FIFA 14 Review – Xbox One

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I just love soccer. I played for a good part of my life and have watched it religiously. I still have a large library of games on VHS and DVD including USA’s only win over Brazil. I have MLS, National Team, Futsal, beach soccer, and old Major Indoor Soccer League games. It’s a beautiful game in all its forms. Now in mid-life, I have been relegated from being a player to the sidelines either photographing or coaching whenever I can. So when I get the itch, soccer games on PC or console have been a great distraction.

Over the years, EA’s FIFA series has been my favorite. At first simply because it was the only game available at the local game store, yet even despite some minor competition from Konami, EA has evolved to the point where FIFA is one of its highest selling games every year, and tech developed for FIFA is being used in other franchises like NHL, Madden and other games. They have learned how to make the money flow.

Not much has changed in this next-gen port of FIFA 14.  EA’s micro-transaction cash cow is still trying to pick your wallet clean and the menu system is still that same tile system similar to Windows 8. I hate Windows 8 with the heat of a supernova, so I wasn’t happy with the new UI at first, but it actually works better than previous years.  The quirky Kinect touch interface has been abandoned in favor of voice commands that are much more reliable and can actually enhance and immerse you in the gameplay.  You won’t believe how fast and intuitive it is to call out substitutions using players’ names, change formations, or choosing various tactics, mentalities, or even camera angles.

The gameplay engine on the Xbox One (and PS4) is entirely new, built from the ground up for this new generation of console, yet only the most studious of FIFA fans will spot the superficial improvements to the game engine.   The visual enhancements are more instantly apparent with much better stadium detail, a more lively and diverse set of spectators in the stands and cameramen on the sidelines.  Even the grass texture has been improved, which might be responsible for some quirky shadows that seem to float off the surface of the field.

Of course the biggest improvement that Ignite brings to the game is the increased number of dynamic animations.   Last-gen versions of FIFA had a fairly limited library of moves that were recycle for a variety of situations, which means things started looking repetitive even when you were doing different plays.  This new engine offers unprecedented variety when it comes to having the players come into contact with the ball and each other.  It doesn’t really affect the gameplay as much as simply providing a much more realistic visual experience.  Some of the subtle movements like a foot roll during a steal can only be appreciated when viewed in slow-motion.  Sadly, the actual character models still look a bit like their last-gen counterparts with dead-eyes and flat, simple textures.

The biggest change for actual gameplay would be in the area of player AI and actual self-awareness; something you’ll quickly realize after your third or fourth failed attempt to slide tackle.   Slide tackles have been the default way to regain possession of the ball, but now that the opposing team is actually aware of not only themselves but you and your crude tactics, they will easily hurdle your incoming charge.  Admittedly, this makes the game a bit more challenging, but in a more realistic way, so you can’t really fault the game for evolving.  FIFA 14 delivers hundreds of new skills and behaviors, including side volleys, first-time screamers, off-balance shots, touch passes, and panic turns when defenders are beaten and for the first time ever, multiple players can contest a ball in the air simultaneously. Ignite is going to eventually make you a better player.

It was also refreshing to see that the ball physics got a serious upgrade to the point where it now seems to exist outside of a player animation sequence.  Before, the ball always seemed to have that invisible tether to the player in control, but now it seems that you are always fighting for possession of the ball rather than having it merely switch sides.

FIFA has 33 leagues, 600 clubs, 47 national teams and over 16,000 players and their stats (many with facial maps and mo-cap). PES has 81 national teams and around 150 clubs – sort of. Most of the teams are pseudonyms like “Man Blue” for Manchester City. That is just staggering.   EA has groups of ‘scouts’ who pour over the FIFA data sets before being published. Those data sets are updated frequently as players are transferred or other changed occur and are available as free downloads in-game.

Also FIFA 14 has their online Creation Centre web app to allow users to fill in the gaps. You can create players, teams or tournaments for anyone to download. Users have created an incredible wealth of teams over the past several years so any of the few teams or leagues that are not licensed in FIFA are available for download. Anything from the Canadian national team to fantasy teams like the Cleveland Force Best XI are available. Historical teams are my favorite to put up against more recent teams just to see how it may have happened – especially old EPL teams featuring Beckham or Cantona.

The Career mode lets you manage or lace up the boots and play out a long career. This year instead of working my way up in England’s FA, I decided to try out playing in Major League Soccer. It’s a different animal – though this season EA decided to make the divisions accurate instead of using a single table like previous years. It was almost as if to say ‘hey, MLS, having a single table like everyone else in the world would be a good thing.’ But they’d probably expect a promotion/relegation system next.

