FIFA Soccer 14 Review (PS3)
FIFA Soccer 14 is the cherry on top of a very successful era for the franchise.
Here we are again, the end of another console generation. For FIFA, a series that has very much raced out of the gate and dominated—its own sport at first, then the wider landscape of sports games in general—the better part of the cycle, maybe now is the time when the option that makes the most business and creative sense is to play it safe and save its bullets for next gen consoles.
And safe, mind you, doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Plenty of people liked FIFA 13, and all safe really means in this contextis FIFA 14 built and added upon what worked last year. Do that without tearing down and rebuilding any core elements and fans should leave happy.
Considering the game’s great reception last year, the basic and safe approach is probably not the worst idea in the world.
In all honesty, yes, I would’ve maybe preferred to see a bit more risk taking in changing certain elements. But hey, at the end of the day I’m just a guy playing games and writing about them, while the powers that be have hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. At this juncture of the console game, there just isn’t that much to gain and perhaps a lot more to lose, if EA went and did something bold.
So yes, FIFA 14 seems very much an in-transition, hold-down-the-fort, type of release. There are enough improvements for the game to play quite differently, but nothing near radical enough to alienate any of its massive customer base already out there. And again, that’s not a bad thing, because FIFA 14 still plays a fun brand of soccer.
The gameplay in this year's game is best summed up as improved but not revolutionary.
Behind all of the marketing speak (“Pure Shot”, “Precision Movement”, “Protect the Ball”, etc.) is a gameplay engine that tries to lower the importance of pace, and instead coerces you into a more measured style of play.
The franchise has come a long way since the early 2000s, when each game was merely an exercise in mashing the speed burst button; but even in recent years, it was perhaps still too easy for an attacker to go wide and beat a man, with that defender not having any tool at his disposal to stop it from happening.
That is not the case this year.
Right off the bat, running feels different. Some may even say sluggish. But upon further inspection, it’s just science at work.
The new physics in the game prevent players from ignoring the laws of physics when they try to change direction willy-nilly at top speed. So really, FIFA 14 is not less responsive, because that implies that your inputs aren’t translating to the screen instantaneously because of lag, rather it’s more realistic in the sense that players have take more time to transfer their weight.
Yes, this change will take some getting used to, especially if your FIFA 13 strategy, like mine, consisted mostly of trying to run past players. But ultimately, the gameplay becomes deeper as a result. From the moment a player receives the ball to then running with it, there are greater risks with turning the wrong way and tapping speed burst at an inopportune time, since you can’t recover as easily.
The second thing you’ll probably notice is that even if a player looks like he’s going to outpace a defender, the defender won’t be as helpless as in previous years anymore. In FIFA 14, there is more physicality in matches.
The AI plays better than it has, especially on defense, but it's still not perfect.
There are players coming together and jostling before they reach a loose ball, defenders shoulder barging an attacker, and conversely, that attacker using his body to shield it. Visually, animations look realistic and organic. I didn’t encounter any occasions where players felt like they were “locked in”. In terms of gameplay, the improved animations offer a realistic tool for defenders to counter slippery players.
Elsewhere, shooting has been improved, and consequently becomes one of the most enjoyable elements in FIFA this year. Whereas in previous years players occasionally got a shot off in some rather unnatural positions, in FIFA 14 they will now shift their body first to try to get into an optimal stance before letting it rip. The ball trajectory too has been reworked, and now shots have a lot more weight to them when they travel through the air, as opposed to the floaty, beachball-like trajectory of previous years.
The much-maligned AI defending from FIFA 13, where AI defenders tended to be overly conservative and left tons of room for attackers, has been mitigated to a certain extent.
This year your AI teammates do get tighter on their men from the get go, and in case you still don’t feel they’re competent enough, the customizable sliders seem to have a more pronounced effect this year. A tweak here and there should do the trick.
However, powerful as they are, sliders still don’t seem to fix the AI teammates during loose ball situations. Your AI teammates still automatically retreat to their prescribed positions rather than going after a loose ball. Pressing the teammate pressure button is mostly futile as well, especially with the new momentum feature. By the time your teammates stop and start again, the CPU would’ve ran away with the ball already.
