dream team is still as engaging and fun as ever. For seasons mode, players will now have to go through ten divisions instead of five in order to get to division one. There is still team of the week and you can still play against friends to see who developed the best team. There are new chemistry styles that will change up the way a player actually plays when on the pitch and other various cards that have been added in to give players a more strategic experience. While the highest rated players are obviously still the way to go, that doesn’t mean skilled vets can’t create a well chemistry gelled team and upset those who put down the most money. I will have to make a quick mention to the transfer market though, as finding cards are easier than ever. You can search for a specific player by name, go into the transfer market for a certain position from the roster screen, and pretty much the search engine has been simplified to make accessing cards in the transfer market a lot easier.
Take my word for it; there is a lot to do in FIFA 14. I only spoke about Manager Mode and Ultimate Team but have yet to get into Co-op Seasons, Online Be-a-Pro, and even the new Skill Games they added and tweaks to the old ones. There is a lot to do and that is pretty much all you need to know about the games on and offline modes.
Visually, FIFA 14 still looks great on the pitch. While no improvements were really made to the game visually, it still looks good for what it is on the current hardware. If anything, the menu interface received the biggest change as it’s now got the tile-like interface with a cool grey design. It makes navigating through modes and settings a lot quicker and players will spend less time digging through menus. There can be a little lag when switching tabs, but it’s something only select people will notice.
When on the pitch, Martin Tyler and Alan Smith do an incredible job of calling the games and providing a great soccer atmosphere (along with the crowd). They are even better when in career mode when they provide information on the team, their progress, the rest of the league, and any news going around the soccer world. Stadiums are well designed, as they have been the last few years, and player models look great. You’ll see some occasional hiccups when players run into each other, but that’s normal for the series as not every little aspect of the game is as polished as it could be.
While EA played it safe with this year’s version of FIFA 14, you can tell that the tweaks and subtle additions were enough to give you what may be the ultimate soccer experience this console generation. There is something for everyone to like and in the end, it’s all about the soccer. If you aren’t a fan of soccer but have been curious about it, it’s worth a shot. If you’re already a big soccer fan, you probably already have the game and are online with some of the millions of different players around the world. It’s time to get your FIFA 14 on…at least until the next-generation.