FIFA 14 is all about the ball. Fastest to the ball. Fastest with the ball. Strongest with the ball. Smartest with the ball. In a season with the Playstation 4 and Xbox One release right around the corner, it could have been easy for EA Canada to serve up FIFA 13 with some new menus, updated teams and kits and called it a day, but like any true champion, they’ve spent the off-season subtly tweaking and fine tuning to produce once again, “the best FIFA game to date”. And it’s all about the ball.
Revised ball physics and player animations mean the ball in FIFA 14 moves like a fully realised, independent object. It flies and bobbles all over the place, off players shins and heels and off the outside of boots. Player momentum and body shape play a large feature in FIFA 14’s pitched midfield battles; you can now leave your marker charging at thin air with a well placed flick of the right-stick for a bit of first touch control. Crossing is more effective; the ball floats in the air longer, giving you more time to get your player in position – headed goals have now returned to FIFA 11 levels of goal scoring threat. Defending has also received a shot in the arm and moved away from the risk-reward tackling system of FIFA 12-13. With the ball being so independent, a more methodical passing system broken up by short bursts is the most profitable way to play football – you’ll can win possession only to have it nicked off you as you try and get the ball out from under your feet. Provided you have your wits about you, balanced tackling and improved computer AI mean you always have a chance of repelling an oppenent's attack.
As a result of these tweaks and refinements, FIFA veterans may be frustrated in early matches as their tried and tested styles of play receive a shake up. Now, more so than ever, player personnel will affect your style of play. My previous FIFA playing style consisted of a one-two heavy, immediate passing game where pacey attacking options punished opponents on the through ball; where I used to take that model with any team in FIFA 13, trying those tactics with Everton saw me punished – Steven Naismith just isn’t that sort of player. Persevere and you will be rewarded; counter attacks are now positively lethal, skilled players can go from defending a corner to being one on one in the space of two passes. And then there’s Pureshot…
Pureshot is FIFA 14's most noticeable gameplay change and it may come to delight and infuriate in equal measure. Simply put, Pureshot is FIFA 14’s revised shooting system that accounts for things such as ball position, player momentum and body position, whether the ball is struck with the weak foot and a whole host of other statistics as to how the ball moves through the air when struck. Headers loop, outside of the boot efforts get a real banana curve and dip as the amount of ways you can hurt an opponent open up ten-fold. In FIFA 14 have a pop. Your first day of FIFA 14 will have you hitting the post, rattling the bar and scoring the types of efforts never previously possible in a football game and some of them are nothing short of wonderful. A last minute sliding effort at the far post from a speedy on the deck cross? Suits you sir. Where it becomes infuriating is that nasty thing sports simulation games do when they introduce a brand new feature, it can be a tad overpowered as devs are eager to show off their new toy. While it’s great to score a Loic Remy QPR vs Wigan effort, being on the receiving end may have you crying gubbins. There’s also the sneaking suspicion of how much of a goal was you and how much was it the stats at work, but it’s a minor quibble in what is a stellar new addition to FIFA gameplay.
In terms of modes on offer, Career Mode has received an overhaul to bring it closer to the “Football Manager stats with FIFA gameplay” event horizon of our collective dreams. (life ruining nightmares?) New menus clean up the admin side of things and new options, such as switching off the first season’s transfer window and switching on European competition if your team has qualified are long awaited and much appreciated. You can even switch teams into leagues, so you can finally have Celtic in the Premier League if that floats your boat. The much vanunted new Global Scout system does make career mode feel interesting and different for the first time since perhaps FIFA 09; the idea is you can no longer rock up, drop £20million on some young stud and be on your way. Now you have to hire and send out scouts to find players that meet your mandated criteria and see what they come up with. Ask for a new midfielder at Spurs and you may be presented with Xhedan Shaqiri, make the same request at Leyton Orient? Decidedly less so. While improved (and the result of me staying up until 5am in my first sit down session), career mode can still leave something desired for sports game fans used to the sumptuous package put on by 2K Sports NBA2k13. It says a lot that I still think the best football career mode experience on the market right now is still New Star Soccer (sequel coming soon for that by the way) due to its narrative framing. Instead, FIFA 14s longevity will be found in its raft of online modes. The fiendish online leagues return with (hopefully, I’ve been promised but there’s no one to play at the moment) improved server reliability and now the option on 2 vs 2 in what I think could be a great move for shared dorm copies of the game. There’s a massive push for Ultimate Team this year in what looks to now be the true successor to Pro Evolution’s Master League team building exercise.
All in all, FIFA 14 is once again, “the best FIFA game to date”. While Pro Evolution Soccer 14 comes close this year (I fear that they may fall behind when the next generation consoles come around and FIFA make another leap with their “Living Worlds” stadia), as European football has become dominated by the Bayern Munich philosophy that it is “a game of sprints”, FIFA 14 has come to reflect that more truly than any football game on the market; and it’s all about the ball.
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This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.
FIFA 14 is released on PC, PS3 & Xbox 360 on September 27th.