As you all well know, the current generation of consoles is quickly approaching an end. In this generation, we’ve seen massive uprisings of genres such as Call of Duty, Battlefield and – for the football fan – FIFA. Whilst FIFA 14 – the final FIFA game to release first on the current-gen consoles – does nothing to revolutionize the series, EA Sports have done a fantastic job in fine tuning all of the major features which have been added to the series over the last few years, as well as giving it an all-important makeover as far as presentation off the pitch is concerned.
Let’s face it, the FIFA games have had shoddy menus since time began, but you’ll be glad to know that slow, laggy menus are now a thing of the past… for the most part. The first thing you’ll notice when loading up FIFA 14 is how beautiful it all looks. The menus are slick, fast and stylish, and whilst it does take a little while to get used to where everything is, gamers will find that they appreciate the overhaul further down the line. Unfortunately, although most of the menus live up to this standard, there is one menu in Career mode (more on that later) – the Team Management menu – which is agonizingly slow. Fortunately most players don’t tend to use this menu regularly apart from when using a new team for the first time to sort everything out, bringing in new signings, or putting injured players in the reserves. As far as presentation off the pitch goes then, the game is – for the most part – very appealing, functional and easy to use, it’s just a shame that the same cannot be said for the entirety of the game. Hopefully EA Sports fix this problem with a patch.
And whilst you’d be forgiven for looking at all of the FIFA 14 demos you saw on YouTube and getting the impression that the game looks exactly the same on the pitch visually, what you didn’t realize is that all of those demos were showing matches during the day. Night is where the game looks more atmospheric and realistic than before. There’s something about this mist from the floodlights which creates a perfect image in each stadium. Regardless, many visual hiccups remain such as the sky occasionally turning pitch black during a day-time match in a substitution cut-scene, and the on the pitch cut-scenes could certainly do with a lick of new paint. Although the visual changes may not be too drastic over last years outing, FIFA 14 is still the best looking football game on the market, putting this years PES game to shame once again.
But how does it play? Well, it actually plays a whole different ball game – see what I did there? – to FIFA 13. Although at first glance gameplay may look almost identical, you won’t realise until you actually get hands-on that an awful lot of changes have been made, most likely with next-gen firmly in mind. The first thing I want to talk about is “precision movement” (it probably has some fancy name that EA Sports have given it, but whatever works). In the past, EA Sports have always been going on about how “precise” your movements are on the pitch, but I’ve never really felt it until FIFA 14. Since FIFA 11, EA Sports had been claiming that you now have full control over each player, yet to me it still felt like there were only so many directions the player could run in.
For example, in FIFA 13, if I was holding left on the left analogue stick (whilst sprinting), I would be running left. If I then made a sharp turn and pushed the analogue stick up or down, the player would have to go through diagonal movements before reaching those areas. That’s not precision. Precision is what FIFA 14 has, because in FIFA 14 if you’re sprinting with the ball and you suddenly push the analogue stick up, the player will immediately turn in that direction without having to go through the diagonal movements. At first, it’s hard to get used to because it does require more control over exactly where you’re putting the analogue stick. You’ll probably make a few mistakes in your first few matches, but once you get to grips with the system, you’ll realize that it’s more realistic and opens up new ways to approach and beat defenders. In general, it’s excellent.
What’s also excellent is the plethora of new animations and ball physics which have been added to the game. There are now a wealth of new shot variations, but it’s not just the animation of the player that makes goals look and feel better than ever – it’s the physics of the ball too. The way the ball curls, back-spins, or dips its way into the goal depending on the kind of shot you have taken and where you have taken it from – it’s all delightfully well executed.
Another plus for those who had gripes with FIFA 13 – FIFA 14 is less about speed and more about strength. It’s a passing game, you can’t just accelerate down the wing with Theo Walcott, expecting not to get tackled. Instead you have to hold the ball up with a big lad like Olivier Giroud, pass the ball around, interchanging possession with Ozil, Cazorla and Arteta. That’s before you inevitably cross the ball in. Why? Because if there’s one snag in FIFA 14′s gameplay, it’s that headers are over-powered.
In FIFA 13 it felt almost impossible to cross the ball in and score a header, in FIFA 14 it’s quite difficult not to. I managed to score a seemingly difficult header on the edge of the 18 yard box with Liverpool’s Iago Aspas – arguably the smallest chap on the pitch – and whilst it looks great thanks to all-new heading animations, it is far too easy to score with ya’ noggin. I believe that EA Sports are working on a patch to fix this issue, so hopefully they don’t tone it down to much, because then it will be just like FIFA 13 again.
Now for the really interesting stuff. FIFA players are often split into two categories – they either love to play Ultimate Team (the majority), or they love to play Career Mode. I fall into the latter category, so the first thing I did when booting up the game this season was to start my managerial campaign. Despite Ultimate Team being the biggest game mode in the FIFA franchise, Career mode certainly has a large following, so it’s good to see that EA Sports have catered for those fans with some dramatic improvements to the mode, albeit, questionable ones at times.
First up, let’s talk about the biggest new feature to Career mode – the Global Scouting Network (GSN). In short, the GSN is a very cool concept, but not executed very well. The idea of the GSN is that instead of simply searching for specific players during a transfer window, the player can use the GSN for a more realistic approach. In fact, it’s just like real life. As a manager, you can send a scout (three of which are given to you from the start) to various regions around the world. You can tell him to look for certain types of players such as “first team quality”, “strong” or “pacey”.
