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A football sim should be just that, an experience aimed at emulating the real life emotion, physics, and all around entertainment of an authentic match. EA attempts to achieve this annually with each new release in their FIFA franchise, and FIFA 14 delivers the most convincing bid yet.
Before stepping onto the pitch the changes made this year are apparent. After an inspirational introduction, in part thanks to the narration by Sir Patrick Stewart, those familiar with the series will notice the interface has shifted into a tiled format, displaying the various modes and menus for easier access than the antiquated menu, sub-menu, sub-sub-menu format that tucked away so many things in the past. As far as modes go, nothing new has really been added since FIFA 13, where popular modes such as Ultimate Team, Career Mode, and Pro Clubs all see a return alongside the Skill Games and casual Kick-Off mode for the countless exhibition matches for those looking to play with friends or against an AI with complete control over the settings.
After lacing up your boots and enjoying the pregame presentation that introduces the players, lineups, and other various points of interests about the two teams that resemble what you would see when watching a televised match, the clock starts and you’ll soon realize just how much the game has changed.
It's All About Realism & Control
FIFA is notorious for removing and adding features each iteration that really didn’t enhance the gameplay due to being difficult to take advantage of or being trumped by an already existing, more efficient feature. Often these features are just repackaged old features with slight tweaks and are marketed as new and revolutionary. For once, however, they actually work and quickly find themselves as an integral part of each match. It wasn’t difficult in the past to find a squad full of world beaters. Simply find a squad with plenty of pace and you’re golden. Everyone had the touch of Ronaldinho, the vision and passing of Xavi, and the eye for goal of a top class striker, regardless of their proficiency in these areas. It produced a very unrealistic feel and made giant-killing all the more common in-game.
Real ball physics, though toted as one of the key updates last year, actually works this year. Controlling the lob in traffic when somebody switches the field of play and jumping onto that pass while being swarmed are no longer guaranteed to instantly glue the ball to your feet, allowing quick movements to quickly escape with ease. Mistakes happen in the world of football, and the same random chance mistakes find themselves in-game as well. Even those with the best control don’t always bring the ball down expertly, and when running onto a ball your speed really will dictate how heavy of a touch you’ll have. Shielding the ball to retain possession has been greatly improved, with a players strength actually having a purpose. Pacey wingers and strikers can be quickly neutralized by stronger opponents out-muscling them. Controlling possession all over the pitch utilizes the feature and forces to players to alter the winning formula they’ve found success with in the past.
Couple these two features with the momentum and life-like turns and movements players now have and it can easily be seen just how different FIFA 14 plays compared to its predecessors. Sprinting down the field with the ball practically attached to your boot, followed by a quick reversal of direction and continual dancing around defenders in the box just won’t happen. The ball will be pushed out in front a bit more allowing defenders to swoop in, your momentum makes the stop and change of direction more difficult to catch opponents off guard with, and the closer you get to the defenders in the box the more likely you are to be out muscled and lose possession.
The controls have been tweaked a bit where skill moves no longer incorporate the use of L2/LT, while the others have largely remained untouched. The quick throw-in feature has been updated to be more forgiving and as such players will use it more often, cutting down the time between the ball going in and out of play. All of these additions balance out the flow of the game, where the tempo isn’t as fast paced as players will have to work to retain possession and build up play through their midfield, much like we see in a real match.
Much can still be improved in regards to the gameplay though, and it doesn’t take but a few matches to figure out what can be abused. Now that the players have to go through the full range of movements, wrong-footing defenders is still an easier task, even with the looser control. The real ball physics have added a number of movements on the ball and has actually made it much easier to score and cross the ball with world-class players. The ball placement mechanisms are similar to FIFA 12, where you can finesse shot a ball in from 30+ yards out with ease using the right players, and crossing the ball into a player with high strength makes it easier to get position and finish with power. This makes the ideal forward not only fast, but strong as well. Similarly, the AI is still able to play lob balls with the perfect weight, hitting their attackers in stride as they run past your offside-trap, regardless of the skill level and talent level of players they are using. I’ve noticed the defensive AI of the back line can still suffer from a mental lapse, where instead of closing down on an attacker they just let them slip in between for a one-on-one opportunity. The updated use of strength combined with the physics results in an increase of collisions, often with the smaller players being easily bullied and occasionally this brings the ire of the referee, giving away silly fouls, bookings, and even penalties!
