Whether we like it or not, EA's FIFA series has become synonymous with football. It's the Sky Sports of gaming. EA's logo appears on the shirts of Premier League referees, players complain about their in-game ratings and the game seems to have taken over from golf as the pastime of professional footballers.
The Sky comparison is apt because football, as in the game played on the pitch, has changed very little over the years. What has changed is the production and fanfare surrounding it. The same can be said about FIFA 15
, with the move from last-gen to current-gen being more about the game's aesthetics than its gameplay.
These graphical improvements are most noticeable in the animation, which brings a more natural fluidity to players' movement, especially goalkeepers (more on them later). Stadiums feel alive with realistic crowds, sounds and pre-match presentation helping to make it harder than ever to tell a game of FIFA
from a live match on TV - Martin Tyler reading out the team sheets is a nice touch.
As ever though, EA has gone to town in some areas but missed others. Take playing at the Nou Camp; on the 17 minutes and 14 seconds mark the fans sing "Independencia", just like they do at the real Nou Camp (a reference to Catalan independence). It's a touch that doesn't need to be there but it's great that it is.
But, head to any ground in the game and you're presented with the same generic banners we've seen year after year. Is it too much to ask that the design team model a "Captain, Leader, Legend" banner for Stamford Bridge, or a flag at Anfield commemorating Liverpool's five European Cups?
For the best examples of authenticity you need to play a Premiership match. EA's licensing deal with Premier League means that every stadium from the top flight is now in FIFA 15
. The presentation is dialled up to 11 with full Barclay's Premier League branding and it looks great. Want to show your new current-gen machine off to friends? Play a match from the Premier League.
We're also treated to more cut-aways and extra animations at corners and throw-ins. A negative to this is that they tend to ruin the rhythm of the game and I soon found myself skipping them, regardless of how nice they looked. However, the ability to control players receiving the ball and command set-plays from the corners are a welcome bonus.
One of the new elements EA has introduced to FIFA 15
is what it calls emotional intelligence. In short, players now react to the game and each other depending on what's already happened in the match. If Ballotelli has been missing the goal for 80 minutes, Steven Gerrard will start to get pissed off with him. It helps to tell the story of what's happening on the pitch.
At times it looks great, such as seeing players fist-bump the goalie after a great save, but occasionally it borders on cartoony. I'm sure Rooney doesn't enjoy being subbed for Juan Mata, but his reaction when I did it seemed over the top - maybe old Wazza was just being sarcastic. Celebrations have also been improved, with last-minute winners being greeted with added emotion and 10-man pile-ons. It sounds like a small change but just wait until you hit a 90th winner.
But there's a problem with presentational changes - after a while you grow used to them and they fade to become the game's scenery. What really matters is how it plays.
If you've been playing FIFA
for a few years you will probably be used to the yo-yo changes EA makes each year, with each iteration changing the advantages from speed to strength and back again. This time around attackers have the upper hand once more, but only slightly. They seem to avoid challenges with greater ease and speed is the must-have commodity once more, although the imbalance isn't as strong as a few seasons ago. I also found the lobbed through-ball to be more powerful than it should be, and the new keepers seem to struggle with close-range shots.