After playing a good number of matches with FIFA 14 on Xbox One, I can confidently say that it's the smoothest-playing game of football to date. Now, this isn't to say that the game eschews the current-gen roots that it's clearly been created from, but the added animation fidelity, framerate and texture work makes the game flow in a way that hasn't been seen until now.
All of the moment-to-moment gameplay in FIFA 14 just feels buttery smooth, with pivots and one-on-one showdowns feeling particularly good. There's an added feeling of weight because of the uncompressed animations that EA has been able to leverage, and you get less of the floaty collisions and fouls from previous games because of how the game feels.
It's specifically worth noting how cool almost all shooting situations now look, as players will plant properly and release the ball with a lot more weight, causing a few additional goal scenarios to augment the usual mix of crosses, finesse shots and set plays. Headers look amazing now, as multiple players can rise up and attack the ball, and you'll be able to slow down a replay to really appreciate the flick of a player's neck as he contorts his head and/or torso to direct the ball towards the net.
The replays themselves really help show the improved game flow, as you'll be able to slowly appreciate the slight lifting of a foot or a stutter-step in the box. You'll notice additional details if you slow down to smell the roses, such as grass flying up after a slide tackle, improved player faces and rippling jersey fabrics.
The “living worlds” concept is also really cool, as you'll see stadiums like Old Trafford from the outside, complete with blimp views and passing traffic. It really helps bring the stadiums to life, as do the 3D crowds, but it's a bummer that only a handful of major stadiums have received this full visual treatment. It can actually be quite jarring in a way, as you'll go from one stadium which has fully rendered exteriors and raging crowds to another that isn't quite as “alive.”
This is obviously something that will take time, but what's here is a good start, as the crowds, presentation and replay packages do help spruce up even the most routine of friendly matches.
The overall player awareness on the pitch seems to be enhanced, and some of this can definitely be chalked up to the increase in animation fidelity. Players will react somewhat more meaningfully when possessing or pursuing the ball. You'll see a some great new hurdle animations when a player is looking to evade an incoming slide tackle, and they'll even duck out of the way of a rising shot to avoid ruining a good scoring chance. While there is still some of the “canned” FIFA feel of previous years, it is honestly much less so, and you will see more loose balls and fewer “automated” sequences that seem to play out the same way.
To be sure, this still feels like a FIFA game, but the subtle AI and player behaviour tweaks paired with the framerate and animation buffs have really created a crisp iteration of the rock-solid FIFA brand.
I've felt right at home with the selection of modes, from skill games, seasons (now with online 2v2 co-op), clubs, career mode and FIFA Ultimate Team. EA has said that the omission of tournament mode is because of low player usage of that feature (and due to time constraints), but it still hurts to not have that option. FIFA Ultimate Team continues to build off of the usual mix of card packs and chemistry cultivation, and career mode provides some solid interface with the usual mix of transfers, loans, management expectations and player growth. All in all, it's really easy to get in and out of various modes in FIFA, as the load times are quite good, and the menus allow for quick navigation and changes.
So far, my time with FIFA 14 on Xbox One has been a very pleasant experience, with the 1080p/60fps smoothness really coming to life thanks to the added animation fidelity and slight player behaviour tweaks. It's hard to think of anyone plunking down money on new hardware just for FIFA 14 on next-gen, but the game still makes a strong case for itself at this point.
Look for the full review of FIFA 14 (Xbox One) on Wednesday.