FIFA 15 review
One of the unfortunate truths about sports games – and football games in particular – is that it isn’t really fair to assess one of them until you’ve played it for the best part of a full year. Last year FIFA 14 got the usual round of rave reviews from practically everyone on earth, and yet it took its hardcore fans about two weeks to start abusing an exploit that EA never deemed important enough to fix.
If you were using a half-decent team, deploying a lobbed through ball in FIFA 14 allowed you to send the ball from your back four directly to one of your strikers; a move that was successful at least 70% of the time. You could fairly argue that it would have been more realistic if EA had given a few select players access to a dragon punch, and online matches constantly deteriorated into bouts that resembled games of tennis rather than football.
One of the best things about FIFA 15 is that lobbed through balls are now far, far less successful. In addition, your new AI teammates automatically mark those troublesome runners, so if your opponent keeps abusing lofted through balls they are more likely than ever to be left wide open to counter attacks. It’s difficult to overstate what a massive improvement this is, and for the first few hours, this genuinely feels like the best FIFA ever.
But then the cracks start to appear. Dribbling (which was pretty tough to master last year) is a great deal more responsive, and allows you to move around your opponents without the aid of tricks. However, moving the ball between your players is now almost supernaturally accurate too, and brings back memories of FIFA 10; in which the dreaded “ping-pong passing” made for one of the most frustrating (and controversial) football games in history.
Similarly, the much-hyped new “next gen” goalkeepers come as a colossal disappointment. Sometimes their behaviour is simply amazing, like when they quickly rush strikers who were making runs that you didn’t even see coming. Other times, they’ll cradle the ball as if babysitting it off the pitch for a thrown-in… even when they’re right in front of their own goal with attackers running at them like lunatics. It’s another case of two steps forward, two steps back.
FIFA 15 is certainly the best looking FIFA to date, and that has a great deal to do with the new cutscenes and player animations. Although the idea of filling short periods of downtime with cutscenes sounds completely daft in theory, in practice you feel more like you’re interacting with a real game of football rather than just a stiff representation of one. FIFA 15 also automatically defaults to slow-motion gameplay footage when you press pause, and post-match highlights have snippets of commentary spliced into them, which (again) makes you feel as if you’re collaborating with a real game of football.
Brand new (and thankfully brief) player animations also appear before you take a free kick or a goal kick, which banishes the ever-annoying online problem of pressing A to skip a cutscene, only to accidentally do a short pass which (in all probability) then went straight to one of your opponent’s players.
As with FIFA 14, the Xbox One version of this year’s game has a very large ace up its sleeve. Put simply: if you haven’t played FIFA using Kinect, you haven’t really played FIFA. Despite the unfortunate fact that it still only works during offline matches, FIFA with Kinect continues to be a jaw-dropping marvel. Not only does it allow you to bring subs on without pausing the action, when you’re playing Career Mode you can do things like yell for teammates to pass the ball to you or have a shot on goal, tell a corner-taker where to aim or instruct your goalkeeper to rush an attacking opponent. As a device Kinect certainly has its issues, but voice-controlled FIFA is definitely not one of them.
Fundamental changes to Ultimate Team are few, but loan players are now available; allowing you to poach international superstars for a brief period of time. The better the player, the shorter the period, so while it’s a real thrill to be able to have Arjen Robben playing for your ragtag group of chumps for a few matches, the danger is always that you’ll waste money plugging a gap that can’t be filled when he leaves.
In short, FIFA is a victim of its own success. These incredibly talented developers used to shake things up every year by introducing things like Tactical Defending, which could have damaged the FIFA brand beyond repair. EA Canada clearly isn’t comfortable taking those kind of risks any longer and FIFA 15 is way, way less interesting because of that careful approach. Make no mistake: this is polished, entertaining software. But if you’re a true fan of the beautiful game, you might want to consider waiting to see how Konami’s new PES measures up in November before taking the plunge.