FIFA 14 – Review
It’s that time of the year. The annual battle between the goliath that is FIFA and the beleaguered Pro Evolution Soccer series continues with the shelves playing host to the latest iterations of the long-running football simulations. Typically, both series aren’t big on innovations and with the next-gen consoles just around the corner, there’s little reason to expect that either game will be any kind of revolution but, regardless of that, after devouring GTA V’s wonderful story I was ready to get invested in a game that I can play with my brain turned off, and FIFA certainly fits the bill.
If this wasn’t the twentieth or so version of FIFA, it’d be an absolute revelation. When it comes to simulating the sport of football (I was about to write ‘the beautiful game’ but fuck that, I’m not a total cunt) FIFA covers every aspect of the sport that is worth including. Aside from the ‘on the pitch’ action, you also get a meaty managerial mode as well as all the cups and leagues you can think of. This is basically what almost twenty years of technicalogimical progress can do for a genre that was once at the peak of its powers with Sensible World of Soccer. The level of detail could be described as astonishing.
Of course, after so many near-identical versions, the impact of a new FIFA game is understandably lessened. Now all that lavish detail counts for very little given that most of it was present in the previous game and if you fire up, say, FIFA 09 and FIFA 14 you’d be hard-pressed to pick out any differences that actually matter. Indeed, for all the talk of ‘tightened up passes’, ‘better AI’, and ‘more dynamic shooting’, the truth is that one version of FIFA plays much like any other and you won’t need to really change how you play. The majority of my goals still come thanks to a chipped through-ball into the path of a striker. As David Byrne once sang, ‘same as it ever was.’
Firing up FIFA for the first time requires you to deal with EA’s authentication system that they’ve had in place for a while now. Hopefully you remember your EA account details. After that you are faced with the menu system. Now, if the FIFA series has any kind of trademark it is in its absolutely fucking dreadful menu systems. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that trying to find anything on a FIFA game is usually less fun than supporting Blackburn Rovers, and FIFA 14 is no different. That said, they have really changed things up by mimicking that dreadful tile interface that Microsoft are constantly pushing on us. It’s a little easier to navigate but still horrific when you don’t realise that you can scroll within individual menu tiles with the right analogue stick and, given that the game has loads of different modes, hiding them all across various panels, pages, titles and sub-menus is astonishingly bad design. Seriously, EA, what the fuck do you think you are doing?
The modes on offer vary from your basic exhibition matches to player and manager careers, skill games, on-and-offline Season modes, online club and the popular, but inherently evil, Ultimate Team. These are mostly self-explanatory apart from the Season modes which are your basic tournaments and can be played offline, online and now as an online 2v2 co-op mode, and the Ultimate Team mode which has been present for a few versions now and is basically like collecting Panini football stickers and then putting the players you get in your team for tournaments against other players or the CPU.
On the pitch, everything is as smooth and realistic as ever. I’ve not sunk enough time into Pro Evolution Soccer (I maxed out the achievements on PES6 and PES2008 and hated almost every moment) so I won’t compare them in any detail but having played the latest PES demo, I do prefer how FIFA plays. Even if the 1999 addicted to ISS version of me is calling me a ‘FIFA twat’ for it.
FIFA is great because of the freedom it gives you. You can do almost anything you’ve ever watched in a real-life match (apart from spitting relentlessly or scratching your opponent’s face like that bitch Fernando Torres) and it does give you a lot of freedom of expression when playing. As I mentioned earlier, I favour the killer pass beyond the defensive line but you might prefer a buccaneering run, the long ball, peppering the penalty area with crosses, or the slow build-up and passing triangles of your favourite Spanish teams. Beating a player with one of FIFA’s dozens of skill moves is still as random and difficult as ever though, and they’ve long since nerfed the chip shot so don’t expect to be Karel Poborský.
As ever, the quality of the animation means that players can control, and mis-control, any type of ball that comes their way. Indeed, the unpredictability of the mis-controlled touch is something that EA have been keen to emphasise in FIFA 14 as they think it makes everything a bit more realistic. I support QPR. I don’t want too much fucking realism.
However, as with all football games, eventually you’ll find what method works better than the others and that’s what you’ll stick to. Otherwise you won’t win as much. That’s how football games have always worked but in online play, against someone who isn’t looking to exploit any such methods, there is plenty of scope for varied play.
For me, the best thing about FIFA is the ‘Be a Pro’ mode that lets you play as a single player in either a single exhibition match or for a career. Using smart positioning to outwit the opposition defence and single-handedly win a game is as satisfying as it has ever been, and there are a host of customisation options for your player, including the Game Face photo-scanning option that oddly makes my pro look Indian.
The various online modes work very well technically, with matches seeming as smooth as their offline counterparts. Of course, it is an inescapable fact that FIFA players online are dreadful cunts and so far in over thirty online matches I haven’t had more than a couple that weren’t delayed by people wasting time in the pause menu or readying up and then unreadying until the pre-match countdown hits zero just to troll decent people like you and me who just want to fucking get it over with. You can’t blame EA for their community being twats but this is 2013 and surely there’s a way of tracking them down and, I don’t know, executing them in front of their fucking families. Or something.
So as you can see, this is literally more of the same and that should be no surprise to people who know the FIFA series and how EA work generally. That said, the best change they’ve made is in the achievements, which require a lot less grinding than in previous years and, while you may not care at all about them, they do impact what has become FIFA’s most popular mode, Ultimate Team.
In FIFA 12 and 13, there were achievements for randomly getting a ‘Team of the Week’ player in a pack of cards/stickers/whatever they are. A gold pack costs 7500 coins (the in-game currency) and it can take anywhere from six to ten matches to raise that much money. The drop rate for this type of player is horrifically low (some people opened hundreds of packs without ever getting one). That achievement is gone, meaning you can concentrate on the player auctions instead of wasting money on packs. Also, the achievements for total squad value (which ultimately meant buying at least 600 different players) are gone also. That achievement totally ruined the economy of this mode in previous games but everything is a lot more sensible now and that makes Ultimate Team fun and less of a cash-grab. EA have done the right thing. So expect to find a rise in murdered puppies in Montreal, as they’ll have to maintain a balance.
FIFA apologists will tell you that FIFA 14 is slower and more deliberate than its predecessors but, honestly, that’s a trick they’ve been playing for a while. Each year you’ll hear about a difference in pace, shooting and defending but ultimately they just switch back every few years and this could all just be handled by a patch update but when you get beyond the fact that EA are massively taking the piss (especially with the handheld versions which are literally the same game each year but with updated squads and kits), FIFA remains the premier football game of modern times. Apart from New Star Soccer on iOS which is roughly a million times more fun.Pros
- As complete a simulation of football as you could expect
- Superlative graphics and animation
- Less exploitative achievements
- More security, meaning you hopefully won't get hacked
- Skill games are an enjoyable diversion (as ever)
- 2v2 Season mode is a decent new online mode
- If you squint, it looks like Edward Price is playing for Barcelona
- Barely different to the last one
- Seriously, FIFA 09 is like 99p and is just as competent a football game as this one. Although the servers are probably offline
- Whoever designs these menus needs to go fuck themselves
- Everybody online seems to be some sort of hateful wanker
- Slower pace seems to be irking many people in the FIFA community
- This is pretty much the same review I gave FIFA 12.
FIFA 14 keeps EA on top of the footballing pile for yet another year, but don't expect any meaningful additions to the formula. If you like football and games and don't own a FIFA with a higher number than 08, then fucking hell you are in for a treat, but if you're a series regular, £40 gets you some updated data, a different frontend, a barely tweaked on-the-pitch experience and an extra year before they close the servers.
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