The fact this was left unfixed is rather disappointing, especially considering that other elements of AI defending were tightened up quite a lot.
Your AI teammates aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer when on the attack.
It would've been nice if the developers also spent some time on AI teammates when on the attack. Now for the most part, your AI teammates are pretty competent and know where to move and how to react. But there are occasions (and as the game improves in other areas, it’s becoming more noticeable) when your AI teammates feel like ten individual entities as opposed to a team of players.
To be fair, these moments don’t come often. But when they do, they make the gameplay seem at least temporarily, rather shallow.
In a sense, maybe this has something to do with the underlying philosophy of the franchise. You may notice that most of the features are “tools” based, giving users and AI the tools to create moments of magic. You will see a dribbler deftly cutting through a series of defenders, a quick one-two and then a powerful first time shot that look very much like what we see on TV or in a real match.
When those moments occur, they look and feel great, but by the same token, it seems the match engine is placing too heavy an emphasis on the user to make everything happen. That has always been FIFA’s MO. But as a result, your AI teammates occasionally seem like they're there only to facilitate your next move, and not initiate anything themselves.
This means that matches, at times, can feel disjointed, like merely a series of one-on-one battles—fiddle with the ball, get past a defender, move the ball over, fiddle a little more, get past the next defender, then rinse and repeat until you’ve broken through the defense or whipped a cross in for a header. It’s the same story on the other end when the CPU attacks. In fact, it’s quite rare to see teams, human or CPU, being able to string together a sequence of more than three quick moves without hanging onto the ball for long.
So gameplay, overall, falls right in line with where you may expect the franchise to be after one year’s worth of improvement. Yes, I wish the game’s AI received a bit more attention, but there’s every chance a gamer with a different set of priorities, or playing style, may not even notice them to begin with. But even in my own case, despite the occasional moments when I was cursing at my teammates, I was still able to have a very enjoyable time playing matches in FIFA.
The Presentation is still solid, with several new stadiums making it in.
FIFA 14’s interface has received a fresh new coat of paint, and that’s great news. It’s not perfect, but things have been streamlined a fair bit so once you’ve acclimatized, you’ll realize just how much time and button presses it has saved you.
Aesthetically, FIFA Soccer 14 is also a lot cleaner—the menus are now in a cool shade of gray, and categories are divided into squares and tabs. The only complaint is that during certain occasions there is still an obvious response lag, and in rare occasions the button presses not registering at all. This seems to be worse in Manager mode.
On match day, the stellar duo of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith once again set up shop in the commentary booth. As expected, they work wonders for creating a great atmosphere for matches, especially with an increase in contextual commentary and asides, especially during career mode games.
Visually, animations, especially during the new physicality and shooting modules, look smooth and natural. Players will also shuffle their feet and show you that they’re trying to find their balance when changing directions. That being said, the graphics are starting to show their age. It’s still more than serviceable and doesn’t really detract from the overall experience, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen a real and honest visual upgrade.
Ultimate team is back with new chemistry options for players.
As usual, the game modes is where FIFA shines brightest. From the single player career modes to the ever expanding online offerings (new this year: co-op seasons), FIFA 14 offers up a smorgasbord of modes that can take up pretty much the entire year of your gaming time if you’re so inclined to complete all of them.
Most of the changes took place in Manager Mode, where scouting and transfers are revamped in order to insert more uncertainty and, some might say, more realism in the transfer market. To start, the FIFA team has implemented a “fog of war” for player attributes where players need to be scouted before their ratings are revealed. Gone are the days when you can just search a player by his overall and snap him up, and instead you become much more reliant on your scouts. It’s a good idea as it forces players to spend more time on scouting potential recruits, which will especially help when the game world is in, say, November, between the two transfer windows, and you’re looking for something to do besides playing match after match.
