Game Review: FIFA 14
OverviewGenre: Simulation, Sport
Pros:Slick, improved graphics, smoother gameplay
Cons:Only a couple of months until the new one comes out!
Like the leaves falling from the trees, one thing we can rely upon at this time of year is a slew of EA Sports annual updates. Is this one worth the cash with a new version soon to be released?
As the annual Christmas roll-up begins, the usual suspects raise their ugly heads above the parapet and lob another grenade into the marketplace. Bombs away, Assassin’s Creed! Fire in the hole, Football Manager! Look out, Battlefield!
But this year the marketplace has one giant elephant in the room; all these games are simply appetisers. We all know that the shadows of the Playstation 4 and XBox One loom large in gamers’ minds, as the next-gen releases are merely a few weeks away now. The problem becomes what to do with an annual grenade launch like EA’s battery of sports titles, chief among them their global flagship brand FIFA? Well the answer is quite simple, release it anyway.
Considering this game is still being released on the PS2 and PSP this is hardly a surprise – its enduring popularity and obsessive online community guarantee sales. If a friend who you play FIFA with has bought FIFA 14, you’re all buying FIFA 14 now, c’est la vie. In the UK and other countries retailers are offering trade-up offers if you purchase FIFA 14 for a current gen console but want to upgrade to the next-gen upon release. These retailers are GAME and Amazon, and while the former has now closed its branches in the Republic of Ireland, Amazon are offering the upgrade to Irish customers but still charging twice for delivery, and offering part of the upgrade in gift certificates. Essentially, complications abound.
The shame about the next-gen consoles is that their imminent arrival makes this review bittersweet. FIFA 14 for the XBox One and PS4 is being completely revamped with a new game engine to take advantage of the amped-up hardware, and so until the new toys land the FIFA 14 we have can only be viewed as a taste of what is to come. And to be fair, it’s quite tantalising.
Since the introduction of real first-touch gameplay in FIFA 2005, EA have driven the series clearly and definitively into simulation territory. While the competition over at Konami made Pro Evolution Soccer into a fun, goalscoring free-for-all with instantly familiar controls and patterns, allowing even the novice player to pick up a controller in a friend’s house and join in, FIFA introduced more and more technical innovations to improve the realism and feel of the series and, as the current generation of consoles spread out, EA’s series introduced tactical defence, complete dribbling and, crucially, game modes to rival Konami’s Master League in the Be A Pro and various Manager Modes. What FIFA has managed to do in this generation of consoles is harness the online capabilities of the hardware and create game modes (often first introduced in their US sports games) which have become vital. So, as the popularity of traditional local multiplayer gaming has waned, FIFA has stolen a march on its rivals and become the undisputed king of the football simulation.
Those titbits are important because only in that light can this release of FIFA 14 be justified. It is absolutely the best football simulation available. Unfortunately, before FIFA 14, its immediate predecessor was absolutely the best football simulation available. The new version of the game offers no great leap graphically, and doesn’t particularly alter the gameplay. The biggest improvement is the Real Ball Physics and Pure Shot. Both of these are basically impact engines for the ball, and while they make a difference to the manner in which you shoot, more carving out angles and pouncing on rebounds than curling and finesse shots, they like most of the game are simply a refinement of nearly a decade working on the same hardware. No longer will you be so likely to balloon a shot over the bar while off balance, but like with all previous versions, the idiosyncracies of the game are always compensated for by playing style anyway. Similar fixes have removed many of the glaring physics engine problems. Players collapsing into each other’s wiry frames and becoming entangled, limbs akimbo in a macabre dance of HD homoeroticism, is now all but impossible which is good for both gameplay and YouTube’s servers.
Everything in FIFA 14 is a mild enhancement on the previous versions, leaving by far and away the best football game this generation of consoles will ever see. The gameplay feels natural, the passing and AI improved, the shooting more satisfying and the tactical defending now solidly established in muscle memory, and the graphics are clearly as good as any constant-motion game. The potential for vast improvements boasted about in the next generation version of the game seem now maddeningly close, so much so that while my cynicism demands that I view this release as a money-grabbing venture, there is so little wrong with it that I can’t help but feel a little love for it. All the game modes are here in slightly improved forms, all the gameplay of the last 8 or so years brought to a pleasant, restrained crescendo.
There really is a sense of completion about this FIFA 14, which is why it is such a bittersweet release. If you can’t wait for two months to get the new version, there is nothing wrong with this game. In a couple of months we will have a new, buggy, temperamental behemoth to deal with every autumn. As impossible to ignore as it will be to perfect, the next generation of FIFA games would do well to look back, if only briefly, on the dying moments of their predecessors and remember what they can achieve.
This review was made using the Playstation 3 version of the game.