For the past three years, I have entered the Electronic Arts E3 booth, headed into a special area dedicated to EA Sports, and got hands-on time with the next iteration in the FIFA franchise. And for the past three years, I’ve struggled to put my experience with the game into words.

While a lot of games on the E3 2013 show floor are guided walkthroughs accompanied by developer narration, the FIFA 14 hands-on demo is a full match. Players can hop onto the pitch as a limited number of teams, and experience a full game as if they were in their living room.

Obviously, getting extensive hands-on time with an EA Sports title is important to understanding the experience, but these types of demos are decidedly lacking on contextual explanations. It’s like describing a car’s engine without looking under the hood.

That being said, FIFA 14 still feels like FIFA in every single way. There are subtle touches that I thought might be at play – better AI defending, smarter offensive movements, and more intuitive player switching – but it was hard to tell how much of that is “new,” and how much is just more evident this time around.

What is most definitely evident is the game’s new touch-on mechanic, which builds upon the “first touch” mechanic from FIFA 13. In my FIFA 13 review, I cited the first-touch mechanic as a bit of a nuisance, as it inadvertently sends the ball shooting forward any time a player started sprinting.

FIFA 14 PS3 Gameplay

Touch-on, on the other hand, reacts based on context. If a player is jogging they will tap the ball forward lightly, keeping it close by. That way opponents can’t sprint in and snag the ball so quickly.

Another new feature for FIFA 14 is the simplified trick moves. Now players only need to flick the right stick instead of also holding the left trigger. A very simple detail, but one that will go a long way into making on-the-pitch play look and feel realistic.

Aside from that, though, the game plays as fans hope it does, but it’s still too early to tell how big a leap it is over FIFA 13. The version EA Sports had on display was the current gen version, so even in the visuals department we couldn’t see that much of an improvement.

So, from a current gen perspective, FIFA 14 has some nice touches and flourishes, but it’s not the big leap forward that some of the previous entries have been. Maybe when we see more of FIFA 14 on PS4 or Xbox One, or actually play it, that perspective might change.

What are your expectations for FIFA 14? What does Electronic Arts need to improve from last year?

FIFA 14 launches September 14, 2013 for PS2, PS3, 3DS, PSP, Vita, Wii, PC, and Xbox 360 – with a Xbox One and PS4 release to follow later this year.

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