Version played: PlayStation 4
‘’Football, bloody hell.’’
Who knew that Sir Alex Ferguson’s immortal words following Manchester United’s unexpected triumph against German giants FC Bayern München in the 1999 Champions League Final would also be the go-to reaction by many a gamer following hour-long bouts of FIFA 15, developer EA Sports Canada’s latest iteration in its premier footballing franchise. It’s not strictly a compliment, mind; it’s more a summation of just how bizarre and conflicting a game FIFA 15 really is.
Straight off the bat, it becomes abundantly clear that the game’s graphical lustre is the initial striking point of conversation. Pitches glisten and become worn, players emotionally – if not confusingly – react to in-match instances, and stadia look nearly as good as their real-world counterparts – minus the exorbitant food and alcohol costs. It may not be the massive leap that many had predicted for the series’ first fully-fledged next-generation outing, but FIFA 15 can confidently celebrate the fact that it’s a stunningly beautiful rendition of The Beautiful Game.
Those players who pride themselves on stalwart, hard-headed defending, however, may have their resolve tested incessantly by FIFA 15’s blatantly lopsided temperament. In an effort to seemingly appease fans of both accessibility and fluidity, EA Sports Canada has forgone any semblance of defensive solidity, instead treading on the same pitfall that has befallen many past editions of FIFA: pace abuse. Take any young fledging with half-decent dribbling abilities and 90-or-so-rated pace and you’ve already cracked the all-important defensive code; back-line’s cower, stand off, fall over each other, and quiver at the mere sight of an onrushing speedster with a turn of pace. Remedying last year’s overpowered headers and lobbed through balls, EA Sports Canada has just gone from one extreme to the other and it’s often to the detriment of the game. In truth, FIFA 15 grants far too many concessions to the voracious attacker instead of honing a system that rewards both ends of the footballing spectrum. And that’s neglecting to mention the changes made to goalkeepers, who now range from calamity-stricken to impenetrable with professedly nothing in-between.
That said, the game’s pinball-esque feel and dynamic physicality can be a joy to behold once you absolve the admittedly uncertain AI of blame altogether. Below the game’s dubious extremity lies the foundation of a real match winner, with enough neat ideas and nuances to bring a smile to even a passing football fan. It’s a matter of when it works, it really works. The induction of pace-fuelled play is a commendable shift in focus – and most likely a disillusioned nod to the fast-paced nature of real-life football – but it’s nowhere near refined enough to work impeccably, especially when the game’s mechanics are so touch-and-go. The same can be said for the shooting, which is a little less guided and more hamfisted, lacking any real predictable satisfaction. If nothing else, given the game’s erratic nature, you’ll inevitably find yourself involved in some incredibly exciting, albeit intermittently infuriating, matchups that’ll have you either cheering like a booze-addled sideline fan or have you flinging your DualShock 4 in complete disbelief at what’s just transpired.
Luckily, the chief gameplay alterations at the heart of FIFA 15 aren’t just some sort of superficial sugarcoat to an already competent system; they actually do modify the feel of the game quite drastically. Players who are most at home with quick, singular dribbling will benefit most, undoubtedly, as the game’s mechanics for close-knit play are far more dynamic, allowing for a lot of momentum shifting and that sort of free-flowing feel that gamers have been clambering for. Additionally, passing has become more robust and weighted so the likelihood of mistiming, or indeed misplacing one is quite real. In reality there’s something positively refreshing about collecting a delicate, cross-field pass from the likes of Andrea Pirlo on the left-hand side of the touchline and embarking on a meandering run, picking up pace, dancing between challenges from outstretched defenders and slotting a well-placed shot beyond the despairing ‘keeper. It’s those sorts of moments that make FIFA 15 an absolute dream for wannabe footballers and it’s made even better by the game’s more robust physical attributes, with shirt-pulling and shoulder-charging far more commonplace, lending to a more rotund feel to proceedings. While the game’s fundamental balance is off-kilter, it matters little once your attacker’s in full flight with the ball at his feet and you’ll rightly sing its praises when the ball’s in your court, so to speak.