After a short while, if you haven’t been too specific with the type of player you want (you can choose up to six traits/categories to search for), you’re scout will come back to you and show you a list of players which he has found in that region who meet your criteria. It’s a cool premise because it offers the element of surprise each time. Once you’ve sorted through who you like and who you don’t like, you can choose if you want to scout a player further. This is because in FIFA 14, a player no longer has a value or an overall rating in the transfer market, until you ask your scout to look into them a bit more. Progress through the stages, and eventually you will have a pretty good look at the players stats, depending on the experience and judgment level of your scout. It’s much like scouting youngsters for the Youth Academy in past FIFA games, and whilst it’s certainly a cool idea which really makes you feel like a proper manager, it’s also kind of useless.
This is because you still have the option in Career mode to search for any specific player. Sure, the game won’t show you their value or there overall rating, but what’s to stop you from backing out of Career mode and loading up an exhibition match to find that kind of stuff out? Nothing. To summarize then, the Global Scouting Network is a neat feature, it works well and provides you with an interesting selection of potential transactions. If you use it right – that is, by not backing out and finding out a players stats – it will work just fine, but the option is still there, thus making the execution fairly clumsy.
Elsewhere in Career mode, there are a few other things worth noting. The Career mode menu – much like the rest of the game – has been given a huge makeover, meaning that it now looks better than ever, which is great, because Career mode menus of the past were horrible. Another new feature is the ability to disable the first transfer window (July/August 2013) of a Career mode. I enabled this feature because – me being a realist – I wanted to play all the fixtures with the same teams as in real life.
Of course, when you get to the January transfer window and every transfer window after that, signings will be enabled and transactions will be completed all over the shop. One final moan about FIFA 14 Career mode is that most of the news clippings are repeated from last years game, and the year before that. Some of them don’t even make any sense for example – “Can Liverpool cope without Stewart Downing?”. Fortunately the game doesn’t throw them in your face anymore, and reading them is entirely optional (as is most of the mail you receive from the board and various other contacts).
On the whole, although some of EA Sports’ decisions for this years Career mode are questionable, the mode is still greatly satisfying for long-term fans, and with a lovely new menu design and an interesting new way to buy players, there’s plenty to keep on coming back to.
Despite all of these exciting features and additions, what’s most exciting about FIFA 14 is it’s sheer amount of content. We’ve got new licenses, new stadiums such as Goodison Park, the return of Barcelona’s stadium – Camp Nou. We’ve got an addition to the commentary team in Sky Sports’ Jeff Stelling who provides prior and post match analysis. We’ve got more lines and interesting discussion from Martin Tyler and Alan Smith, unlike PES which seems to have been using the same recording session since 2004. There are also a few new cut-scenes between gameplay as well.
Another cool new feature is “Be a Pro Challenge”. Now, if you played FIFA 13 you might know that there were challenges that you could complete in the game which would be updated every two to three days. These challenges revolve around real-life scenarios which have recently occurred. Those are still in FIFA 14, bu Be a Pro Challenge is an addition which gives you the challenge for only one player on the pitch. At the time of writing, the Be a Pro challenge was to score a penalty with Mario Balotelli for AC Milan against Pepe Reina for Napoli. Of course, in real life Pepe Reina saved the penalty, which is why EA Sports want you to score it – they want you to turn the real-life situations on their head. Whilst it’s call, it will never be a popular feature and there are occasional frame-rate hiccups when playing a pro because of the stadiums and the fans.
Standard, head-to-head offline matches return, meaning that you can now play online without having to worry about winning/losing points. In FIFA 13 the only way to play someone online was through Divisions – an exciting mode which includes the joy of promotion and the sorrow of relegation. Whilst that’s the same adrenaline-filled fun it always has been, sometimes it’s nice to play a more relaxing game where points aren’t on the line. I didn’t experience any lag in my online games, I might add.
It’s clear then, that FIFA 14 is massive. The amount of game modes at the players disposal is incredible – even perhaps the ones that players aren’t so fond of (who plays Be a Pro Goalkeeper anymore?). Regardless of how much there is to see and do in FIFA 14 – some new, some old – EA Sports have actually held back on a few features which will be exclusive to the next-gen versions of the game. Such features include stadium entrances. If you saw FIFA 14 at Gamescom, you probably saw those amaze-balls stadium cut-scenes where EA Sports have pain-stakingly crafted every minute detail of Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, amongst other smaller details like Liverpool’s “This Is Anfield” sign. As I said, this feature, as well as FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) Legends – a mode which will let you play as footballers of the past in FUT, exclusive to Xbox One – are only available on next-gen consoles.
So, plenty of things to think about then. Do you buy FIFA 14 now on the current-gen consoles, or do you wait until the release of FIFA 14 on the Xbox One/PS4 to get the full-kit-caboodle? Well, if you’re a huge FIFA fan, you’ve probably already bought it. If not, and you don’t want to buy the game twice, wait for the next-gen version. Either way, there’s good reason to be excited about the FIFA series. Not only does FIFA 14 end this current-generation of football games with a bang, it leads us into the next with reason to be excited. FIFA 14 on current-gen consoles is a brilliant game that’s definitely worth your money, but the fact that EA Sports have held back on some features which will be released exclusively to next-gen consoles gets us even more excited. Don’t be fooled, just because FIFA 14 on current-gen isn’t the “full package”, it’s still an impressive football game with an incredible amount of ways to play. FIFA 14 is, without a doubt, the best football game on consoles.