Weight and momentum now affect movement in FIFA 14.
In recent years, FIFA 14 has taken the lead as EA Sports’ worldwide flagship game. The latest iteration fails to add any significant new features, and instead focuses on in-game refinements and game mode tweaks — but is a large collection of smaller improvements worth your dollar (or euro)?
EA Sports games are rife with modifiers, which are good because they give you options and bad because they complicate things. For FIFA 14, the bigger changes are more in movement and flow rather than specific controls, so the minor changes can all be considered incremental improvements.
FIFA 14’s new controls are essentially evolutionary steps of last year’s control scheme. The biggest addition is the use of Protect The Ball (L2). Protect The Ball works exactly as it’s described, allowing your player to positionally defend the ball while working up the field. If you’re about to receive the ball, Protect The Ball lets you jockey for position in order to best get the pass.
The flip side to this is the new Pull And Hold feature on defense, which is essentially cheat-but-don’t-get-caught. As your defender is adjacent to an opposing player, using B/Circle causes your player to physically interfere by grabbing and jockeying for position. Just don’t do it too long or too blatantly, as it’s a surefire path to a foul.
Last year, LT/L2 was used as a modifier to activate skill moves with the right stick. This has been assigned solely to the right stick without the need to hold down any buttons. The only time a modifier comes into play now is with first-touch ball movement, as RT/R2 gives you greater control as you work the ball coming out of a pass, but also requires you to sprint as you do it.
GRAPHICS & SOUND (4/5)
It’s pretty safe to say that EA Sports has maxed out what it can graphically do for this console generation — this is particularly so for FIFA, in which videos of the PS4/Xbox One versions running the new Ignite Engine show a notable difference in animation fluidity. That being said, you’re really not going to notice much of a difference from a pure graphics or sound perspective. Everything looks and sounds beautiful — but it looks very much of this generation. Because the game’s pace has slowed slightly and the engine uses more real-time physics, animation tends to be smoother and less canned.
EA Sports menus are typically cumbersome, but one streamlined aspect of the game is a set of recently/commonly used tiles, which help you get to your favourite gameplay features without the logistics of load times and whirlwind animations. These shortcuts are a welcome addition and particularly useful for Ultimate Team and Career Mode.
Footy is all about flow, so it’s not that surprising that EA has tried to pull more realism out of FIFA 14’s flow thanks to momentum-based physics. Developer EA Canada seems to have made this its benchmark this season, as this was one of the hallmarks of NHL 14. The physics engine, or as EA calls it, Precision Movement, takes weight and angle into account as players pivot, accelerate, and turn. This provides a heavier feel to movement, which slows down the pace of the game. While this may disappoint those who prefer a more arcade-style rhythm of pass-pass-sprint-shoot, it makes all of the intricate decisions more deliberate without complicating things. While I generally think it’s a good thing, when combined with refined ball physics, this can create some bumbling when it comes to passing.
The new physics work with the new Protect The Ball feature to create a more realistic dribbling experience on both sides of the ball. With improved AI (which seems to be a mandatory feature for every annual iteration), both offense and defense plays with more strategic variety, so you’ll see less of the same repeated patterns on a micro and macro scale.
The final part of this refinement is what EA calls Pure Shot which works for both human players and NPCs. With Pure Shot, players will adjust their speed, footing, and approach angle to find the best position to shot. If the only option possible is to shoot off balance or under duress, these will now factor into the flight of the ball. In short, shooting is no longer a binary option — it’s become an immense spectrum of possibility with the outcome relying on a number of factors. It looks great thanks to the combination of ragdoll and momentum physics, and EA knows it — you’ll be seeing plenty of these shots replayed.
That’s what’s happening on the pitch, but what about off of it? FIFA 14 is still a master of every type of game mode imaginable with some incremental improvements and a few new features. Co-op Seasons mode allows for two-on-two online competitive play. The recently introduced Match Day Online has expanded to include the new Co-op Seasons and Seasons, allowing players to dip into real-world league situations. Ultimate Team is back, and the biggest new feature is the inclusion of Chemistry Styles, affecting the bonuses and ratings of your team.
Career Mode has received probably the biggest non-field improvement. In FIFA 14, the new Global Transfer Network integrates the idea of scouting to the game. Managers create assignments along the scouting network as scouts now evaluate and report on players with specifically targeted traits rather than just pure numbers, creating a much stronger depth of gameplay — armchair managers could spend hours mining this feature along. And fortunately, EA has streamlined the hub for smoother navigation across Career Mode.
For individual player careers, it’s kind of surprising that developer EA Canada didn’t include one of its bigger new features from NHL 14 — pre- and post-game public interaction (press quotes, endorsements, etc.). Those looking to really get into a football-themed RPG will be disappointed by the lack of that feature.
EA Sports has ruled the sporting world for this console generation, squeezing out the competition while mostly providing a great product. FIFA has been the series that seems to have delivered the most consistently, and it’s fitting that just as the series appears to have run out of innovative steam, the console generation passes the torch. Like NHL 14, FIFA 14 isn’t a must-buy for everyone, but for those that invest in it, they’ll discover a large collection of beneficial smaller tweaks rather than sweeping changes.