By the same token, any changes to key components of the gameplay run the inherent risk of alienating differing playstyles and that’s certainly evident here, as the game does, to a degree, shoehorn prospective players into playing a low-centred, pace-filled system with attackers running directly at onlooking centre-halves. It’s not that other styles aren’t effective in their own right in FIFA 15; it’s just that they’re not as readily encouraged. For all intents and purposes, the fundamental midfield ‘battle’ within the game is merely a transitioned conduit to attack rather than a ferocious area of contestation where matches can be controlled or let loose. While we’ve mentioned that defensive play is quite lapsed it’s also now more about attempting to control pockets of space rather than just pure athletic jostling, but its poor execution leaves much to be desired. As a result, FIFA 15 never convincingly manages to find the optimum balance, and rather finds itself at an awkward juncture between that of faithful representation of The Beautiful Game and a frustratingly disparate experience.
If there’s one thing you can set your watch to within the FIFA series it’s the near-meticulous presentation throughout, and as to be expected EA Sports Canada has pulled no punches in trying to accurately replicate that one-of-a-kind match day feel. The Barclays Premier League receives the most love, obviously, with all 20 teams’ stadiums fully recreated along with some truly excellent crowd reactions and chants that manage to light up even the most mundane of matches. Matching that of its real-life compatriot, the ‘Goal Line Decision System’ has also been implemented but it’s more of a superficial add-on for perfectionists rather than a practical addition. Another inclusion to the game’s tiled-based menus is ‘Match Day Live’, a centralized hub for real-world footballing news, league tables and stats. These little contrivances do add a little to the experience but aren’t game changers by any stretch.
Sadly, FIFA 15’s Career Mode – a tired area sorely in need of revamping at this stage – hasn’t received anywhere near the same amount of tender loving care as the aforementioned presentation. It’s mostly business as usual, but with some slight tinkering that admittedly makes the experience a little more cumulative and fluid. Thankfully EA’s cumbersome progression system has been tweaked so that older players’ ratings don’t plunge to the depths once they’ve hit their twilight years. After all, there’s nothing more disheartening than seeing a visibly proficient Francesco Totti succumb to retirement prematurely – even at 38 years old. The Giallorossi certainly wouldn’t stand for it so why should we? The game’s scouting network also has become a touch more realistic with scouts suggesting specific players based on your team’s weaknesses and even by what squad you’re aiming to build.
Ultimate Team, FIFA’s now all-consuming card-based squad building mode is back in full force but with little to discern it from last year’s edition other than the fact that it shares the obvious gameplay differences with that of its single-player mode brethren. There is a new loan system in place actually, which sees would-be managers able to sign players for a set amount of matches, as well as a ‘Concept Squad’ that allows you to assemble a grey-coloured dream team within the game’s extensive library of players – it’s not too dissimilar to the maiden match you once you enter the mode for the first time, honestly. Thankfully, the mode’s still as addictive as ever with enough content and possibilities to tide players over for as long as they can maintain the enthusiasm to continue building squads.
While the single-player can at times become monotonous due to the suspect AI, FIFA’s Online Seasons should, in theory, be the arena for which the game’s layered gameplay shines as players lock horns in a battle for footballing supremacy. Sadly, for the most part, Online Seasons just manages to extrapolate the disjointed gameplay as the majority of the real-life opposition you’ll come up against have the ability to exploit the pace and defensive issues we’ve mentioned, with it more often than not resulting in a flurry of goals. On the plus side, it’s rarely a bore, with a goalless draw about as likely as seeing Roy Keane clean shaven. And that’s honestly something we hope we don’t see anytime soon. Online Seasons has also now got a guest option so you can compete with your friends, and it’s also matched by the reappearance of classic Co-op Seasons, too. Frustrations aside, you never quite know what’s coming next once you step out in the online realm and that’s certainly part of FIFA’s conflicted charm. It can feel desperately unfair at times – bordering on blatant cheating – but the fact that you’ll unwaveringly persevere speaks volumes for FIFA 15’s distinct appeal.
At its core, and aside from the niggling aspects that in-part hinder the experience, FIFA 15 is still an astonishingly competent football title with more than enough bells, whistles and interesting additions to have you reaching for that well-worn DualShock 4 time and time again. And while the ambitious gameplay tweaks are temperamental at best, there’s little doubting the integrity of the foundation that EA Sports Canada has laid. In the meantime, however, FIFA 15 is still top of the footballing pile and well worthy of any fans’ time.
Have you picked up FIFA 15? Let us know what you think of the game in the comments section below.
Finished reading the above? Don’t forget to check out our comprehensive FIFA 15 coverage – we’ve got all-important Career Mode bargain buys, Online Seasons tips, and Trophy walkthrough for your viewing pleasure.