FIFA 14 has come around at a strange time in the videogame industry. While it was still released in the usual early fall, with this release there's the looming presence of next-gen consoles, something which has undoubtedly played a large role in the decisions EA has made with the newest edition of FIFA. The brand-new "Ignite" engine will be powering the next-generation version of FIFA, and the advancements on the current older engine sometimes seem like they're waiting for the next-gen step up in horsepower. However don't be scared, FIFA 14 on the current generation has made significant changes which have definitely improved the game. Having said this, it will be very interesting to see the difference between FIFA 14 on the current-generation systems, and what the next-generation looks like when it's powered by "Ignite".
Undoubtedly, many will wonder about how much the new engine will truly matter. After all, EA isn't boasting about any grandiose new features coming on the next-gen version, but rather seems to be emphasizing how much more noticeable a lot of FIFA 14's current-gen improvements will be when running on the Playstation 4 or Xbox One. Crowds will be rendered even better (you'll see home and away sections of the crowd cheering when their side scores), headers will now consist of multiple players jostling and jumping (a prospect which could make corners much more realistic), and it seems like there's a general tighter feel when it comes to player momentum which on the current gen can sometimes seem unrealistic in the slowness of certain animations. Looking at the next-gen version, it's hard not to feel that perhaps many of FIFA 14's changes simply don't have the same impact without "Ignite" powering them. Having said this, the changes that EA have brought to the current generation of FIFA are very much appreciated, and are a significant step closer to achieving a more robust and realistic soccer/football experience.
Over the past few years, picking up to play a brand new FIFA game has always required a bit of adaptive versatility, but never too much. We gamers have had to change our way of playing as EA has made changes to the game, but so many fundamental mechanics of FIFA are ingrained in every new edition. This year has been been the biggest test of our adaptability, as the changes made have forced a re-learning of FIFA and the way we play it.
Just about everyone's first impressions of FIFA 14 were quick to highlight that the game has become "slower". The days of sprinting through the midfield are definitively over, as the new first-touch system along with the larger roles that momentum and physicality play now have forced players to approach the game in a much more controlled way. It's not that FIFA 14 is too slow, it's that FIFA 13 was too fast. Last year's edition was dominated by speedy wingers which could shred through just about any defence when counter-attacking. Constantly knocking the ball out wide, to then sprint through the opposing back four wasn't a proper reflection of how actual soccer/football is played.
Now on FIFA 14, one of the first things you'll notice is that when the ball is knocked forward by your player, this immediately opens the opportunity for a defender to muscle their way in front of you. While when playing FIFA 13 my right trigger (the "run fast" button) was just about permanently depressed, FIFA 14 has become about lifting your right index finger off that trigger, and instead keeping tight close control of the ball. Shielding is paramount to keeping possession now, as is ensuring a clean first-touch when receiving passes.
A lot of FIFA players (including me) found their first attempts with FIFA 14 slightly jarring, and I had to lower the difficulty settings, take a deep breath, and consciously pay attention and learn how to use the new gameplay mechanics to their best.
The folks at EA tend to do a pretty good job when it comes to presentation. Menus have been revamped making for an easier to navigate (and stylish) experience, but it seems like at certain points there's some problems with the speed and responsiveness. Sadly, this happens also when managing your team which can be fairly frustrating.
|While the new menus are snazzy, there are occasional moments of framerate dips when managing your team.|
If you have any worries about presentation, it seems like the next-gen versions are where EA have truly stepped it up when it comes to creating that elusive full stadium and match-day feel. The current-gen does its best with the usual solid commentary which while satisfies the basic needs, never strives to impress. Although in Career mode there's an attempt to have the pre-game talk be dynamic about how your team and players are doing in the season, after a few matches you can begin to anticipate what you're going to hear.
FIFA 14 has managed to really stir up the core gameplay elements in this release, and ultimately it's all for the better. The changes to first touch make changes of possession more frequent and realistic, and the slightly improved AI of your teammates provides more options when going forward. However with their increased attacking runs, your teammates sometimes get in the way of your goalbound shots, and can take up offside positions sometimes too early leading to some fairly frustrating moments.
Putting some frustrations aside, the improved and varied shooting types are interesting, yet you're never fully in control to decide what type of a shot you want to unleash. It's not quite "hit and hope", as you're often able to coax the game into shooting a specific way, although be prepared for moments when your player's shot isn't quite what you were expecting it to be. Dribbling is much harder considering that the days of sprinting past defenders are over, and because of this successful dribbling is much more satisfying. Maintaining tight control, shielding the ball from defenders, and making sure not to hold onto the ball too much are now the key mechanics which reign supreme. While they're definitely a lot to learn and perfect, they truly raise the level of similarity to real football/soccer while deepening the systems behind maintaining possession.
The passing sadly lags behind, as it doesn't see similar improvements and can often be difficult to fully manipulate as you intend. A large part of this seems to be affected by the first-touch system, which depends very much on the pace and angle of the pass coming towards the player. Although one can bump most of the settings to assisted and deal less with this unimproved (yet core) mechanic, when playing on semi-assisted or manual there are certain puzzling moments in which a pass is incredibly imprecise or underpowered.
Yet for all the annoyances, the gameplay has surely changed for the better. When playing in career mode and other single player modes, the new gameplay mechanics make for a well balanced and varied football/soccer simulation. Players have more freedom in the way they construct their attacks, there isn't a "right way" to go about playing the game, and this ultimately forces creativity in the way players breaking down defences.
It's difficult to truly understand the changes made to FIFA 14 until you've actually played it. In terms of gameplay mechanics, EA has pushed its players to adapt as the switch to the next-generation looms. Although there are some changes to Career Mode which give things like scouting and searching for new transfer targets a fresh feel (for a while), there are many areas in which FIFA 14 is obviously waiting for the hardware power to catch up.
However don't let this dissuade you too much from FIFA 14 on the current generation of consoles. There are many improvements, refinements, and a lot of well-thought changes which make this the best version of FIFA available right now. If you're not going to be adopting the next-generation consoles anytime soon, then FIFA 14 will undoubtedly satisfy the cravings you have for a soccer/football gaming experience. Yet keep in mind that FIFA 14 will shine at its brightest on the next-gen consoles with the Ignite engine powering better presentation, more animations, and stronger mechanics.
I'll be reviewing the next-gen version of FIFA 14 as soon as I get a chance to pick up a new console and a copy of the game. Until then, I'll be more than happy to continue playing FIFA 14 on the current-generation.