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FIFA 14 – First Look Impressions

Refinement. That’s the one word that best describes my feelings after getting a first look at FIFA 14 this past Friday. With this possibly being the last major FIFA release on the current-gen consoles, it was something that was kind of expected too. Similar events for the previous two FIFA games were much bigger in terms of what was announced and the way in which the new features/additions were presented. With the FIFA 14 reveal it was more about refining and adding to the mechanics that are currently in place, and that’s not necessarily a negative. Whilst it’s hard to completely judge without actually getting hands-on, sometimes it’s not all about the marquee features or back of the box buzz words. EA’s mantra this year is all about creating a more rewarding gameplay experience, and they’ll be hoping the new additions to FIFA 14 help deliver that.

One of the key ways EA are looking to create this more rewarding experience is by placing a bigger emphasis on build up play. Veteran FIFA players will know that more often than not the midfield is entirely bypassed when you’re playing a match against a friend or even the CPU, it’s almost like it doesn’t exist. This is results in a basketball feel to matches, with the ball just going from one end to other at short intervals, resulting in what is known in the FIFA fraternity as a “cheap” or “sweaty” goal. Actual football, you know, the one you watch on TV or at the ground doesn’t play out like that. Whilst this applies more to the top teams (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man Utd, Bayern Munich and so on), the ball is carefully used from the back to the front, with defenders, midfielders and strikers all involved in the play. These teams have the patience to build moves from the back, resulting in pure exhilaration and ecstasy when they score. That’s exactly the feeling EA want to portray with FIFA 14.

Protect the Ball 2

There are multiple routes EA are taking to ensure build up play comes to the forefront when playing FIFA 14. Tweaking the way dribbling works is one route, with the ultimate hope of showing a clear distinction between the good and not-so-good players. After all, not every player should be able to dribble in the same way. In FIFA 14, sprint dribbling will offer more control and preservation of momentum (weight shift), something that has been sorely lacking in previous iterations. FIFA 13 offered a turning “circle” of 22.5 degrees, whereas 14 will allow to to turn in any direction at speed. Weight shift and momentum comes in to balance things somewhat, so you won’t be able to just turn however and whenever you like. Players will also have variable dribble touches, with the end goal being the personality and traits of each individual player shining through. Again, speaking to the FIFA veterans here, this will hopefully alleviate the constant sprinting you see from some players when they’re dribbling online. In a word, dribbling should be more realistic in FIFA 14, helping bring considered build up play to the forefront.

AI is an area that received some attention last year, bringing with it mixed results. Whilst the improvement was noticeable, it wasn’t quite at the level you’d expect. The attacking AI seemed to receive the most attention, leaving the defensive side of things a bit too open and unbalanced. It’s good to see then that EA has taken the feedback on board and are attempting to rectify things. Much like the tweaks to the dribbling, proper build up play is in the development team’s mind when improving the AI. Your team will defend as a unit, applying dynamic pressure and tracking opposition runs intelligently. Marking will be tighter, with players reacting smartly to movement in and around them. The foundation of these defensive improvements are based upon improved decision making thanks to AI players on your team reacting to multiple frames rather than just the one. Put simply, players on your team will now react to multiple things going on around them rather than just the one nearest to them. In a bid to keep things balanced, attacking AI has been tweaked too. Checked runs and movement along the back of the defensive line are both in (see Di Natale’s run in the example video below). You’ll also be able to back into defenders (Drogba style) and shield defenders as you aim to create space to get a shot in at goal. It all sounds great on paper and in presentation videos, as they are much needed AI improvements (especially the defensive stuff), but the proof will definitely be in the playing.

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Whilst the tweaked dribbling and AI represent a push towards considered build up play, the new protect the ball feature embodies it fully. In fact, calling it new would be a stretch as it was kind of in FIFA 13, but not exactly the easiest thing to pull off as you had to be standing still. In FIFA 14, you’ll be able to protect the ball at any speed, which is most welcome. Just a simple press of LT (L2 on PlayStation 3) will initiate it, allowing you to protect and shield the ball whilst dribbling. The mechanic was compared to the accelerate and brake buttons in a racing game, with the former being sprint and the latter being protect the ball in the context of FIFA 14. During the presentation, it was said that the protect the ball mechanic is like a counter to the push and pull system that is already there in FIFA 13, which sounds great as right now there is no proper way to get away from the pressure put on you. If it works as intended, the addition of protect the ball could be the single biggest game changer in FIFA 14. It would do exactly what EA intend and allow you to dictate the pace of a match if you’re good enough to do so. Not only that, whilst remaining challenging and fun, it would create a unique battle for possession around the pitch.

