There is something very different about FIFA 14 compared to the previous few installments. The game finally feels different–really different. The graphics, presentation, and career modes haven’t changed much, but the gameplay is, in fact, different. Notice I paid careful attention not to designate if those differences are positive or negative. That is because the changes are extremely subtle on the surface, and after a few hours on the pitch you may not notice things like improved ball physics or better player movement. Those subtle tweaks are improvements, without a doubt, but FIFA 14 doesn’t have enough to draw in a new crowd of gamers.
That isn’t a big deal for EA Sports since FIFA is its cash cow. FIFA is so incredibly popular and historically solid that EA doesn’t need to make too many changes to draw its allegiance of fans in for another year. For those more casual fans that may have skipped a few years, FIFA 14 is a great place to play catch up, experience what you missed, and be immersed in more refined gameplay.
If you are a longtime FIFA fan, the idea that something is finally different in gameplay is notable. For years, EA Sports has made tweaks to gameplay, integrated a new engine, even spiffed up player likeness. But we haven’t had a game that felt fundamentally different, or better, since at least FIFA 10. That all changes this year as FIFA 14 slides much closer to pure sports simulation than its typical fast-paced, almost arcade-like gameplay in years past.
Your first time on the pitch in FIFA 14 may feel slow, really slow. That is due, in part, to Precision Movement. That’s a fitting term as every step your player takes really matters. It takes fast players longer to take off in a sprint; likewise, defenders are less like linemen from American football and more like agile defenders in real life. There is an authentic weight to players, noticeable as you plant each foot to maneuver around defenders. When you get the hang of the new pace, you can pull off some great runs. But the first few playthroughs are slow and longtime fans will need to readjust their strategy to focus more on methodical ball movement around the penalty block, smart passes into open spaces, and grabbing a shot on goal when you have just a few steps on your defender.
Skill moves are no longer tied to the left trigger button. Instead, all skill moves are tied to your right analog stick. Good dribblers can pull off better moves more consistently while stronger players are better at holding back opponents by trapping the ball away from other players. This is pulled off now by holding your left trigger, which turns whoever you control into a mad man obsessed with grabbing or holding the ball. These two tweaks to controls are a no-brainer. It is hard to think it took EA Sports this long to make these changes, but it’s better late than never. A simple spin of your analog stick sends agile players to step over the ball, maybe take a quick touch with their back foot, or roll sideways. If the gameplay in general has slowed down a bit, this new control on the ball gives you just enough time to pull of some great moves and open up some space for a pass.
Passes in FIFA 14 are also different. Though some may be frustrated that through balls have a harder time threading defenders, more hardcore fans will rejoice that it finally feels more authentic. It is tough, on any difficulty setting, to pull off a careless through ball. You are forced in FIFA 14 to be a smart player and you won’t get away with a little tap of X to pull off a difficult pass.
As mentioned earlier, FIFA 14 is edging ever closer to true sports simulation. This feels much closer to real-life football than last year’s installment, and part of that has to do with the intelligence of the A.I. Most of the time, your teammates will offer appropriate support, making runs to the goal or finding space on the wings.
While there are serious differences in gameplay, the graphics and game modes haven’t seen the same substantial overhaul. In particular, the graphics look no different than last year’s installment. It’s a good looking game, but fans are definitely anxious to see FIFA make its way to next gen consoles. The animations are great, and the wonky engine in previous years is refined so you won’t see many goofy player collisions. But there are still little things like overly pixilated crowds and players reacting the same way to a goal, like graceful synchronized swimmers. These are all changes we hope to see when EA has more time with its next gen version in the coming years.
Game modes also haven’t changed that much, but little tweaks to Seasons and Ultimate Team are welcomed and make for a better experience. Chemistry is the focus on Ultimate Team and makes for some unique players and teams. You will need to build up your team’s chemistry to pull off some challenging wins. Career Mode is more of the same, but it offers a unique take on transfers. The Global Transfer Network is a new approach to scouting. No longer can you simply search for players by stats; instead, you must assign scouts to different regions, give them some instructions on what kind of player to look for, and, if they find some candidates, give them more orders to reveal additional stats on the player. This new scouting network is fun on the surface, but digging deeper can really slow down the career experience. In addition, I didn’t have great luck finding qualified new players, but that’s probably because I stopped checking my inbox as my regional scout managers flooded my email. This change to the micromanagement of scouting and recruiting players is welcomed, but it’s not quite on point. It needs a few refinements to keep the micromanaging to a minimum.
The game also sports a brand new menu system. It has a Windows 8, giant tile appearance. It is absolutely a welcome change, but it’s not at all my thing. I really hate the new menus. But, and this is a big but, I know there are a lot of people out there that like this menu style. While I don’t like the layout, I do like how the organization makes it easier to pass over things you don’t really need.
For all its changes in years past, FIFA 14 is the first game in the franchise to really feel different. Not all those changes are for the better, but it’s overwhelmingly on the right track. The player movement is greatly refined, and the new controls give you more opportunities to pull off explosive moves. But the game modes need more attention in the coming years. EA Sports has the gameplay nailed down, but we need some fresh changes to career modes. Sadly the overall presentation is stale and the announcers haven’t said anything really unique or new in years. These are areas where we need to see something different next year. Keep up the gameplay tweaks, but let’s get some attention on presentation and let’s see a overhaul of some game modes. Until then, FIFA 14 is a worthy entry in the franchise, and something that finally feels different.