By Steve Wright
FIFA fans, I envy you this year. If you're impatient, you've a current-gen football game that you can dive head-first into right this second. Or, if you're so inclined, you can wait until the Xbox One or the PS4 and get some EA IGNITE-powered sporting goodness on a next-gen console. Either way, you're spoilt for choice, unlike your NHL-playing brethren (though, I promise that's the last time I'll complain about that).
This year's PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of FIFA 14 are full of fire, but weren't sparked by IGNITE (sorry, couldn't resist). Instead, our current-gen versions of the game use the same engine as FIFA 13. This isn't cause for worry, as we all should know by now that the game is rock-solid and EA basically spend their time tweaking and improving game mechanics year after year after year. So, let's get into what's changed.
It looks like there's been a real push this year to include hyper-realistic moments of randomness and unpredictability. Improved physics mean that players have momentum and can't stop on a dime or turn in tight arcs, especially with the ball. As a result, strategies that have been relied upon for years need to be rethought; this levels the playing field for new players and livens the game up for those who've returned for another go. Players also make mistakes which can't really be planned on; a bad header here, a botched kick there… or more often in my case, ridiculously awful passes mean that you'll always have to be thinking on your toes.
This realism is welcome and not. Those random happenings I mentioned? They usually resulted in a goal for my opposing team. Or, in other words, they usually resulted in zero fun for me whatsoever. Those occurrences do make the game seem more true-to-life... until they keep happening over and over in the same game. If I was playing in real-life? Yep. Those things would definitely happen. I'd expect more from professional stars, though. Still, complaining aside, these changes to FIFA simply mean I need to reassess and rework my game plans and play a bit safer to compensate. Practice makes perfect, and I'll eventually get there.
Not all in-game realism is bad realism. The game's collision engine is better than ever, and players go crashing to the ground in amazingly unique and gorgeous ways. Similarly, the game's shooting system has been reworked; the ball seems to actually have some life injected into it this year. It dips, dives and dodges, according to the power of your shot and the position it left your foot. It's neat to go into instant replay and see where things went wrong. Or, oh-so-right.
Like in NHL 14, most of the game's action is found in Football Ultimate Team. You purchase card packs to build your team, and playing through games and game modes help to earn in-game currency to do so. Being able to accrue that currency without being chained to FUT was very welcome, especially considering I kept getting stomped in online play, no matter how good my own team was. Again, blame the player there, not the game.
When all is said and done, however, this game isn’t the next-gen IGNITE affair we've had bashed over our heads for months. This game is – as per usual – a very high-quality affair, but I expect most gamers are like myself and just hanging out to see how football on Xbox One and PS4 will look and play. Until then, this is a very nice stop-gap sports title.
Under two months to go, sports fans.