The gameplay as a whole has been greatly improved and it feels like a completely new game. It’s refreshing that the overpowered trait from the past installments now can be countered somewhat, though at the same time, there is room for improvement in problems that also plagued past versions as well as achieving just a bit more balance in the updates we see in FIFA 14.
What's New in Game Modes?
Pro Seasons and Pro Clubs, where you can test your skills online either as an entire team or playing as a specific created player on a created club, didn’t have any noticeable differences. The Skill Games mode had some new challenges to conquer under the familiar format of bronze, silver, gold, and skill challenge. Most notable was the goalkeeper skill challenge, which takes you through saving penalties, to accurately playing balls back to your team, to even saving as many shots as possible, coming from all different angles at various speeds, with each shot coming after the last was saved or scored. This skill challenge level in particular was actually one of the more entertaining parts of this arcade styled mode as I watched my keeper make dive after dive, save after save, barely with enough time to recover after each shot. Making him frantically scramble to allow as few goals as possible was surprisingly fun.
Career mode has still left out the ability to be a player-manager, something many fans miss from FIFA 12 and before. At the core, the mode has not changed much and continues to take you on the path of your career as a player or a manager, putting you in control of a number of options off and on the pitch. International competition sees a return, and with the upcoming World Cup the international management offers seem a bit more frequent, considering you only have a season to sign to one if you’re aiming to participate in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. This mode greatly benefits from the new tiled menus, and even provides options to switch between various formations, tactics, and player roles without having to jump through hoops just to switch your captain or set piece taker like before. Just as well, you can now view your mailbox at any time, including the ability to archive important emails.
The big update in career mode comes from the manager side of things, with the addition of the Global Transfer Network. Alongside the youth scouting system, a new crop of scouts can seek out players in other leagues around the world, with the option to dedicate a scout to a specific player they report back to you with if you choose to do so. This reveals the talent elsewhere in a more realistic way, as you aren’t always going to be able to know everything about every player in the world. The tile system again shows its advantages here, with the ability to filter out just what you’re looking for in regards to age, specific or general position, and qualities in the player in a much more organized, mapped out overview. Transfers themselves have been slightly updated, now with the option to disallow offers on specific players, including from an already existing transfer offer to prevent any further. For those annoyed with the constant transfer offers for your star players that you had to reject daily, this saves you from wasting what adds up to be hours of time each transfer window. Sadly the blockbuster deals are still rampant, with star players jumping from team to team without any real reason. Another knock is the lag between menus is still present, with loading times slow as ever.
FIFA Ultimate Team, a mode that combines a trading-card game system with RPG elements and the sport we love, also has a few tweaks to complement a larger update. Minor things include the ability to now assign player roles and change kit numbers of your players, as well as twice as many divisions to climb through, adding a bit more longevity as players fight for promotion and stave off relegation. The transfer market now allows users to search for a specific player by last name, saving the time of having to fill out all of the filters and still be left with more than one player popping up. Also, when viewing your squad you can transition straight into the transfer market search, without having to back out, change menus, and then filling out filters there. It’s the little things that count sometimes, and the added conveniences here are something that can be appreciated by those who invest heavily into this addicting mode.
Chemistry Styles are the big change to Ultimate Team this year, adding another layer of depth to team building and actually integrating chemistry into a much more obvious form. Every player starts out with the Basic chemistry style, which can increase all stats of the player slightly dependent on his chemistry level. This encourages users to slot players into their preferred positions alongside other players from their league or country to achieve as high of a chemistry rating as possible to reap the benefits. Other chemistry styles focus specifically on certain stats, such as Sniper which focuses its bonuses on the shooting and dribbling stats, allowing up to three additional points in those areas to boost the overall value of the player. Different chemistry styles can be mixed and matched in an attempt to benefit your particular gameplay habits, potentially increasing how effective your team can be.
EA Sports’ latest venture into the football sim world is far from perfect. They are still missing some of the more talented teams and popular leagues around the world, leaving some quality players out of the game entirely. The gameplay suffers from silly mistakes from the AI, the servers are still frustrating with random disconnections, and graphically it is difficult to differentiate when compared to its predecessor. With that said, FIFA 14 has made great strides in achieving a more realistic style of play that no longer feels completely recycled, and even with only changes to old modes as opposed to the introduction of new ones, it still manages to pack enough entertainment and enjoyment to warrant a purchase for any football fan around the world.
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