Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Also available on: Xbox 360, PC
Reviewed by: Bracken Lee-Rudolph
EA Sports’ annual entries into the FIFA franchise have gained a stigma for repetition, a lack of innovation and being little more than squad and kit updates. However, their current-generation offerings have been well worth the yearly asking price, with updates ranging from shiny new graphics, to the replacement of the entire defensive system and new collision physics. So does FIFA 14 continue the trend of adding constructively to the behemoth football franchise, or has EA decided to save their best efforts for next-generations consoles?
When you look over the changes between FIFA 13 and 14, it’s obvious that the footballing title is by no means slacking on current generation consoles at this point. Three major systems have been added to the game and make a noticeable impact on how the game plays – namely the Precision Movement, Pure Shot and Contextual Pressure. The Precision Movement system is the largest change in the title and changes the way in which players move – both on the attack and while tracking back to defend.
As CVG reported in their hands-on preview, the wire frame animation video showed how in FIFA 14, lines of code are fed to the played character after each step, as opposed to its predecessor, which only fed code to the characters when their animation changed. What this translates to is a far more realistic concept of movement in a footballing environment – players feel markedly heavier, players accelerate differently depending on a number of factors – from weight, to height and starting position. Players also turn differently now, especially at pace, where tight 90° turns now require players to recover from the quick stop before getting back at the defence. While this does slow the pace of the game somewhat, it adds far more realism to the movement of both attackers and defenders and gives very realistic, and most importantly, seamless control and animation of their movement to the gamer.
Contextual Pressure is an interesting concept, and emulates real-world football surprisingly accurately. The system is a defensive tweak that EA has added to the player’s team’s AI which adapts the pressure at which they defend against an attack by what the player themselves are doing with the footballer they control at that particular moment. For example, if the opposition defence has the ball and the player is attempting to tackle the defenders to win the ball back near the goals, the other 9 outfield footballers will push up the pitch in an effort to support the player’s actions by marking other opponents and cutting off passing opportunities. This works quite well in suppressing the opposition but also causes the opposition to press your defence more vehemently when you are in possession, meaning that the clearance button (which I never touched in FIFA 13) was used quite often to just get the ball away while under pressure, which added a far more frenetic atmosphere to the defensive components of FIFA 14.
The last change, Pure Shot, ties in closely with the Precision Movement to give far more varied and realistic control over a player’s shots at goal in-game. The new system no longer relies on the ball being in an exact position when you strike it, meaning that you can hit it from virtually any position where your player is in control of the ball, but the power, curve, and direction that the ball is hit in will be altered by your player’s body position and movement – which is where the Precision Movement integration comes in. In essence, what this system does is make shots more realistic and less generic, meaning you won’t always be taking the same shot when you strike it from the same area if your player’s body shape or motion is even incrementally different. This works very well in adding more realism to the shooting, longer range shots, or shots hit from odd positions will now curl in mid-air, either towards or away from their intended target.
The shooting experience is further enhanced by the excellent goalkeeper AI, which will react to shots in real-time as they career towards the goal. The addition of more spin on standard shots in normal play means that the goalkeepers often need to make millisecond judgements during play which causes them to dive into sprawling saves from shots that originally looked unlikely to trouble them. As a result, some goalkeeping errors do occur – such as goalkeepers getting a fingertip or a toe to ball spinning away from them only to see it bounce into the goal or onto the post, which just adds to the realism of the gameplay.
If anything, total realism in FIFA’s gameplay was one of the last facets missing from their football experience, as the realism in the cacophonous roars of the crowd and live commentary were already there, despite the crowd looking more pixelated than a Sim in the shower and the commentary having some surprising slip-ups. As a result, the tweaks made to FIFA 14 have made EA Canada’s football simulator quite a complete experience, but that’s not to say the title is without its errors and glitches.
The area that seems to be the biggest issue in terms of stability is the sleek new menu interface. FIFA 14’s menu interface was designed to use more of the space on screen and give players more information on certain topics while still being easy to navigate, much like the Xbox 360 Dashboard. However, while it looks similar, switching between tabs and screens often lags and the entire user interface switches from sleek and easily navigable to clunky and obtrusive. The glitches aren’t confined to user interface only, however, and you’ll often notice frame rate drops in-game, the odd frame skip and the title even freezes from time to time. While none of these glitches are severe or common enough to be game breaking, they are glitches that have been present in the last few FIFA titles (frame rate drops and freezes have occurred in my experience since FIFA 11) and that EA have failed to address as of yet.
As always, the crowds are still horribly rendered, and aside from the yearly troupe of prominent players lined with the names of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, amongst others, the players bear very little resemblance to their real-world counterparts. The stadiums and fields look a bit smoother, the players slightly more well-defined, but in the end, it’s clear from the altogether stagnant visuals that the studio’s Impact Engine is reaching the end of its life cycle – and that the next-gen Ignite Engine is a much needed upgrade for the behemoth franchise.
The commentary team of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith make a return, alongside touchline reporter Geoff Shreeves, and Goal News contact Alan McInally. A new addition to the team is studio analyst Jeff Stelling, who takes the introduction, half-time and conclusion of matches. He isn’t a particularly significant or prominent addition to the title, but rather, he subtly adds to the football broadcast atmosphere. There have (thankfully) been some new lines added to the commentary and commentators now refer to specific traits of players directly, as well as their form in career mode, which furthers the illusion of a progressive career, as opposed to an assembly of random football matches in isolation to one another.
The sound effects are fantastic, the roar of the crowds in stadiums is both realistic and well-tailored to the experience – however, if you were to turn the crowds and the commentary off, you would hear a supporting mixture of player voicing and sound effects. Lastly, the option remains to put your own music into the game if you aren’t fond of EA’s track selection – which is always a bonus.
The online modes are mostly identical to FIFA 13’s, with the exception of the 2 vs. 2 Seasons feature, which allows players to now play Seasons alongside friends or random players adding more teamwork and human movement to the game that you would have otherwise only been able to get with couch multiplayer, which also makes its way into the title. Other than the game’s exhibition match modes (Career, Kick-Off and Online), the Skill Games make a return with some new challenges to teach players the ins-and-outs of FIFA 14 and the ever-popular Ultimate Team mode is there too, with tweaks and modifications to streamline the experience. Simply put, if you’re a football fan – you’ll find something to do in FIFA 14 and enough variation in the gameplay to keep it fresh for a while.
FIFA will always have its fans and it’s not difficult to see why with comprehensive football simulations like FIFA 14. The title’s gameplay additions have altered the way the title plays significantly and players now feel more weighted, their shots spin and dip more realistically and the flow of the game is left up to the player to decide in the way they play. The previously impressive audio of FIFA 13 has been expanded with more commentary options, a suitable backing set of sound effects and a custom soundtrack, which have added constructively to the atmosphere.
However, FIFA 14 is not without its drawbacks – the dated visuals show the age and imminent obsolescence of the current engine, which will be replaced come next-gen, and the title is not stable by any stretch of the imagination. Despite these setbacks, FIFA 14 is still an easily accessible football simulator for football fans of all varieties ages and skill levels and it’s a suitable way to end the franchise’s legacy on the current generation of consoles.
Lasting Appeal: 10/10