Review: FIFA 14
It's that time of the year again, and FIFA is back. FIFA 14 had quite a challenge laid out for it as we felt FIFA 13 was refined and well executed. Does 14 continue to take this series in the right direction?
- Worth The Time?Difficult to say if you invested heavily in FIFA 13.
- Things LovedThe new ball physics make the experience feel more authentic, new menus are visually attractive, great soundtrack, pretty graphics.
- Things HatedThe game has many frustrations, gameplay feels slow as does response time, frequent and severe AI bugs and general glitches, your strikers/forwards seem to live offside, in Career mode it feels like most teams are on ultra defensive limiting freedom and enjoyment, the game seems to restrict free flowing play, new Scouting system in career mode is a pain, the menus lag like hell (team management is almost unbearable) and loading times are unforgivably irritating.
- RecommendationI honestly had a much better time with FIFA 13. This iteration does not seem worth the upgrade. If you're someone who buys FIFA every year regardless, I doubt anything will trip you up here, but to those who care about each iteration, this one is a real misstep.
- Name: FIFA 14
- Genre: Sports
- Players: 1-7
- Multiplayer: 2-22
- Platforms: All, PS4, Xbox One
- Developer: EA Canada
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Price: R345 (PC), R559-600 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
It’s another year and another FIFA, said every reviewer, journalist and human being in the world ever, and if I have to be blunt I don’t think many people care for reviews of this game, reviewers themselves included. Usually I’d be quick to get easily excited for the next FIFA and pick it up as soon as possible and have a blast with friends, I mean you know it’s going to be a good time, but FIFA 14 is perhaps the first game in the series where I’ve actually gotten over it in about a week, and its flaws are just too severe for me to enjoy it for all the time I spend with it. There’s just something disturbingly off about this new title, both subtle and blatant, and I’ve been wracking my brains thinking how to convey it all without sounding obscenely nitpicky. Let’s start with the big stuff, shall we? That would be easier.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that FIFA 14 packs new and very sleek menu screens. They’ve been refined and everything looks pretty, plus there’s a great soundtrack to boot. This would usually inspire happy feelings, but if you’re one to jump into career mode right away or spend time navigating the menus, you’ll be treated to the mother of all lag fests. Seriously, it’s damn near unforgivable how much this game lags and delays when navigating menus. If you don’t believe me try, in career mode, to change up your squad in team management. That is an exercise in sheer, hair-pulling torture. This game is poorly optimised. Honestly. In-game, it runs smoothly (if we discount all the bugs which I’ll get to later) and is very playable, but outside of matches, the menus are an absolute pain to navigate, and it gets to the point where at times you feel like you’re spending more time battling the menus than actually playing. Perhaps that’s why the developers chose to make the menus more pretty.
Career Mode is mostly the same, but the big change is in the new Global Scouting Network, which changes up the entire way you do transfer business. In previous titles, you could simply search for the players you wanted, see their overall ratings and decide on your purchase, but now you actually have to buy and deploy scouts around the world for that purpose. You can’t see player overall ratings and unless you know the real world qualities of the players you want, you have to use scouts. You can have your scouts give you reports on individual players, track their progress, find out prices, or source potential talent. While it all sounds very simulation-like and interesting on paper, in-game it honestly can prove to be a pain. When the qualities of a particular player should be pretty well known (for example, Messi, you don’t need a scout to tell you his quality), it can be irritating to be blocked from seeing a FIFA rating for this player and their stats to determine if they’re needed in your squad. It’s basically like extra hoops have been added, and it arguably does not make the experience more enjoyable. I don’t know how hardcore you are, but it was always nicer to simply buy players and get on with it, and this seems rather unnecessary, as though it’s for simulation junkies.
But it’s the gameplay for me where FIFA 14 reveals its largest failures, or at least the unfortunate steps that it took backwards. It’s difficult to decide where to start, but perhaps the best place would be with the new gameplay features. FIFA 14 boasts Pure Shot, Protect The Ball, Real Ball Physics and Teammate Intelligence as its latest advancements. Pure Shot has transformed the shooting mechanics, and players now have shooting intelligence and adjust accordingly to find the best position to strike, and they can also shoot while off balance or rushed. Protect The Ball allows you to fend off and block defenders from the ball while dribbling as well as shelter the ball from opponents to control play in the midfield and dictate the tempo. Real Ball Physics is basically what it sounds like, as it strives to provide authentic ball control and movement and improve realism such as with shooting from long distances. Lastly, Teammate Intelligence claims to improve the AI and deliver better decision-making from your teammates, smarter marking and improved run tracking. All good so far, right?
While these core features sound like good, solid improvements, the execution has not quite been right. To focus on the positive first, Real Ball Physics has definitely made the experience more authentic, and made it more satisfying to strike and pass the ball. It feels more weighted and more realistic. However, the other features haven’t quite worked out so well for the game. Starting with the fact that the gameplay just feels really slow. Even when you turn game speed on fast, the pacing is just uncharacteristically slow. On top of that, response time feels somewhat off at times, as players don’t seem to pass or shoot at the time that you want them to. This is possibly due to the more realistic ball control and such, but it often results in annoyingly losing possession or wasting a chance because your player took two seconds too long to carry out your command. On top of this, FIFA 14 has this bizarre thing where players, especially strikers, in possession of the ball seem confusingly slow even in full sprint, and this was emphasised when my pacey striker was caught up to by an aged defender despite getting the jump on a through ball and having a head start.
