- Platform Xbox 360, PS3
- Publisher EA
- Developer EA Sports
- Release Date 27/09/2013
FIFA 14 Review
It's time to lace up and kick off the footballing frenzy.
Over the last few iterations, EA Sports have continuously struck gold with FIFA; having fine-tuned their football formula each and every year since this console generation started, FIFA became more than a fratboy-pandering cashgrab: evolving into a truly competitive skill-based game rich with depth.
While FIFA 13 would become the grand culmination of all this hard work, it seems that this year, with FIFA 14, EA Sports finally bit off more than they could chew, attempting to create a more grounded, realistic football experience as opposed to previous years’ more fast-paced workings. As such, FIFA 14 is literally a game of two halves: there’s definitely an audience that will appreciate the more realistic changes and, in a way, this is the closest EA has ever come to emulating the beautiful game. On the other hand, there is also an audience for the often pitch-pinball speeds of previous entries. Depending on which side of the camp you are will determine whether or not you will enjoy FIFA 14.
Managing your team is an absolute nightmare, as the game somehow needs to take the time to not only highlight options, but also to load in player portraits and stats.
Let’s start with the game’s main offline attraction: the career mode. This year, it’s a bit of a mess. Interface issues abound; the new Windows 8-esque tab layout takes some getting used to, and switching tabs to separate menus such as your personal office or team management appears painless, until the awkward menu lag sets in. Never have I played a game with more sluggish menus than FIFA 14. Sometimes, the game will only register your button presses seconds after your input. Managing your team is an absolute nightmare, as the game somehow needs to take the time to not only highlight options, but also to load in player portraits and stats. This is a definite regression from previous years which did host very occasional lag, but nowhere near as bad as it is here. It’s almost enough to ruin career mode. However, career mode does bring some interesting changes that separate it from previous years’ attempts.
Putting Pen To Paper
The biggest change to career mode this year is the way transfers work. Greater emphasis has been put on the scouting network system. Now, scouting is the most efficient method of recruiting talent to your chosen team. Instead of simply searching for players based on your chosen parameters (as was the case in previous titles) you’re now encouraged to set up your scouts in various countries across the globe in search for those game-changing players. If you’re managing a team that has a tight budget, scouting is essential if you’re to stand a chance, as most information about a player, including their stats and overall rating, are hidden until you task a scout to enquire further. Again, I feel this is a rather divisive system; it helps point the spotlight at players that are relatively unheard of and can give rise to some hidden talents, but those who enjoy browsing for players Argos-style might well grow to hate the focus on scouting.
Multiplayer is essentially the same as it’s ever been, though the random disconnections that plagued previous games have thankfully been reduced to a lesser probability. I remember going 4-0 up in Ultimate Team before EA decided I didn’t deserve the win. *Shudder* Dark times… Anyhow, fans of Ultimate Team will be happy to see the return of Single Matches, a feature mysteriously missing from FIFA 13. Players will no longer have to dedicate themselves to a league, which is of course the best part of Ultimate Team, but the option to play a friendly is greatly appreciated.
Matchmaking is still all over the place; your team of bronzes and silvers are still likely to come face to face with an army of team-of-the-week gold players. Players not into Ultimate Team will still find plenty of joy in the fantastic head-to-head seasons, which is still as good as it’s ever been, as well as online friendlies and EA Sports Arena implementation. Throw in the traditional couch multiplayer and FIFA 14 remains a multiplayer gamer’s paradise…
Matchmaking is still all over the place; your team of bronzes and silvers are still likely to come face to face with an army of team-of-the-week gold players.
…assuming you’re on board with the changes EA have made to the formula. Like an ADHD-riddled child, it seems they just can’t sit still when it comes to maintaining the perfect FIFA formula, opting to make several changes each year to justify purchasing each annual entry. Again, I thought FIFA 13 all but nailed it in regards to the realism vs. fun dynamic, but it seems EA have decided to walk the path of the former this year, which I feel has disrupted the balance somewhat.
Being a more realistic outing, players in FIFA 14 are more prone than ever to make mistakes, such as dodgy touches and off-target shots and passes. There’s a nice balance that’s been struck between the skill of the player and the AI as a result; yes, you’ll sometimes fall prey to the odd fumble, but so do the computer controlled players. Speaking of AI players, they’re now more likely to commit fouls, run offside and the like. It can be said that their defence is still like an iron fortress (no matter what team you’re up against, be it Chelsea or Rochdale), but the steps EA have taken towards a fairer AI system is truly admirable.
Real World Problems
Of course, all this realism comes at a cost: the game simply isn’t as fun as it used to be. As it’s FIFA we’re talking about, it’s hard to blame EA for wanting to make the series as realistic as is humanly possible, but I feel the game has lost a lot of its charm. Scorelines never really get as crazy as they used to, and I personally miss that. It’s still a very well made game and FIFA purists will find a lot to love here, but many will feel the game lacks the energy that used to come around when you were onto some 90th minute magic, or when one of your players gets unfairly sent off. A lot of that drama has disappeared from the multiplayer experience.
Presentation-wise, FIFA 14 (on current-gen consoles) looks marginally better than its predecessors; many players have been updated to have their actual likenesses, and the crowd looks better with each installment. In terms of commentary, there’s very little that’s actually new, bar some altered lines to match which teams were promoted or relegated last season. As always, the licensed soundtrack shines with an eclectic mixture of indie (decent indie at that), rap, rock and pop.
How much you get out of FIFA 14 all depends on how much you love the sport, as well as your tolerance for previous entries in the series. Those of you more passive or laid back in regards to the franchise might be put off by the added layers of realism, but it’s this very realism that may have football fanatics chomping at the bit. If you’re in the latter camp, feel free to add an extra star to the final score, as FIFA 14 still manages to be an incredibly impressive technical achievement, despite the issues I personally have with it.
Your enjoyment of FIFA 14 will all boil down to how much you love the beautiful game, as well as how much you value the more realistic shift this game has taken over its predecessors. Despite the problems I personally have with this year's iteration, it still remains an incredible technical achievement.