Build up play isn’t the only area where EA has given FIFA 14 some attention, as thanks to some improved animations and ball physics they’ve introduced some new shot/finishing types. At the moment, in FIFA 13, players take shots the same way regardless of their body position. As a result, animations looks a tad weird and not completely natural. Rather than just hold a pose and go into a shot regardless, in FIFA 14 players will now set their body position properly and then hit the ball accordingly. You’ll get visual feedback too, this could be a stutter, making you think about when you shoot. If you do happen to shoot early, you’ll get different results such as a rushed shot. This may or may not hit the target, but it will at the very least be a realistic representation of the shot in relation to your player’s feet and body position. We were shown an example of Danny Welbeck’s rushed shot against Madrid after the ball came back quickly off the post. If you’re a Man Utd fan, think less about the match and more about the shot! The introduction of reworked ball physics has had an effect on shooting too, with some new shot types being introduced. If you’ve been playing FIFA for a while, you’ll agree that this a much welcome introduction. Low rising, turbulent, knuckle and dipping were just some of the shot types that were mentioned. Remember Gerrard’s cracker in the Champions League? Yeah, you’ll be able to hit something like that. If you don’t remember it, check out the video below. We’ve no idea if the commentary in FIFA 14 will be of a similar vein though!

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EA always mention something about fundamentals during these events every year, and this year was no different. There wasn’t as big as emphasis as you’d expect, but what was mentioned and shown off was interesting nonetheless. Curling lofted through balls in are in, so you’ll be able to angle passes over the opposition defense if needed. Speaking of defense, you’ll now have to ability to 2nd chance tackle. This means if you happen to mistime your first tackle, if you’re good enough you’ll be able to nip in with the other foot and try to nab the ball away from the attacker. It’s something that has been needed for a while as with tactical defending it’s a simple yes or no situation, either you get the ball or you don’t. With 2nd chance tackle, at least you’ll now have the opportunity to get the ball back again. These are both improvements that have been introduced based on community feedback, just like the last “fundamental”. It’s a simple one, but something that the FIFA players have been vocal about for a while now. Clearances will now no longer always land at the feet of a striker, there will be much more variety in terms of where the ball lands. See, simple, but a welcome tweak if it works as intended.

Career Mode was teased, but no details regarding actual content were revealed. Instead, EA focused on showing us that the user interface will be greatly improved. We were shown mock ups (one can be seen below) of what the new Career Mode hub will look like, with it taking inspiration from the current Ultimate Team interface. If you play Career Mode a lot, quite a bit of your time will be spent checking your emails, some of which are completely useless. During the presentation it was hinted that in FIFA 14 there will a system that will allow you to prioritise the emails that come into your inbox. Yes, we can hear the cheers now. A new global scouting network was also mentioned, with a mock up screen shown and a few details mentioned. The Career Mode will now house an authentic scouting system, where looking for players will be based on traits rather than statistics. Let’s be honest, Mourinho doesn’t send scouts around the world to look for players with 80+ finishing, He’ll more than likely set good finishing as a trait he is looking for and then leave the rest to his scouts. That’s how the system will work in FIFA 14 according to EA.

Career Mode Global Scouting Network

So that’s it, FIFA 14 has been revealed. As stated earlier, this first look was much more understated when compared to previous years, but that was to be expected. Yes, EA haven’t blown everyone’s socks off with amazing new, back-of-the-box features, but did they really need to at this stage? Refining rather than totally redefining what is already a multi-million selling title on the current-gen consoles isn’t exactly a bad move. Of course, without playing the game it’s hard to know what the full impact of these new additions will have on FIFA 14, but sometimes small refinements can have a bigger impact on the pitch than shiny, brand new features. EA will be hoping that’s the case, and we will too. Plus, there’s always the next-gen version to look forward to…

If you enjoyed these impressions, you can catch the rest of our FIFA 14 coverage here.

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