Other improvements include the ability to sign pending free agents to pre-contracts, as well as the potential of getting into a transfer bidding war. It’s great to see EA not putting all its eggs in the online basket, and instead still spending some time with its offline modes. FIFA’s Manager Mode is looking increasingly like Football Manager-lite (without, obviously, the breadth and depth of the real thing, but nobody’s expecting that… yet) and that’s a good thing.
As for online, I had originally planned to use my last hours of my Season Ticket to really test drive its new modes, but EA, bless their hearts, decided that I’ve played enough and should get to actually writing the review, and terminated my access prematurely. Seriously though, a glitch occurred and the game thought it was Tuesday midnight and locked me out of my early access. As a result, I’ve only dabbled in a few online modes and matches.
The most intriguing addition online is the new chemistry style in Ultimate Team, where players can assign “roles” the different players in the squad, enhancing various attributes. I’ll admit that initially I was rather skeptical of this—I’ve never really been a fan of arbitrary rating boosts, no matter the context—but then again, I also don’t take Ultimate Team as seriously as I do with my offline Manager Mode.
This new addition to Ultimate Team has the potential to be a fun tactical chess match, with me changing up my style depending on who I’m matching up against. For those wanting to know more about online, there will be a supplemental review out in the next week or so, but generally, my first impressions are quite positive. As usual your experience online can and will vary from mine.
Overall, in terms of game modes, you just can’t beat the sheer amount of possible contexts in which FIFA offers to play a soccer game.
FIFA 14 falls just short of being a classic, but it's still a great game.
FIFA 14 didn’t take any dramatic leap forward, and more importantly for that matter, backwards. With the exception of the new shooting mechanism, everything else was pretty much an “add-on” from the previous year's features.
Most features were added, enhanced, or improved more as a flourish to the existing base game than anything else. For the most part, there’s nothing wrong with that. FIFA 13 was a very good game on its own, so adding to it makes sense. The only negative is that there are still some old issues, namely the AI, plaguing FIFA that remains unresolved.
Ultimately, how much you’ll enjoy FIFA depends a lot on what type of player you are. It’s obviously not this black and white, but let’s say it is for the purpose of simply answering the question: If your priority is in recreating those aforementioned “moments”— short sequences of play when every move you make culminate into something special—you’ll like FIFA 14. A lot. If your priority lies more with playing together with the AI and leveraging their intelligence—not necessarily as much of your own doing—then you may not be as ecstatic about the game.
You can probably guess that I lean more towards the latter. But here’s the thing: even if that is the case, I still had a very good time because one, while the AI issue prevents the game from truly simulating the depth and nuances of the real game, you can certainly work around it and may not find it too jarring if you’re mainly playing the game for the fun of it. Two, and more importantly, the all around package FIFA 14 serves up, especially with its game modes, is just too solid for me not to have fun.
FIFA Soccer 14 is a great game, but it is not quite legendary thanks to the safe approach of this year. If you aren't upgrading to next-gen, or even if you are, this is a solid buy for soccer/football fans.
Learning Curve: The new momentum system, coupled with variable touches, will definitely take some time to get used to, especially if you’re a fan of speed burst. Manager Mode too, will also require a little acclimatizing with the new scouting.
Control Scheme: A lot of buttons to remember, but if you’ve played FIFA before, you’ll get into the swing of things very easily. Besides, they’re fairly intuitive for newcomers anyway.
Intangibles: The amount of licenses the game sports is amazingly diverse. There's plenty to do for sure.
Visuals: Animations look smooth and organic, actual graphics though, are starting to show their age.
Audio: Well done as always.
Score: 8.5 (Great)
Scoring Note: For those wondering why the game received the exact same score as last year, even though I did state on several occasions that it has improved, that’s because the expectations were raised accordingly as well. If FIFA 14 was literally the same as FIFA 13 but with a roster update, it will probably get a 7.5 (I’m just speaking hypothetically, of course, so please don’t take that as gospel). My point is that just because a game has improved from a previous year doesn’t mean it automatically gets a better score, because, well, we expect it to improve. Ultimately, according to our scoring scale, 9 is an all-time classic, FIFA 14 falls just short of it mainly because of its AI, when it can occasionally take the depth away from the game.