As the current console generation winds down, developers are doing one of two things. Either they’re throwing every resource they have into games in the hopes of putting exclamation points on the outgoing era, or they’re saving their big guns for the upcoming Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
The second option looks to be the case with FIFA 14, this year’s entry in Electronic Arts’ annual blockbuster franchise. There aren’t any major new features to spotlight, which means this year’s game is a straight-forward iteration over last year’s. It does pretty much everything FIFA 13 did, just a bit better.
Among those little touches are more precise movement and better-feeling shots, smarter teammate artificial intelligence and smoother dribbling. They’re very subtle improvements that you really only notice if you’re specifically looking for them, and they certainly don’t add up to as big a jump forward as last year’s game was over FIFA 12.
The approach here seems to be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – and the game does work well. As with the past few entries, matches are almost as smooth, realistic and great-looking as the real thing, with bang-on commentary and an incredible amount of depth. You can play as legends such as Pele, or as never-will-be’s, like the guys on the Wisla Krakow team that I’ve been overseeing for a few years now.
FIFA 14 does indeed offer a ton of ways to play, from standard one-off matches to tournaments and full-on seasons. FIFA Ultimate Team is fast becoming my favourite mode, since it seems to be incorporating more role-playing and collectable elements.
One of the tweaks in this year’s FUT is customizable chemistry styles for players. Rather than just boosting your team’s chemistry rating by putting players of the same nationality or team next to each other on the pitch, you can now also blend styles to get improvements. An “artist” who has great ball handling skills might work exceptionally well in setting up a “sniper,” for example.
This can result in endless fiddling with stats, styles and upgrades, some of which can be improved or boosted through purchases – whether with in-game currency or actual money – or won through prize packs. Progressing through FUT, for example, nets you “card packs,” which include new players, upgrades and gear. If you enjoy RPGs like Skyrim, the FIFA franchise looks to be heading in that direction – minus the dragons and arrows to the knee, of course.
Another slick-but-subtle improvement is the interface itself. The menu system has been rejigged into a side-sliding set of tiles, not unlike what you might find on a tablet or smartphone. This makes navigating all the game’s modes and settings a breeze, which is helpful given the wealth of them.
Otherwise, FIFA 14 is the same, fundamentally great game that FIFA 13 was before it. Hard-core fans of the series will doubtlessly enjoy the latest instalment, but casual gamers who picked up last year’s won’t miss much by sitting this one out. There is, after all, a next-generation FIFA game to look forward to.