While many had already made the jump to next-gen with FIFA 14, even more soccer fans – having previously been burned by the first sports title on a new generation – decided to bide their time until FIFA 15 came around. They hoped that, much like Madden NFL 15, this year's FIFA iteration would be a significant leap forward for the franchise, and proof that its legacy would continue on new platforms. We are happy to report that FIFA 15 is that leap forward and is easily one of the best playing soccer experiences EA Sports has ever delivered.
FIFA 15 looks and plays better than it ever has, but most of the key changes for this year's game are subtle in nature. That's been a running theme with EA Sports for a while now, but here is where those singular ideas coalesce into tangible improvements. Soccer fans want a game that feels genuine and authentic, and FIFA 15 hits that mark in stride. And strangely it all starts with the field.
This year's FIFA adds what the developers are calling the living pitch, a first for the franchise and a subtle element that goes a long way towards reinforcing the realism of play. As the name suggests, the living pitch reacts to the incidental wear and tear that comes from a 90-minute match. Slide across the pitch at a sprinting defender, for example, and a long crease will appear in the player's wake. And by the end of play, the field will actually look like a real game has been played on it. It's such a tiny detail, but one that will make gamers stop and marvel at just how good this game looks.
Similarly, the player models have been further upgraded for next-gen. Players' jerseys flow as if they are made of real fabric, and the facial detail is staggering. More importantly, player animations have been tweaked to look more realistic in jog or sprint, and most of the awkward collisions have been traded for contextual tackles that mimic real life. EA Sports has also introduced a new dribbling system that gives greater control to gamers. In past years, dribbling at a full sprint has been a hit-or-miss proposition, but FIFA 15's new system keeps players' touches under control. There are still a few awkward cuts here and there, but for the most part players animations blend together better than ever.
Player AI has also been bumped up to suit a more realistic on-field experience. With FIFA 15's new Emotional Intelligence system, AI players will react to given situations much like they would in a real game. They will complain to the ref if he misses a call, or they will play more aggressively after losing a tough challenge. Even some players will stop mid-stride, knowing full well they've earned the foul.
Building off that, team tactics will adapt to suit different scenarios, like becoming more aggressive when down one goal or cradling the ball when up. It's a slight change that only becomes apparent at certain points in the game, but helps give each match an ebb and flow. So much so, that a natural tension sets in when injury time begins. That isn't to say that players have become smarter across the board – there are still those head-scratching AI moments – but the players at least feel a little more like real human beings. Granted, some gamers will have gripes with the system, but it's hard to deny it reinforces the realism.
Field players aren't the only ones getting some much-needed attention either; FIFA 15 has completely revamped the goalkeeper AI to be less of a hindrance and more of an advantage. Keepers are smarter across the board – reacting quicker and making impressive saves – and instilling confidence in the gamer. There are a few flaws in the AI, specifically in the way keepers continually deflect shots back at opponents rather than catch them, but the keepers as a whole are a vast improvement over past years'.
That's all to say, that FIFA 15's presentation is superb across the board. There is no single element in this year's game that feels less-than or overly broken. Even the instant replays and post-game video packages are more polished this year, if a bit stiff in their transitions from one to the other. Needless to say, when it comes to on-field soccer, there's no better option than this right now.
Given that a lot of the attention for this year's game was focused on visuals, presentation, and gameplay, it's not too surprising that the modes have remained relatively stagnant. All the usual suspects are here, from Career to FIFA Ultimate Team, but most of the changes for FIFA 15 are slight. There's an option to loan players in FUT, but it's certainly not a game-changer. Same goes for the ability to set different team lineups and switch between them on the fly in Career. Those who were satisfied with last year's modes with be equally pleased here, but know that the big changes are nowhere to be found.
Ultimately, recommending FIFA 15 comes down to where gamers stand with the series. Those who skipped last year's game in the hopes that this would be the must-have next-gen experience will be dooly rewarded with a better looking and better playing game. Similarly, any fans who have fallen off the wagon will come away impressed by the package EA Sports has put together. However, since FIFA 14 was no slouch it's hard to say FIFA 15 is a definitive must own. The lack of new modes or significant changes to those modes is disappointing, and we suspect those areas will be getting some attention next year. And the keeper and team AI will only get better a second year out.
Even so, FIFA 15 is enough of an all around improvement to be worth the $60 purchase. It truly is impressive how great the game looks, and it plays even better. If the goal was to prove that FIFA is only pushing forward in the next-gen then mission accomplished.
Have you had a chance to play FIFA 15? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
FIFA 15 is available now for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One. Game Rant was provided the PS4 version for this review.
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