FIFA 15 Review (PS4)
Submitted on: Sep 26, 2014 by Glenn Wigmore
It’s been kind of an uneven year for EA Sports, with Madden being quite solid, EA Sports UFC receiving a mixed response and NHL 15 getting panned. Then you’ve got NBA Live and whatever that will be this year, but that’s yet to be known. With all of that, it’s a pleasure to see a product from EA that arrives with confidence and proper execution, and this is what can happen when a team has the resources to keep improving on their vision year over year.
FIFA has been a strong total package in the last few years, constantly delivering in terms of licensing and modes and also providing some reasonable gameplay. This year ups the ante even more, with improvement in defensive AI, goaltending, shot physics, on-pitch presentation, goal variety and mode depth. Whatever level of fan you are of the sport, this is an easy year to recommend FIFA, as the product shines brightly.
There has been quite a bit changed this year, with some subtle differences and some quite dramatic ones, but the most notable modifications have come from the presentation of the action as well as the gameplay variety. There hasn’t been a great deal added in terms of new modes, but the depth afforded to the familiar offerings is certainly noticeable, and the design decisions for this year’s game were smart ones.
The elevator pitch for FIFA 15 has been emotion and the “game story,” and that has been something I have noticed a good deal. There are a whole host of new animations and reactions this year, and the idea is that players will interact with all others on the pitch in a unique way. I’m really excited about where this feature could go if the dev team sticks with it, but what’s here adds a compelling layer to the action, as you’ll see defenders give each other nudges after a good clearance, strikers giving thumbs up for correct passes (even if they blew the shot) and some great goalie animations as they make saves or cheer on their team’s goals.
All of these reactions are stitched together into mid-match and post-match cinematics, and the idea is that the essence of the game will be distilled in these sequences. It’s quite fun to see a key tackle that resulted in a red card (complete with dramatic referee and card close-ups) or shots that rattled the woodwork. A lot of the little emotional moments are captured here, too, with players roaring in triumph or holding their head in shame. When you combine these vignettes and animations with the great-looking crowds, improved player models and degrading pitch, it really starts to bring everything to life.
Of course, none of this added emphasis on in-game story and emotion would mean anything if there wasn’t varied gameplay to back it up. What’s great is that FIFA 15 has improved in many key areas that fans have been clamoring for, including goal variety, defensive AI, ball control at low speeds and goalkeeper tendencies. In my view, FIFA has been a perfectly enjoyable gameplay experience in the last few years, but it has had a couple of holes in the gameplay loop.
With FIFA 14, the priority was clearly on getting a smooth-playing and well-animating game that had improved shot releases and footwork. With FIFA 15, the developers have filled in a lot more of the gaps, as now the shot release is paired with proper shot physics, and balls will sail or drift when additional power is applied. I’m happy to see players not always just roofing it when they get a sightline on the net, as a touch of extra pepper will send the ball careening into the stands. This goes for headers, too, as the release point on those has also been changed.
Getting into position to make these shots has been made more interesting thanks to improved ball control at various speeds, and I felt much less skittish and awkward when making cuts or receiving a lateral pass in the box. When trying to engage opposition who use these advanced dribbling techniques, I found success with the new shoulder barging and possession slide tackles. In general, the one-on-one battles feel less about speed and more about creativity.
I’ve seen a wide array of goals, including shots off the post and deflections off of defenders. The adjusted animation rigging and behaviors of the goalie also have something to do with this, since keepers will now show more initiative on certain sequences. The animations for the goalies look slick, with some added dives and desperation lunges. The goal variety does appear to be at the expense of some enforced idiocy on the goalies from time to time, as it does appear that certain screen shots just leave them frozen. Still, I like that the developers are trying to create more rebound and second-chance scenarios, as it gets FIFA away from the circus of constant finesse shots and headers.
The biggest change I’m loving is from the AI (and this goes for offline play and pro club AI). Fellow teammates will now actually pursue speeding opposition and execute defensive charges with some level of competence, and they sky up to reach headers, even defensively, much more than they have in the past. Even playing on world class difficulty, it was a pleasure watching my Hull City squad compete for headers off of crosses and smartly clear out the ball to the sidelines (finally) when trouble arose. Even lob through passes, which have been a staple of FIFA for years, are much harder to complete on offense and easier to stop on defense, as the AI just won’t get caught how they did before. I did still find that raw speed could break some of the AI from time to time, but the pursuit is just better in these situations. I’ve also seen a lot more fouls committed by the AI this year, so that’s very welcome.
Honestly, I’ve really been having a good time playing the game. I’ve lost some matches; I’ve won some matches. The score lines have been realistic. The AI now behaves with some level of sense, and the goal variety and in-game presentation are really bringing things to life. It’s fun to play FIFA 15.
This series has always looked great, and this year is no different. The in-game story and animations mentioned previously really elevate the atmosphere, and there is increased detail for player faces, kits and animation. In general, the faces look less plastic than before, and the hair tech provides a bit more bounce (but still actually looks kind of goofy). Kits now bend and crease more appropriately, and there is a better weight and movement on players when they tumble over from a foul. The degrading pitch looks fantastic, as you’ll now see divots, slide marks and footprints in the grass, and they stay there the whole match. This tech looks even cooler in the rain. It’s nice to see better woodwork and flag physics, too, as nets and flags will move properly when struck.
