Simplicity makes for the best experience sometimes.
One of the toughest parts about making a soccer/football game for the world is trying to find the exact control scheme and natural flow to the sport through a single controller. It's a difficult task that hasn't been 100% successful over the years between FIFA and Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer titles. Don't get me wrong, there have been moments of greatness in this area, especially on the PES side of the tracks. EA has completely changed how they do things with FIFA, made it better and implemented it nearly flawlessly. Calling it 'precision movement', the gamer now has full control over the players on the field, and maintains a natural flow to the player's game. This is something that EA Sports was talking about at E3 this year, and something that you'll see quite well in NBA Live 14 (can't wait to try it again -- so easy to use). Basically, you can move your soccer player down the field, turn them smoothly at given points in the match, and use the right thumbstick to bob/weave/dribble the soccer ball as the defenders are upon you. If you have ever played soccer before then you understand certain nuances when soccer players move on the field. You fully understand that to get the ball from point A, you have to go through the leg motions of points B-D before arriving at E. For example, to move the ball through a defender's legs, or around a defender, you have to push the appropriate, natural direction on the right thumbstick. It basically takes the thinking out of the game and puts it back in natural muscle movement that the gamer would think needs to happen through the thumbstick. It works really damn well for FIFA 14, and it's a huge game changing upgrade that is very easy to pick up on.
Having said that, there are times in the match where you accidentally push the right thumbstick in one direction and end up kicking the ball into the defender, which causes you to lose it. It takes a bit to get used to it, but once you have the precision movement down, you start playing like a real soccer player would play. Having never played the actual sport, but I've seen it in person on several trips to Africa, it certainly looks and plays like it would on the field. Kudos to EA Sports for making the game feel a bit more natural and less mechanical. Just give it some time to get it down, though.
Speaking of kicking balls, one thing I have to say I'm a little disappointed about is the intelligence of my teammates. While they did in fact get me the ball about 75-80% of the time when I was open, there were times where I could calculate the space between the defender, the angle of my running and be wide open, but never got the ball. It was kind of frustrating, as I constantly ran into 'offsides' issues because my teammates would pull back, run horizontally and put me offsides. Don't get me wrong, the teammate intelligence that EA Sports has been toting for this year's FIFA 14 is impressive, but it still has its moments of 'what?' now and then.
The flip side to that complaint is how they would definitely lead a break and pass to me when I the opportunity was just right. Open field breaks are exciting to say the very least, and even more so when your teammates are on the same page as you. I have to give specific kudos to the developers at EA Canada for getting the AI right when I expected teammates to be in a certain position on a break. There was always someone with me when I broke for the net, and the NPC always created the right direction for themselves, if I needed to pass them the ball. It made the game a bit more fun.
As for other new items in this year's FIFA 14, you now have the option to play a season with your best friend online via co-op. Neat stuff that has been around in other sports, but I'm sure it works well here. The very idea of calling up someone to play on certain days, kind of like having a squad on Call of Duty, is very intriguing. To be honest, I haven't been able to try it out yet because the game just came out today, but I will update this when I corral someone to join me in a season. Worldwide folks are going to love this, though I'm sure they're going to beat the snot out of us Americans. And they should.
One big improvement over last year's game was the sharpening of the animation for the players. For this, I have to say it was excellent, but at rare times shaky -- and that might have been because of the PlayStation 3. The on field animation was freaking brilliant. Lots of improvements added with the dribble, shot and defense. The players look smooth when running down in a horizontal field and nearly perfect when dribbling out of a bad situation. You will find the horizontal view of team play the most visually appealing, as you get the proper shading, lighting and best view of the crowd (they still need a bit more animation to the crowd -- I mean, if any sport needs better animation for the crowd, it would be FIFA).
Things switch up a bit when playing in the career mode, which pretty much visually keeps track of your career player (if you want it to -- you can play as the team, which changes things up a bit on the angle), as the refined animation of the players really shines through. I'm still a huge fan of breaking away on the field and the shaky camera getting right behind your player. The only downer to this cool looking animation is that you lose sight of everyone and everything around you. Still, it does get the adrenaline pumping.
As for the shaky stuff, it's all in the cutscenes and celebration. Lots of jumpy, jerky moments show their face in the cutscenes. That sort of stuff is to be expected. During the celebration, you have people cutting through each other on occasion, which is just ugly, but forgivable. What's also quite odd, and slightly amusing, is when someone scores a goal and your player is on the fast track to celebrating with his teammates, and you end up accidentally hitting one of the thumbsticks, which puts your player off track from the celebration. There were many times where Wicked Tit was running around the field celebrating like an idiot by himself. Yeah, it may not be relevant to 'presentation' portion of this review, but it's something worth mentioning (and laughing at).
On the audio side of things, per usual the announcers are top notch. I know that John Motson and Andy Gray continually do repeat themselves from match to match, but their critical dialogue about what's happening on field is spot on. They do a good job with making it all sound smooth and intelligent. They make me want to watch more soccer, which is tough when you live in America -- specifically Kentucky.
Another huge element to getting psyched about the gameplay is how well the crowd interacts with the game. I know it's not too far off from FIFA 13, but hearing a hostile crowd or hearing a crowd go silent is simply amazing. It really puts that additional element of impressiveness to the FIFA 14 game. If only the animation of the crowd would improve, then we could really be in heaven. Oh, well. One day it will happen. Not today, though.
Other than what you see above, there's not much else packed in that really stands out with FIFA 14. Is that a bad thing? No, as I stated at the beginning of this review, sometimes simplicity is the way to go. Instead of having a gazillion options that don't mean a hill of beans, give the gamer what they want in a less confusing manner. FIFA 14 does this and because of that it makes the game far more appealing in the long run. It focuses on its improved strengths (movement precision, better AI, etc.) and new features, which makes this game feel more complete. The only thing that I'm left wondering is how good it's going to look and feel for next gen consoles. Well, I have less than two months to ponder that. In the meantime, I will enjoy what I've got on this generation.