FIFA 14: It?s the next generation of footy games. The Ignite engine! PS4, Xbox One! That?s all we?re interested in now, surely. Not another iteration - the ninth on this generation of consoles - of the same old FIFA.
After all, what more can they possibly do with it on Xbox 360 and PS3, right? Apparently quite a bit as it turns out...
I was invited to spend a day with a 60% complete build of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game at EA?s HQ in Guildford. Over the course of umpteen mostly enthralling matches I got to see for myself how some of the headline features are set to further enhance FIFA?s
standing as a simulation of Association Football.
The most apparent to me were the improvements to player animation. Referred to by the game?s producers (see my interview with one them a bit later) as ?locomotion reinvented?, this system, two years in development, adheres more accurately then previous FIFAs
to real world considerations such as weight and momentum to give a greater sense of physicality.
Visually this also pays dividends as there are fewer jarring transitions between animations. From a gameplay perspective, expect players to have more apparent individuality than before as agility and athleticism plays more of a role in every on-field confrontation.
In the heat of a match these are considerations that may not be immediately apparent, but which embellish the overall look and feel of the game for the better.
For example, for the first time in the series you can properly - and gleefully - ?do? a defender, leaving him off balance and several yards in your player's wake.
Fortunately for the wronged fullback, it is also now possible to burst into a sprint from standing to make up lost yards and earn the chance to heroically dispossess his humiliator.
Further to this, one of the areas that EA felt it hadn?t quite nailed previously was the feeling of glory when netting a sweet strike. For all of the excellence of FIFAs 9
and up, it?s true to say that not every
goal felt right
, or earned
?Pure Shot?, as it has been dubbed, seeks to address this shortcoming. Strikers now seek to adjust their angle and stride pattern, where possible, to hit the ball as cleanly as they can.
The result of this, combined with more accurate ball physics, is a far greater variety of realistic-looking efforts, from the scuffy bobbler to the swerving, dipping long range drive.
Don?t worry though, on any difficulty above ?professional? scoring goals is still a real challenge. I got no sense of a return to the bad old days of late 90s/early 2000s FIFA
where sprint + trick button/trick button/trick button/shoot would guarantee an overhead kick top corner every time, utterly devaluing what should be a moment of elation.
If anything FIFA 14
appears to play at a more authentic, considered pace. Sprinting is now relegated to something that you should only do when you would do it in a real game.
Very little actual footy is played at full pelt, so why do digital versions of the sport traditionally have you constantly using the ?speed boost? modifier, leading to unnaturally hectic play and knackered players?
Using a combination of strength, skill and nous to protect possession is just as important as Walcottesque pace, so to facilitate this EA has made a sensible move to make this a one button (left trigger) manoeuvre.
So far so good, yet one concern regarding the unfinished version of FIFA 14
that I played related to the AI of teammates.
It?s a tricksy facet that developers have been struggling with forever, and I had a lot of problems getting our stockinged cohorts to make the right moves to find space and generally do the intelligent thing.
It was almost as if all the new stuff going on as regards to the locomotion, momentum and ball physics was addling their little CPU brains. I was assured that this aspect was very much a work in progress, and that I can expect better from the final retail version.
The finished FIFA 14
will also boast a number of other on and off pitch enhancements such as better looking spectators and a greater number of animated non-player characters including media, stewards and police. It all adds a little something to the atmosphere.
That said, as usual loyal FIFA
players will hope that EA Sports has done nothing to ruin their beloved game, while detractors will no doubt cite another lazy update.
As a committed football fanatic and FIFA
ist (since it won me over in 2007/2008 after a wonderful decade with PES
), I had a fine time with the incomplete FIFA 14
, and embrace the direction in which the series continues to head.
It?s definitely evolution rather than revolution once again, which comes as no surprise with the game running on aged hardware and the next generation of consoles imminent.
This year?s innovations and upgrades feel significant however, and affect the experience in subtle yet fundamental ways. Ways that passionate fans of the beautiful game will undoubtedly appreciate.
FIFA 14 will be released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on September 27 2013