The increased detail for Barclays Premier League teams is pretty cool, with re-scanned faces, intricate arena detail and some authentic crowd chants. For example, I played as Hull City in career mode, and it was fun seeing dramatic cuts of the crowd in KC Stadium and its unique semi-tiered layout. The two-plus hours of crowd chants and songs are evident as you make your way around the BPL. Martin Tyler and Alan Smith continue to provide excellent commentary, and the natural feel to their delivery continues to impress me whenever I hear it. By the way: the soundtrack this year is one of FIFA’s best — ever.
A cool add-on this year is the Match Day Live feature in the menus, where you can follow any of the teams in the game from a centralized hub. It’s all powered by goal.com, and you’re able to scroll through articles, monitor stats and injuries and even play your team’s next game. The feature is simple and to the point, but I think it fits into the game in an elegant way.
Nothing rocks the boat too much in terms of modes, as FIFA 15 has shipped with the same suite of options as last year, but with tournament mode added back in. You’ll have the usual manager career and player career paths, and then there is exhibition, HUT, skill games and practice. It’s unfortunate that practice mode doesn’t let you play with a whole squad anymore, as I know some people used that feature to work on their playmaking and dribbling.
Career mode feels familiar in most ways, but of course the gameplay and presentational improvements do breathe some life into your player or manager career. The hub for managing all of the data remains relatively usable, and you can try and improve your player through the usual slew of accomplishments and goals. As a manager, you’ll enjoy a slightly faster search, and scouts will make recommendations based on team needs. Team sheets have also been added, and these are handy for tailor-making your squad for various opposition. The ability to set roles and play styles for the entire team and individual players is actually pretty cool, and it provides a better feeling of control before going into a match.
FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) continues to plug along and provide a deep fantasy experience for those who want it, and the transfer market continues to be busy with lots of players up for auction. I’m not a big player of Ultimate Team modes, but I liked the idea of signing loan players in FIFA 15, which gives you a taste of a high-level player for a smaller cost. Also, the concept squad option allows you to plan out your future growth or work around injuries, and you can plug any player into a possible line-up to take the guesswork out of what the chemistry mix might be. It’s a smart addition, and I enjoyed tinkering with it.
Online is also pretty familiar, but the modes on offer remain excellent. Seasons and co-op seasons are back, and online friendlies are also an option. Pro clubs is where I spend a bunch of my time, and those matches are as fun as ever with a dedicated squad of friends who are willing to play a role and enjoy the ride. Helping with that this year is the ability to play matches one after the other, and this added flow really keeps things moving when you don’t have to go back to the lobby. Even better, a friend who misses a match can queue up in the lobby and be added to the next one. Really cool. The ability to match up right away is also available in other online modes.
In general, the connection has been rock solid, as always, and human teammates and opposition really pick up the pace. When playing in pro clubs, it was a pleasure to see our few AI teammates actually get to some headers and make smart clearances, so we saw less of the usual spam that has been a feature of online play in the past.
FIFA 15 does right by its fans in many ways, as the added presentational and gameplay depth bring the action to life more than before. Presenting the game as a story, with more emotion and cutscenes, actually works and doesn’t feel cheesy, and it’s something EA should do more of in the future. The familiar suite of modes is made better by improved AI and goal variety, and the licensing depth is improved thanks to Match Day Live and the increased detail to Barclays Premier League. FIFA 15 is a winner.
Learning Curve: As with previous FIFA games, it takes a bit of getting used to in terms of some of the more advanced tactics. Still, getting up and going with the basics (dribbling, passing, shooting, positioning) shouldn’t take many players too long.
Control Scheme: It’s a familiar control scheme at this point, but the pace of movement on dribbling is slightly changed, so getting used to that wrinkle will take a bit of time.
Visuals: FIFA has always looked great, and this year is no exception. Player faces, kits and animations are all buffed, and the on-pitch action looks fantastic. The pitch degradation and in-game story cutscenes really stand out.
Audio: Martin Tyler and Alan Smith continue to produce some of the best team sports commentary out there, and they’ve got some additional quips and beats this year. The crowd sound is terrific, especially with the enhanced BPL chants and songs. I also have to single out the soundtrack, as it’s one of the best in years.
Value: There’s a lot to do in FIFA 15, with the usual mix of career mode (manager or player), HUT, skill games, online seasons, friendlies and pro clubs. While there’s nothing new, they’ve all improved. The gameplay and presentation sell the game this year, and they are supported by a proper slate of modes that users have come to expect. The Match Day Live feature that highlights your home club’s latest news and stats is a welcome addition, too.
Score: 9 (All-Time Classic)
Scoring Note: This year showed some key advancements in terms of gameplay depth, AI and presentation, and all of the modes are there to play (with enhancements). The in-game story stuff and Game Day Live really worked for me, and the whole package made a strong argument for a high score.