But the absolute worst offender is in the way the game seems to play out from match to match, in that the finesse has been reduced significantly. I played a massive number of matches with my brother during the week, versus as well as on the same team against the AI in career mode. In Career Mode, it was freakishly apparent that nearly every team played on ultra defensive or something, and sat back with six or so defenders, making it very hard to break them down. This is not alien, as it does happen in the premier league against the strong teams sometimes, but when you play seven or eight league matches and every team plays like this, parking the bus, it becomes a chore and a painful test of endurance. I don’t know if it’s the new defender AI or what, but only rarely against a top team did they choose to attack rather than defend. In versus, the new midfield system in general often leads to very cagey matches, despite a vast assortment of formations and teams being selected. Most of our games resulted in attacks going through on the wing or lobbed passes over the top because breaking down defenses and trying to pass and move like, say, Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona or Bayern Munich, ended in frequent mess ups, often due to poor ball control by players or imprecise passing.
When playing with non-top teams, such as Everton or Swansea or West Brom for examples, I found that more goals could be scored in general most likely due to weaker defending and goalkeepers, although arguably these games were more intense as a result. However, the same problems remained. Other problems include dribbling, which feels more heavy and slow and kind of like a lottery, in that your attempts often result in you losing possession to a defender your opponent isn’t even in control of or you performing an amazing skill move. In past FIFA titles, nudging the right analogue stick allowed you to knock the ball on for bypassing defenders or increasing acceleration, but now it’s for skill moves, so it takes a bit of getting used to having to tap sprint and nudge the right analogue to knock on. I’m not a fan of the new corner camera, as it’s now quite hard to see where your defenders, or attackers for that matter, are positioned when one is taken, making it hard to defend them. On that note, FIFA 14 takes the other extreme when it comes to headers. In FIFA 13, headers were very difficult to score, but in FIFA 14 they seem a bit too easy, with goals off corners happening very frequently.
Then there are plenty of bugs and glitches, especially with the AI that can be repeatedly observed. One of the most glaring and irritating things about the AI is offsides, as they occur constantly. It often feels like your strikers live offside, and I’ve seen it enough times that, when I’m trying to make an attack, they’ll be strolling back onside with no urgency whatsoever, meaning I’m unable to pass to them, or they’ll blatantly run offside or just be offside for no reason at all. When I first got the game, before a patch came out, there was quite an annoying issue as well that happened practically every match, where your players closest to the ball just wouldn’t get selected when the ball came in from a lobbed pass or through ball, leading to massive defensive failures. After the patch, that got reduced by a large amount, but I still find issues with defending in general. They’ll pick their moments to disappear entirely when needed, or make poor clearances or just have AI mess ups that can cause bad problems for you. Once I was about to make a clearance after an attack on my goal, and another one of my defenders collided with and tackled my player in possession, giving the ball away which lead to a shot on my goal.
Overall, it strongly feels that, while there are some good ideas here, in the effort to make the game more realistic, much of the fun was sacrificed. At times it really feels as though the game was designed by a bunch of separate groups who just shoved it all together at the end in order to complete the product, with little attention given to how it all works in unison. I have enjoyed every FIFA since FIFA 09 religiously for years, with me only playing casually before that, and I have to say that this is the one I have enjoyed the least out of them all. I truly felt that FIFA 12 was an awesome step forward, FIFA 13 was a great refinement and a sure improvement, and now FIFA 14 is just an unfortunate step backwards. It’s difficult to pin it all down to specifics, but I think in a nutshell it is perhaps simplest to say that the new elements and gameplay features just don’t come together in a coherent package, and it just feels like something is bizarrely off about this title. I mean, it’s happened with numerous FIFAs before that after months of playing flaws start to reveal themselves more often, but they were always enjoyable. In FIFA 14, after a week I was pretty much taken back in surprise, and after two I was over it.
To talk about the online component for a little bit, there’s a brand new mode in the form of co-op seasons, which is a pretty great new feature. Basically, you can team up with a friend online to play against two other friends in 2v2 ranked online play. You can start from the bottom and make your way to the top of Division One, win a League Title and basically grow and evolve together. Aside from this feature, which is definitely a welcome addition for FIFA families and groupies, the online mode has remained mostly the same, so there’s not a whole lot to say there. There haven’t been huge changes here, or in Career Mode or in Ultimate Team for that matter, but to speak a little about that last one, there has been streamlining fortunately, which makes navigation more user-friendly, and there have been various additions, such as allowing you to change kit numbers and set-piece takers as well as apply chemistry styles to players to boost performances. Not revolutionary, but welcome I’d say.
FIFA 14’s new Ignite Engine will only be used in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game, in order to introduce new graphical and gameplay features, so there’s nothing to talk about as far as that is concerned. Not yet anyway, but hopefully this will bode well for the next generation versions of the game. Just as a side note, the PC version won’t have the Ignite Engine, because reasons. However, that aside, FIFA 14 on current generation consoles is visually attractive and has a very smooth and clean look to it that’s easy on the eyes. The lighting has been particularly improved, especially at night time in stadiums, and I have nothing major to complain about with regards to graphics. It’s flashy yet simple, and will please most football and FIFA fans. The weather effects also look a bit better.
In the end, FIFA 14 has some good ideas behind it, but unfortunately the execution leaves much to be desired, the goal of realistic gameplay came at the cost of fun and there are many severe technical failings that make it beyond frustrating to play much too often. It’s a step back from a really great and refined FIFA 13, but it’s doubtful that this will stop many from buying it for the roster updates alone and because, hey, it’s FIFA. However, I had a much better time with both FIFA 13 and even its predecessor FIFA 12, and this iteration does not seem worth the upgrade if you invested heavily in the last one. If you’re someone who buys FIFA every year regardless, I doubt anything will trip you up here, but to those who care, this one is a real misstep, and the drawing board needs to be consulted for next year.
I mean, sure, it’s FIFA and you can still enjoy it easy enough with friends, but as a long-time fan, it’s a bad apple. Maybe the PS4 and Xbox One versions will be better. We can always hope.