FIFA and a shiny new console, a combination that usually means a stripped back game with slightly higher resolution visuals. It was like when the Xbox 360 launched and when we were graced by the PlayStation 2. With that in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking exactly the same as FIFA 14 is set to be released alongside the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It’s a great surprise then that the next-gen versions will have the same modes and features as its current-gen counterparts plus more. Yes, that’s right, plus more!
I’ll touch on the gameplay a bit later, and kick things off by talking about the visuals. After all, with the new consoles and more power at EA’s disposal you’d expect some improvement in this department, and there certainly is. In my review of current-gen FIFA 14, I stated the visuals were a bit dated and dull. The visuals in FIFA 14 next-gen are anything but that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a monumental improvement, but everything is that bit more vibrant and sharper. The game is running at 1080p and 60 frames per second, something that producer Nick Channon confirmed in the FSB interview posted up today and it definitely shows. Animations are fluid, more realistic and organic, with EA really making use of the technology in the new consoles. The more you play the game, the more nice little ones you’ll notice, bringing an element of individuality that’s been lacking from previous FIFAs. Player models still aren’t the best though, with even the likes of Welbeck and Wilshere looking like they’ve been hitting the weights hard. That said player faces are a marked improvement compared to current-gen FIFA 14. Not every player on the planet has their face in the game, but the ones that do look damn good.
The visual improvement crosses over to the match presentation too, with 3D crowds and the stadiums they reside in looking rather amazing. Fans now react to the action on the pitch, immersing you in the on-field action unlike any previous FIFA. For example, I had Gerrard score against me at Old Trafford and as he celebrated in front of the home fans you could see the disappointment on their faces whilst the away fans cheered in their little corner. These changes are all part of EA’s ‘Living Worlds” tagline, and it’s echoed with the new default camera. You now see more a bit more of the crowd and stadium which might sound like a bad change on paper, but works incredibly well when you’re actually playing. Somehow the pitch seems a bit bigger, which is great new if you thought the pitches in FIFA were a tad small. It clearly distinguishes one stadium from another and also allows EA to show off their impresses 3D modelling skills. I imagine most of you know, but ‘Living Worlds’ means that certain stadiums will get the full 3D treatment, interior and exterior. The likes of the Allianz, Etihad and Old Trafford have been confirmed, but we’re working on getting you a complete list just in case you’re wondering if your team’s ground is featured. Running with their match atmosphere and immersive goal, EA has bumped continuous play up with the introduction of several little elements. You’ll now see substitutes warming up, ball boys and players will actually jog over to kick a second ball out if it lands on the pitch. Damn ball boys! Ah, it would be a crime if I didn’t mention the new and improved TV style presentation thanks to what EA is calling the ‘Match Director’. Think Sky Sports’ Super Sunday coverage and you’re pretty much there. Now you’ll find replays to be more natural, looking great and actually popping up when the moment calls for it.
Now, time to talk to about the truly important stuff, the gameplay. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, FIFA 14 next-gen carries over the same core gameplay as the next-gen version, but the more powerful consoles allow EA to improve the game in certain areas. The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the controller and get stuck into a match is the pace of the game, it’s very well balanced. Usually with FIFA you have to mess around with slider and speed settings to get a realistic enough pace, but FIFA 14 next-gen has that more or less right from the off. Not once did I feel like I had to go into the settings and tweak something to get the pace right. This allows build up play to flow more naturally, something which I think EA intended to do with current-gen FIFA 14, but the limited tech hindered them. I played several games with various different teams and each time (within limits) I felt I had time on the ball and could build up moves from the back. Speaking of build up play, the passing in FIFA 14 next-gen is pretty damn good, with the move to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 allowing EA to introduce variation. With one exception (more on that later), passing is now contextual, so the position or situation you’re in will have a more realistic impact on what sort of pass you dig out. A particular favourite of mine, cross-field passing is now actual a very useful tool if you get it right. No longer do these passes feel balloon-like and useless, allowing you to switch play without losing the momentum of an attack. The exception is chest passes. Yes, that’s right, passes with the chest are now possible and mostly work quite well. However, I did come across a few occasions where a player would just randomly do a chest pass, even when the situation didn’t call for it. A slight concern, and hopefully one EA address before release. Shooting remains more or less the same (very good) though, but without the borked finesse shot!
‘Human Intelligence, tagline number two for FIFA 14 next-gen, but like ‘Living Worlds’ it actually means something and has a positive impact on the game. That’s right, EA are two for two with their marketing slogans! If you ploughed many hours into current-gen FIFA 14 like then you’ll agree that AI awareness, especially defensively, is poor. Even taking into account the patch that addressed through balls, the reactions and awareness of defenders leaves a lot to be desired. Whilst the issue hasn’t been completely eradicated in FIFA 14 next-gen, ‘Human Intelligence’ has definitely improved matters. Now, defenders don’t react to through balls like drunken sailors; they now tend to follow the flight of the ball which should help when playing against spammers online. Not only that, but AI players (defenders or not) will visibly try to close space down, make last ditch challenges or just plain dive in to save a certain goal. For instance, during one match where I was playing as Arsenal I had Mertesacker (aka BFG) run back on the line to stop a header that was destined to nestle in the top corner. Looking back at the replay (yes, I paused the game), I watched his movement as the cross came in and found that he almost read the situation, anticipating the danger and getting back on the line to make the clearance. Multiple players are now also able to challenge for aerial balls, which isn’t exactly a game changing feature, but one that gives you a better chance of winning the ball defensively and looks great in motion.
Another thing I noticed and felt was that player individuality seemed to shine through better than any previous FIFA. I touched upon it when talking about animations, but players like Ozil, Cazorla, Robben and Ribery felt more unique than ever before, and that’s not just in terms of speed. Before you get too excited, I’m not saying EA are completely there with that aspect of the game, but it’s great to see that they’re using the power of the new consoles (more memory perhaps) to improve the game in areas the community has been shouting about for years. Team styles is another, but in all honesty I couldn’t possibly comment on that at this stage as that’s an element that will show itself over a series of games, usually in Career Mode. Fingers crossed, eh?!
I’ve played FIFA 14 next-gen at a few other events, but was wary of giving my opinion on it due to only playing a few matches here and there. However, the recent trip to EA Guildford cemented what I originally thought; it’s a damn fine football game. It’s almost like the power of the next-gen consoles has allowed EA to highlight some of the features that have struggled to shine through due to current-gen limitations. That‘s not me saying it’s perfect, not at all, but it’s certainly a fantastic platform for EA to begin their next-gen journey with and then some. Not only that, if it lives up to its potential, then it completely justifies EA’s decision to release FIFA 14 on next-gen consoles. Obviously, true FIFA 14 next-gen judgement can only be passed after playing it over a period of time, but for now all I can say is that it left myself and many others wanting more. Just a few weeks left now…
NB: During our time with FIFA 14 next-gen we got hands-on with the Xbox One version of the game, the PlayStation 4 counterpart was not available to play.