Last year’s FIFA 13 was a bit of a disappointment in that it failed to iterate on the previous year’s improvements in any appreciable ways. Like many sports games released over the past few years, FIFA 13 left the impression that the series was standing still — biding its time for the inevitable next-gen jump.
And now that the next-gen jump is almost upon us, and FIFA 14 is available for all to consume, recommending the current-gen iteration becomes all the more challenging. But, despite the knowledge a crisper version of FIFA 14 is right around the corner, EA Sports has still made some improvements to the current-gen version that make it worth recommending.
For starters, the on-the-field play feels greatly improved for FIFA 14. While dribbling, passing, friendly and enemy AI, and shooting have all found a nice sweet spot, the way players jostled for position always felt a bit lacking. In FIFA 14, that has all changed, with players now able to muscle their way to the ball even if a defender cuts them off. It’s a detail that might go unnoticed by some, but one that goes a long way into improving the realism of the game.
Speaking of realism, a big change for this year — at least one that soccer fans will notice — is the way player physics work when shooting. Now, the game will take into account the trajectory and speed of the player to determine what type of shot they are capable of getting off and what animation to use. For example, if a player stumbles before a shot they will lose significant power and they might end up throwing their whole body into a shot, which makes it more difficult for them to field any potential rebounds. It’s another subtle touch for FIFA 14, but one that fans will appreciate for the realism it adds.
Additionally, the decision to tone down last year’s first touch mechanic, and to add a new “Protect the Ball” button makes it so players aren’t constantly turning the ball over the second it reaches them. Players can now more easily collect a past in stride and turn up field without worrying about the ball jumping 5 yards in front of them.
Aside from that, though, FIFA 14 is a mostly recognizable experience, especially to owners of FIFA 13. That isn’t to say the game is lacking, only that there aren’t many big changes, save for those previously mentioned — and those aren’t necessarily justification enough for another yearly purchase.
At the same time, some of the finicky issues that have plagued FIFA in the past are still present this year, including inconsistent player auto-switching and a wide difficulty gap between the “Semi Pro” (Medium) and “Professional” (Hard) levels. On Semi Pro, for example, players can score at will, as the AI barely poses any threat on offense or defense. Yet on Professional, things escalate to a real match, but one that, for the novice player, will be extremely challenging. There’s little middle ground for newcomers to develop their skills without getting hosed every match.
All the usual suspects for modes have returned as well, from Be a Pro, to Career, to FIFA Ultimate Team. As with this year’s Madden, Ultimate Team adds a new chemistry mechanic that increases the viability of a team based on individual player associations. However, in FIFA 14 those associations are boiled down to whether two players are from the same country, club, or league, not their play style. So, matching up a player from the MLS with a like-minded counterpart from the Premier League doesn’t boost the Ultimate Team’s chemistry. It’s a strange way to use the mechanic and, to be honest, players will have better success if they simply go after the most skilled footballers.
With the next-gen version of FIFA 14 a little less than two months away, gamers have a difficult choice to make: pick up the game now or wait to see what improvements the next-gen offers. After significant time with FIFA 14 it’s hard to recommend the game to anyone but the most die-hard fans, as the improvements are subtle and don’t fundamentally change the gameplay. The modes have been tweaked and adjusted, but, again, there isn’t anything to justify the $60 price tag for owners of last year’s game.
That being said, the gameplay in FIFA 14 is much more refined when compared to FIFA 13, so those who do pick up the game will find a more enjoyable experience overall. Not to mention the realism that the collisions and shooting add to the proceedings make the game look as close to real soccer as it ever has. But two subtle, but in my opinion needed, improvements aren’t going to outweigh a lot of the same-ness that pervades the game overall. Picking up FIFA 14 now won’t leave gamers dissatisfied, but it might be worth waiting to see what the next-gen has to offer.
Have you had a chance to check out FIFA 14? What do you think of the game? Let us know in the comments below.
FIFA 14 is out now for the PC, PS2, PS3, Vita, Wii, and Xbox 360. Game Rant was provided the Xbox 360 version for this review.
Follow Anthony on Twitter @ANTaormina.