FIFA 14 Review
We always greet a new FIFA title with both a buoyant sense of excitement and a lurking feeling of disdain. After a colourful history of annual FIFA releases spanning nearly 2,000 years, we can be forgiven for occasionally succumbing to the latter.
However, FIFA 14 has shown us that, although it’s easy to write off any football title as an arbitrary big seller that will appeal to the proverbial ‘lads’ and just about no one else, there really is room for widespread acceptance of FIFA 14; even among those that normally wouldn’t touch it with a shitty stick.
We say this because, no matter its shortcomings, the FIFA franchise has been a leading light in the genre for a long time and has become one of the most satisfying multiplayer experiences around – a pure, brilliant form of no-frills competition.
FIFA 14 is the Rubber Soul of football games. It’s reached the tipping point where another carbon copy just isn’t enough, and so EA has decided to be a bit odd and has thrown some new things around that have turned out to be close to genius.
FIFA 14’s Technical Revolution
In gameplay terms, FIFA 14 is a world away from the last couple of games in the franchise, bearing more resemblance to the slower, more deliberate FIFAs of a few years ago.
Gone is the shoddy and unrelenting emphasis on sprint speed and acceleration – a combination of strength, ball control and vision is the new elixir for any budding participant.
No more sticking Theo Walcott up front and hoping for the best, as FIFA 14 is reliant on close control and a pass-and-move structure that is far more reminiscent of real-life football.
The physical side of the beautiful game is conveyed extremely well here.
The clunky physics that marred FIFAs 12 and 13 have been all but nullified, and receiving the ball in the middle of the park and holding off an over-eager opponent until a teammate can offer you support is an interesting and well-realised feature.
Passing has been tweaked yet again to add more of a technical feel to the game. Gone are the days when a simple tap of a button would suffice – FIFA 14 is all about picking your moment well and ensuring that the angle and weight of your pass is tip-top.
If it isn’t exactly right then expect to see the ball trickling into touch or being swiped at by an opportunistic opponent.
At long last the through-ball has been made more difficult to execute properly, something that will greatly change how you play the game.
It’s become more difficult to open up space with a pass, requiring you to act quickly when passing to ensure that your men can free themselves up, receive a pass and offload it before getting clobbered.
Achieving the desired amount of ‘liquid football’ is totally up to the player and the decisions they make while on the ball, rather than just hitting and hoping.
These are not new features, but they have been honed and re-shaped brilliantly to provide a more immersive and tactical experience. As a result, FIFA 14 is much more of a sports ‘simulation’ than a lot of EA’s recent output.
Graphics, on the other hand, have seen little change. FIFA 14 very much looks like its predecessor, and although we’d have liked to see some improvements, the game’s graphics are still passable.
FIFA 14’s Game Modes And Presentation
Ultimate Team has undergone another minor overhaul and has become far more reliant on player chemistry, while the excellent competitive Seasons mode also features. [We were unable to play FIFA 14 online for the purpose of this review and, as such, were unable to test the new features.]
FIFA 14’s Career Mode has returned yet again and stands out as an addictive and rewarding feature.
Career Mode offers a comprehensive(ish) insight into the life of a manager and allows you to spend hours poring over transfer statistics, struggling to appease the board and crying every time you lose a simulated game.
The new Global Transfer Network feature in Career Mode is a bit of a non-starter though, and doesn’t appear to make much of a difference to the experience, only really serving to inundate you with a huge amount of in-game emails that start to become a pain very quickly.
However, in spite of more complicated modes, local multiplayer is still the biggest highlight of FIFA. Going head-to-head with one of your mates is vital, exciting and occasionally heart-breaking.
Every shot that rattles the bar, every pass that doesn’t quite make it and every mistimed run is more than made up for by the fact that, at any point, that optimistic 30-yard drive might just find the top corner.
FIFA 14’s menu interface leaves a lot to be desired. Blocky sections have taken on the form of a less colourful Windows 8, each one having a sub-menu that has to be navigated through with the right stick.
It’s an unclear menu system that definitely looks slick, but at the expense of functionality.
Despite this, in-game presentation is wonderful as usual, and looks like it’s been pinched straight from Sky Sports and just given a new paint job.
Attack Of The AI
If you are a bit of a Billy-no-mates then playing the AI will be the only solution. When you attempt to beat it on Professional difficulty or higher, bear in mind that no FIFA game would be complete without psychic AI.
After an AI-controlled opponent has skipped a graceful and astutely timed tackle for the 400th time in a game, you do start to get the impression that it’s just taking the piss out of your inferior human brain by reacting to every button press before your player’s requisite animation has even kicked in.
We like a challenge here, but sometimes it becomes difficult to put a brave face on things when a series of algorithms and binary calculations has made you look a tit.
There are a few lingering AI issues in the defending department, but not nearly on the scale of FIFA 13.
Last year’s game was rife with AI difficulties whereas FIFA 14 is a much tighter affair and a lot more in line with the ‘intelligent’ teammates that EA has promised us. It’s still a little wooden, but marks a vast improvement.
FIFA 14 – By The Numbers?
The inexorable march of the annual football title labours on without pausing for breath and we’re left with another title that, despite its flaws, has ticked a lot of the boxes that the last few iterations of the franchise have struggled to.
If a frenetic arcade experience is your bag then this is not the game for you – FIFA 14 is a deliberate and calculating football sim that punishes mistakes and rewards brilliance whenever it can be mustered.
This franchise still remains vital in the sports genre, and this iteration is very much the strongest since FIFA 10, boasting a vigorous physics overhaul and a wealth of positive gameplay changes.
Although it remains to be seen how different the next-gen version of FIFA 14 is from what we’ve played, you’d be forgiven for snapping up a copy at release rather than waiting until November.
FIFA 14 is not a perfect football game, but it’s much closer to one than most of its predecessors – and most of its rivals.
As usual, it can be fairly infuriating at times; however, the added depth to FIFA 14’s wonderful gameplay more than makes up for the franchise’s residual idiosyncrasies. A true return to form.
Version tested: PS3