Both management and player career modes are a real joy to play and add even more value to FIFA 14. Simple improvements like having the ability to request to be subbed out of a game are now in FIFA 14 and those little things are what make it special. Previous years I seemed to write more about the limits in sports games, but this year FIFA 14 really rises above most complaints. The great thing about career player or be-a-pro mode is the unique opportunity to teach kids the game. In a tangible way kids (and parents) can learn about offside and the benefits of playing your position. All of these skills translate to online play and even on the real pitch in local leagues.

As with NHL 14, EA has chosen to stick with their commentary teams from the past few years of FIFA and it has given them a large library of recorded names and situations to utilize. The commentary is impressive – even while playing with MLS teams. Martin Tyler and Alan Smith with an alternate duo of Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend are some of the best in the sport and add a new level of realism that Pro Evo just can’t touch. The EA audio team has really captured the game beyond anything we’ve heard before on any console. Tyler even commented that goalies Marcus Hahnemann (Seattle) and Jon Busch (San Jose) may be retiring after this season which has been rumored all year.

Skill games have been completely updated to have even more fun and challenging skill development. Some new variations on last year’s games are included with quite a few more to help develop passing, shooting and goalkeeping skills. It’s surprising how much these games actually do help your normal gameplay especially online against real opponents.

Online modes are continuing to be more engrained in all EA Sports games. FIFA is no exception. It is surprisingly fun to compete online in Ultimate Team or other online activities. But just be aware that at any point you don’t have an internet connection, a significant number of modes will be crippled or completely unusable such as Ultimate Team.

FIFA Ultimate Team is again the big addiction (and money drain) for most players. It uses a trading card interface to let you build a club with multiple teams. All 16,000 licensed players are ranked in bronze, silver or gold monikers and you can buy (with real money) packs of digital cards with various players and skill enhancements.

FIFA 14 Ultimate Team (FUT) has been revamped a little bit this season. Most notably are the chemistry connections between players have been altered. The team formation isn’t such a huge factor anymore and now it’s more about the roles of the player. So now you can get cards with chemistry styles for attackers such as “sniper”, “finisher”, “deadeye”, “marksman”, or “hawk” which upgrades specific offensive attributes like shooting, dribbling, heading or passing. In the end this is probably a better system than last year but getting the right combination of players to make a good team isn’t as easy as it once was. But it is incredibly addictive. Especially when you go up against others online and see how their team chemistry makes their weaker team beat your higher rated team. Thus the money begins to flow.

EA really pulls at all the strings by also having a robust auction system (similar to eBay) in-game that allows you to bid on specific players, consumables (contracts, healing cards etc.), coaches, and club items (logos, uniforms, stadiums, and balls). You earn coins by playing games and improving your skills. You can also sell items. The easiest way to build a team with good chemistry is to target players of the same nationality, league and/or team. While the Wayne Rooney’s of the world are incredibly expensive, you can find the rare deal on Van Persie or other highly rated players occasionally poaching a bid at the last second. EA hits all the major internet addition points with FIFA 14 and will do so again next year because they made it fun and we keep coming back for more.

EA has also updated the EA Football Club iOS companion app for iPhone and iPad. It allows you to manage your club while you are on the road. Everything from buying packs of cards to transfers (auctions) and squad lineups are at your fingertips in this free app. It’s a great little bonus to keep you occupied during lunch breaks at work. Unfortunately the FIFA 14 iOS game is completely separate from consoles so you can’t transfer games or FUT teams between devices. Though it also has Ultimate Team and many of the console features, it’s still a completely separate experience.

FIFA 14 is nearly a perfect sports game experience on Xbox One. The only clear failing in FIFA 14 is the complete lack of women’s teams. Given the Women’s World Cup will be in Canada in 2015 one would expect EA Sports Canada to be working on this long overdue feature for FIFA 15. Even if it’s just a few women’s national teams, it is just time. The addition of women players in Creation Centre would open the gates for a wealth of user created teams from past college, club and national teams. After all, there really isn’t much more EA can do to make FIFA better. They might as well give the users the tools to make something even more special.

While small and mostly superficial, there is no denying that the improvements to FIFA 14 on the Xbox One help make an already great game even better.  Improved stadiums, crowds, and presentation elements help immerse you in this multi-cultural sport while a larger library of dynamic animations help keeps things looking fresh and much more realistic.  Improved AI will deliver more challenging gameplay and force even the most seasoned of players to up their game, and for those who already invested in FIFA 14 on their Xbox 360, EA is providing an easy and affordable upgrade path for not only the main game, but all of your season and Ultimate Team data.

FIFA 14 is one of those rare sports games that has something for every soccer fan, from quick skill games to full league simulations; and all of them with fully licensed leagues and teams.  FIFA 14 is still one of the only franchise games where I actually felt like I got my money’s worth and didn’t really mind putting down a few more bucks for additional Ultimate Team items. It doesn’t get better than this for any soccer fan. FIFA 14 on the Xbox One is the best, most complete sports game you can currently play on this new generation of consoles.

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