FIFA 14 Review: EA’s Behemoth Retains Title
Reviewing a new FIFA game is like going to see a band you like, right after they’ve released a new album. Since you like the band already, you’ll probably enjoy the show. You’ll hear old songs you know and enjoy. But scattered throughout the set will be new, unfamiliar tunes. The audience won’t cheer as hard, or sing-along as loud. Familiarity takes time. Unless something goes drastically wrong, though, that new album will eventually feel like an essential part of the band’s catalog.
So it is with FIFA. I’m a confirmed addict, and each fall, a ritual repeats: I grapple with a new set of features and tweaks — some subtle, some not — and try to assign a score to the game as discrete, boxed product, instead of as just another chapter in an ongoing obsession.
Complicating the process this year is the arrival of the next-generation consoles. Despite being available for PS2 (seriously), all signs point to FIFA 14 being most at home on the Playstation 4 and the XBOX One. For now, however, we have a current-gen version of the game, which hews closely to the EA recipe: Start with targeted improvements that frame authenticity and fun as two sides of the same coin. Add the slick, self-assured presentation that comes with having vast financial resources. Season liberally with roster updates.
Platforms: Android, iOS, PC, Wii, PSP, PS2, PS3, PS4, XBOX One, XBOX 360 (Reviewed)
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: September 24, 2013
“The ball is round. The game last 90 minutes.” This (slightly inaccurate) quote is attributed to German coach Sepp Herberger, as a counterintuititively profound comment on soccer’s sparse, simple rules. That’s all you really need to know, Herberger seems to be saying. Add the offside rule, and the whole “no hands” bit, and that’s effectively the whole game.
FIFA is similar. In contrast to other complex video game systems, FIFA 14 is a bunch of guys running around and occasionally bumping into each other, and a ball bouncing among them. No collapsing skyscrapers here. So the designers at EA Canada wisely focus their efforts on these two basic elements, leveraging physics technology and careful motion-capture to create men and balls that move just like they should.
That’s why each yearly installment requires getting used to, like a new album. In FIFA 14, particularly, the changes are things that you don’t always spot happening. It’s more about the accumulated sense of everything being a little different. But those split-second differences all matter, of course, like the difference between a tackle and a foul, or between a goal and a goal kick. And despite the developers’ best efforts, many new innovations bring with them a set of unintended consequences. Change the way certain passes work, and the process of defending those passes changes as well.
FIFA veterans will immediately notice the increased intransigence of the ball, which behaves with a believable, physics-powered capriciousness. Gone are the days when moving a skilled player near the ball made you feel like you owned it, like you could take it anywhere. Now you’re just renting, and you’ll have to time a squeeze of the left trigger just to take a good first touch. Even the most sublime dribblers are limited by the way their legs realistically rise and fall and push against the grass. Try something too silly, and the ball will simply roll away.
The players, too, have traded Sir Alex Ferguson for Sir Isaac Newton. Take shooting. In the past, FIFA games cheated, effectively, fudging animations and shuffling feet pre-shot in ways that were simply impossible with actual limbs. A new “Pure Shot” system keeps the character models honest, and when you thump in a well-timed half-volley, it feels magical. That said, it’s not always easy to see in action — the game’s developers cheated so effectively in the past that they deserve credit now for admitting the ruse, and then rendering it obsolete.