It spent five years chasing the Barcelona-model. It threw wads of cash trying to emulate a football philosophy where one-touch passing and skilled dribbling overcame the football where the biggest and fastest succeed. It had a weird 2012 where defending was the big draw as it made its way to glory. It spent this year’s off-season tinkering up front to become the complete football experience. EA Sports knew what it was doing when they stuck Eden Hazard on the UK cover art. FIFA 15 is a lot like nu-Chelsea (apologies to non-Chelsea fans around the country). Entertaining up top and solid at the back, it’s really hard to argue that FIFA 15 is anything other than the champion-elect football game for 2014/15.
The first FIFA game designed primarily for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, the big slogan for FIFA this year is "Feel The Game" and this year, it’s not just hype and bluster – FIFA 15 is more like a televised game of football than ever before. FIFA 15 looks stunning, even on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Charactermodels have been redone with players looking and acting more like their real-life counter-parts thanks to the new “Emotion Engine – strikers will sigh when shots go off target, defenders bicker and beg with the referee and so forth. New camera shots and animations really help to heighten the sense of atmosphere, sideline squabbles, fan chants (Manchester City’s Poznan and a rousing Liverpool rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone both feature for example) and goalmouth technology are all included as FIFA 15 scores a big fat tick for presentation. All of the Premier League stadium are present in glorious HD and commentators Martin Tyler and Alan Smith recite their lines in such meticulous detail that with enough effort you could convince onlookers you’re watching a real kick-about.
On the pitch, and for the past 6-7 years, FIFA games are worked on a cycle of revolution followed by evolution – even numbered entries introduce a new system, odd numbered ones perfect them. FIFA 10 & 11 saw 360 degree perfected, allowing nippy wingers to slalom through defenses with greater freedom. FIFA 12 & 13 did away with the “homing missile” defensive system, asking players to adopt a new tactical style where defenders jockeyed attackers before asking for player input on tackles. Last year, FIFA 14 brought us revised ball physics where the ball felt truly independent, and improved player animations increased what was possible on the pitch. FIFA 15 refines and improves both of these systems, making for a physical game of football possession is key, tackles are dangerous and goals are plentiful.
The most noticeable difference when kicking off a game of FIFA 15 is its dribbling system. FIFA 14’s momentum system has been watered down slightly, meaning players are quicker to start and stop when sprinting, giving higher rated players the ability to turn at top speed with greater freedom. Expect to see a lot of online players stick to the Real Madrid, Chelsea and Bayern Munich triumvirate this year as Hazard, Robben, Bale, Ronaldo, Ribery and co are able to carve through defenses if given a sniff. As a result, defending is harder to gets to grips at first, with early games often descending into screaming matches with the referee for soft fouls. Patience is key, trust your defenders. They’re more intelligent this time around, with a greater understanding of when to stand off and when to lunge in. After a few games learning what passes for correct body position and timing, gamers will be able to regain possession once lost like once before.
Strangely enough, for all its tweaks and constant refinement, at its fastest and most frenetic, FIFA 15 plays a lot like some of the classic PS2 PES games – no bad thing, but it does bring a chuckle that for all of EA Canada’s bells and whistles and flashy graphics, FIFA 15 does at times feel like a throwback to Pro Evolution Soccer 6, a near decade old (and near perfect) game. After all, isn’t FIFA Ultimate Team just Master League with official names mixed with Top Trumps?
Speaking of FUT, the big addition for FIFA 15 concept squads, where you can assemble any players in non-playable practice teams to test chemistry before you commit to a purchase, perfect for when you’re considering buying a new striker but your defense could do with sorting first (take note Van Gaal). Keeping on trend with the transfer market, you can also loan players for a few games, in case you’re in a tight spot and fancy scoring your way out of it. (seriously, did United really need Falaco?) It’s still the game mode with the most longevity in it, although too often it’s easy to simply assemble a side with a fast striker who lives off lofted through balls to climb to the top of the leagues.
Elsewhere and career mode is as staid as ever. For all of FIFA’s shiny presentation and sublime gameplay, it’s frustrating that FIFA lags so far behind other sports games in terms of single player content. The NBA 2K series offers you the chance to conduct player interviews, relive famous players classic careers, and even wrangle trainer deals, FIFA’s career mode just can’t compare. After years of FIFA’s “advance –play game- tweak squad- advance- play game” system, it’s hard not to become jaded once you’ve got a few seasons under your belt. As FIFA establishes itself on these new systems, it would be superb to see more expansive single player modes. Put simply EA, an “I Am Zlatan” mode would have gamers frothing at the bit.
But as ever these are but minor quibbles in what has become a gaming juggernaut. FIFA 15 is not flawless, but then it no longer has to be when it’s worked out how to be better than its predecessor. It’s refined the formula of the last game, worked on its weaknesses and added a hefty dollop of graphical gloss. If only real life squad improvement was as easy as the FIFA franchise makes it look, every team would be in for a top 4 shout.
This game was reviewed on Playstation 4 and Xbox 360.
FIFA 15 is released on Playstation 4, and 3, Xbox One and Xbox 360 and PC on 26 September.
Carl Anka normally peters out around Division 4 in FIFA Online. He stands with Ganondorf in the #GamerGate situation. Follow him on Twitter @Ankaman616