FIFA 14 was all the buzz at Germany’s gaming extravaganza two weeks ago. Quite literally, actually: research from Way to Blue showed that 41 percent of Twitter, blog and online mentions from Gamescom were about FIFA 14. Unsurprising considering Europe’s infatuation with EA Sports’ all-dominating sports franchise. But there might be another reason whyFIFA 14 was the talk of the show: its showing on next generation consoles is a genuine leap above its 2013 predecessor, and a major roadblock in PES 2014’s campaign to regain the genre crown.
Now, it’s important to note that FIFA 14 on Xbox One doesn’t feel all that different from the current-gen versions. It feels undoubtedly “FIFA”, with the same refined, smooth gameplay carried over to a crisper, cleaner presentation that is, while not the best representation of the graphical prowess of the Xbox One, still a visual leap on current gen hardware.
The changes are marketed as being significant, but for the veteran FIFA player, they’re subtle refinements that are noticeable and impressive, and hopefully a sign of what’s in store for the franchise moving forward in 2014 and beyond.
“The key things we wanted to achieve across all systems was the build up and the enjoyment of scoring amazing goals,” FIFA 14 executive producer David Rutter told me. “That’s our little mantra.”
Having played 10-or-so matches on Xbox One, FIFA 14’s True Player Motion an attempt to alter a player’s response to positioning, rather than simply go through the motions via pre-determined animations is the key process in executing a satisfying, engaging and fresh FIFA experience. It’s not that the new technology completely overhauls how FIFA 14 plays and feels for the player, but rather than it puts far more emphasis on positioning and decisions relative to the context of match.
“It’s easier to start a sprint, but harder to stop … which is the same as real life,” Rutter quipped.
This sort of player refinement had been making slow progress over the years, but it’s clear that the power of Xbox One has allowed Rutter and his team to delve deep into the hopeful progress of realistic virtual football. FIFA 14 still plays like the definitive football sim, yet it’s somehow managed to, once again, up the ante.
Seeing a player trap a fast pass with their feet, or control a high ball with their chest hardly revolutionary implementations provide FIFA 14 with the satisfying gameplay features that make the experience feel decisively more realistic, and deeply engaging. Player weight and momentum both have specific influence on how a player responds to ball and opponent positioning, and there’s far more reliance on both player skill and speed at the moment of the pass that determine the effectiveness of the play. Previously you could rely on any player no matter what the skill being able to control, sprint and avoid an opponent, all the while smoothly kicking on their opposite foot, but in FIFA 14 the changes come in balancing the competitiveness with realistic player values, momentum and ball physics.
Interestingly, it took me a few matches to really notice the difference these additions make. I didn’t have to alter how I played a match, but I did need to be wary of how I used previously-exploited gameplay mechanics, especially sprinting.
“You can use sprinting to beat your opponent, but you might mess up once you get the ball, so we wanted to reign in that whole movement and sprinting cross-mechanic in together,” said Rutter. What he means is at the core of the True Player Motion philosophy: movement is still flexible in its execution, but not anywhere near as forgivable. It doesn’t slow the game down or make it harder, but it does a great job of demanding your attention whenever there’s a loose ball.
In this instance there’s the capacity to decelerate, just as easily as you can and have been able to accelebrate since FIFA’s debut almost 20 years ago. ”It allows you to maintain possession far more effectively than you would have done in the past,” Rutter told me. It does, because rather than have the controlled player kick the ball ahead relative to their speed often leaving the ball vulnerable to interception you can stop far more fluently and still maintain ball control, although this is of course different from player to player, depending on their overall skill.
EA Sports has ramped up its marketing rhetoric with FIFA 14’s environmental changes, improvements and influences. There is a much larger focus on crowds, sound and player emotions, and the stadium certainly plays into how you the player take in the entire experience. In NBA 2K13 players respond to good play with free-falling momentum, allowing them to more passionately dive for balls, hit tough shots and lock down on defense. While the crowd in FIFA 14 doesn’t influence the game in a mechanical sense, the cosmetic touches certainly had an affect on how I played the game.
“The crowd has an impact on your emotions,” Rutter told me. “We wanted to used the stadium to help emphasis what’s going on in a match. “
My experience showed that the crowd definitely does change my emotional drive throughout the experience: during a 1-1 match and time winding down, the crowd became noticeably louder, particularly for well-performing players. It pushed me to rush the ball forward and play an aggressively offensive game. If Rutter and his team were hoping to shape a player’s emotions with environmental changes, it worked momentarily for me.
After having played FIFA 14, I couldn’t help but compare it to Konami’s rehashed and ambitious redefining of PES. I welcomed the changes in the latter, saying it felt like a much-needed reinvigoration for a tiring franchise. But something’s amiss: it lacks the enjoyment, refinement and exhilaration that a FIFA 14 match can provide. I thought I knew how far PES 2014 had come, but now it seems to be more behind the ball than ever before.
FIFA 14 won’t go to great lengths to redefine the series, but its next-gen entry does go above and beyond other versions. With its silky smooth gameplay and refined touches, next-gen FIFA 14 will be the must-have sports game to own.
But I probably didn’t need to tell you that.