Seems like just last week that I took FIFA 14 for the PS4 for a spin and was mostly impressed. Two months ago, Nathan also reviewed the game for the PS3. Having now played on Xbox One, I would have to give it a modest edge over the PS4 version primarily because of the Kinect voice commands and also due to the exclusive Legends players available in Ultimate Team Mode. Otherwise, the games are very similiar, so I will borrow from my PS4 review heavily in this review, making changes as necessary…
All that said, I’ve played FIFA games casually and sporadically over the years, but within an hour of playing FIFA 14 on the PS4 I felt I was playing the best soccer game I had every played, on any platform. Things got a bit better still when playing on Xbox One, more on that shortly. I’m not nearly of the hardcore ilk that many of FIFA’s annual buyers are, giving me a less credible angle to compare the PS4 or X1 version to the current-gen and last year’s versions too, not to mention PES. Still, I can recognize a great game when I play one, and given that FIFA 14 on PS4 and X1 is just as feature-rich as the current gen version, minus a tournament mode, it’s evident that EA Sports has done an impressive job with bringing FIFA to next-gen.
Lets start with the basics. Like many EA games since the Xbox 360, the game doesn’t take you to a menu right away. Instead, you’re dropped into a practice mode or in this case, a friendly between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. You can continue playing your match even after the installation is complete, or head to the very busy, but well organized Home screen from which players have numerous directions to go, be they customization options or one of many available game modes. One small gripe I noticed — every time you start the game, you have to select your language (in the case of English, you just have to press A), and you can also adjust the accent from Neutral to British for the English language — but, the game won’t proceed with loading until you clear the language selection screen.
Speaking of Kinect, one of the first options I explored was Kinect options. Here, you can setup your subsitutions, formations, tactics, mentality, and camera angles, all of which are at your control during the match simply by saying the commands. For a novice soccer player, being able to just verbally instruct your team to change your approach is a plus. I may not completely understand the repercussions of my decisions, but it sure beats pausing the action to navigate menus or otherwise try to change the gameplan. Even if you are managing subs, formations, tactics, or the mentality of your team, just being able to cycle through the camera angles with your voice by saying “change camera pro” or “change camera tele” is pretty sweet. As expected, not every attempt at using the commands goes perfectly, but the majority do, and I appreciated the ease of use. It made my FIFA experience a little bit more engaging and enjoyable.
With the next-gen sports games, EA Sports is also utilizing a new engine known as Ignite. The purpose of Ignite is not just physics or just animations, instead, it’s a multi-faceted approach that is intended to increase AI’s ability to think on the fly and behave more like humans. Animations capabilities are said to be much improved and varied, something I definitely noticed and will touch on later. Furthermore, the online experience is supposed to be more robust. I didn’t experience any technical issues online, which is about all I can say to that. Other features that EA outlined include AI that is more prone to avoiding unnecessary collisions, such as for those of us who tend to spam the slide tackle. Slide tackling, even on Semi-Pro skill, proved to be nigh uneffective in situations where it didn’t really make sound sense to use it. In other words, staying in front of your opponent and attempting standing tackles is a more realistic and productive approach. New shot and pass types are now possible with next-gen hardware as well, and, interestingly, multiple players can contest a ball in the air simultaneously now whereas before, that wasn’t possible. Honestly, I don’t play the FIFA games enough year to year to be able to be able to account and speak to all of these new features.
That said, for the casual soccer gamer, myself included, the wealth of modes and features of FIFA 14 is more than you’ll ever use. For the more hardcore, likely including most of the 400-500 players online (a number I would see routinely when testing online functionality), all of these modes and features are going to be more interesting. That EA was able to include all of these for a launch title — except for tournament mode which is oddly omitted – isn’t a given; the Wii U version of FIFA 13 was a significantly trimmed down version compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3 release. Anyway, FIFA also has an integral online component that integrates data from the EA servers for miscellaneous updates, including online Cups, Weekly Matches, and Ultimate Team updates. Players also earn experience and level up by playing, and these points are always visible in the menu in the upper right hand corner next to your favorite team’s logo and your ID. These points, called FCCs (Football Club Credits) can be used in the Catalogue to purchase dozens of different items, including new shoes, historical jerseys, additional goal celebration animations, online match bonuses (perks that give you +1 to your passing for example), a free pass on getting a draw in your season, and a variety of other things.
The wealth of features and modes I’ve referred to includes hundreds of licensed teams, dozens of licensed leagues, a create a player mode, career mode where you can be either a manager or player, online seasons mode with Friends that supports up to 11 vs 11, detailed squad editing, online friendlies, Ultimate Team, skills games, and more. Exclusive to Xbox One are the Legends players for the Ultimate Team, which is kind of a big deal if you ask me. The skills games are great for getting a handle on the mechanics and controls, which took more effort than I anticipated. The challenges go from the most basic dribbling into much more demanding skills, and within each skill game are three different levels, Bronze through Gold. Speaking of skills, you can view a detailed breakdown of the numerous Skill Moves from the menu; these include a star rating based on difficulty to execute, rated from two to five. As for team editing and player creation, I haven’t done anything with these modes, but I did step through all of the options. Within the options, you can tweak all kinds of settings to better suit your playing style. I thought it was pretty interesting that the penalty for handballs was disabled by default, on a side note. I left that as is, but increased Player 1’s sprint and acceleration from 50 to 55, decreased my pass error a few points, too. Separately, you can adjust the CPU’s values on these and lots of other criteria too, such as injury frequency.
Regardless of the mode of play you choose, expect an excellent presentation. Load times are brief, Martin Tyler and Alan Smith do a great job with the commentary, and the player animations are impressively diverse and fluid. I had the unusual circumstance of seeing a goalie and his teammate run into each other and the defender was upended by the goalie who was running and reaching down for the loose ball. It was pretty funny because it resulted in an own goal, but the animation of handling this type of unusual collision was surprisingly good. The keeper even through his hands out to his sides after the ball rolled past the goal line in that sort of “seriously!?” type of expression of disbelief. Far more common animations, such as passing, standing and sliding tackles, and shots on goal all looked great and natural. Soccer is a finesse game and I had not seen it captured in a videogame like I did here.
With that, let’s get to the summary…