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FIFA 15 Review

It’s here, our review of FIFA 15 is here!

We spent a couple of weeks with the game and thought now (a week after it’s release in the UK) would be the time to bring you our review. It’s a long one, with each aspect of FIFA 15 dissected and talked about. However, (something you’ve probably noticed if you scrolled down), there’s no score. No, that doesn’t means a nothing out of 10. We wanted to let out text do the talking and you (the reader) take away exactly that after going through it.

The entire FIFA Soccer Blog team came together to produce this epic review, with specific sections being handed to certain guys to cover. You know, the experts. Anyway, enough rambling, we hope you enjoy reading it. We know not everyone will agree, but that’s cool. Feel free to comment and let us know what you think.

VERSION REVIEWED:

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Graphics & Presentation

This is perhaps where EA have put most of their effort into with FIFA 15, bringing out the most authentic and realistic looking FIFA title yet, and considering how good the game looks year after year, it is great to see EA still making big strides in the Visual and Presentation department.

Of course, one of the headline features was that the Barclay’s Premier League was to be represented in a way that has never been done before in all other sports games. They have managed to perfectly recreate the look of a Saturday/Sunday afternoon Premier League match. As previously revealed, FIFA 15 includes all 20 premier league stadiums, with every one perfectly replicated right down to the last stride of grass! Playing at the Etihad stadium, seeing the Man City fans do the Poznan celebration when I scored a goal genuinely wry smile to my face. Attention to detail in so many visual replications of the beautiful game is clear throughout. It is a shame that other leagues were not given the same treatment, but I certainly expect them too in the future. It is an exciting future to see how EA SPORTS truly want FIFA to become the most authentic, realistically looking football title on the market.

On the pitch, EA have also improved their lighting system, which generally gives out a more realistic looking football match on a whole. Little animations, such as your teammates clapping you as you narrowly miss a chance, to your player’s head taking a bow as he continues to miss chances are also a nice touch from EA. With added celebrations and a vast amount of new animations, FIFA 15 is certainly the best-looking football title on the market.

However, with all these graphical advancements there are two areas that haven’t seen the same success. Although they have been given particular focus this season, the player models still lack the true feel of the physique of the modern athlete in some cases the players look too thin and often top heavy. Next season we would like to see further attention given to accurately representing the physique of the modern athlete as some player models look are a little exaggerated to say the least! While we’re talking about areas that require graphical improvements it’s worth mentioning that player skin textures and tones could also benefit from some attention. AS it currently stands it would seem that there is an issue with the saturation and the hue, particularly when analysing player faces. It is that “zombie-like” look that we hope can be eradicated for next season and possibly replaced with more natural looking skin textures and more diverse skin tones.

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Audio

Let’s be frank, if there is one area that EA SPORTS never fail to deliver on then it would be the commentary, pitch-side audio and in-game music offerings. EA TRAX has become a platform for many a music artist to promote their careers and receive worldwide recognition. This year is no different as FIFA 15 continues this trend. To compliment the superb broadcast style feel within this years game the team have added new fan chants and pitch sounds. Furthermore, we also see updated commentary lines that take into account the performances of teams and players over the last calendar year.

The intelligence of FIFA’s commentary system in providing insight and information throughout the game continues here with the added bonus of nicely edited commentary in the highlights reel. Pitch-side we also see players make their voices more prominent and even the frame of the net joins this audio bonanza.

AI & Tactical Elements

For FIFA 15 the development team has made some very noticeable changes to the AI. Some changes are good some are bad. The defensive AI still doesn’t seem to factor in an attacking player’s preference and habits. For example if Messi is dribbling towards goal naturally a defender like Pepe will steps out from his line to face him up, so far so good. As Messi starts dribbling towards his right setting up a quick cut inside to have a left footed shot at goal, Pepe continues to track Messi to the right waiting for that left move which he knows is coming. Once it does it takes him an extra two or three steps to realize it, giving Messi the time and space to execute. On the other hand defenders are much better now at tracking player runs and intercepting lofted through balls and crosses. The reason defensive AI is on the list of negatives is because when players like Ronaldo, Messi and Robben are on the ball and dribbling they can be very difficult for the defensive AI to stop. I have made some amazing dribbles with Messi that ended up in a goal; I should have been jumping out of my seat for those moments. But closer inspection of replays highlights the shortcomings of the AI in various defensive scenarios.

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The attacking AI is more vibrant and active this year. Players now make intelligent runs in behind defenders and open up for passes a lot more than in previous years. There are some attacking plays that feel very rewarding and they wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the improved attacking AI. The majority of improvements in attack have come from the ability to tell your players what kind of runs you want them to make or how you want them to move around on the field. This brings us to the tactical side of the game, which we believe goes hand in hand with attacking play. You now have the ability to give each player specific instructions now. This new tactical element makes the game feel more dynamic. You can change things as you see fit to counter what the AI is doing or not doing for that matter. However, a concern from previous versions of FIFA is still very much evident in FIFA 15. This is the lack of midfield play and the constant end-to-end action especially when playing against a human opponent. This is an issue that we hope will be rectified in subsequent seasons, as midfield battles are a prominent feature of the modern game. We would like to see some major development focus on addressing the shortcomings of the AI.

We previously detailed the new ability to setup specific instructions for your players, however, as it currently stands you get a taste of something that could be great but isn’t quite there yet. Tactically speaking the game does enough to get by as players play their positions well and keep shape. Its great to see players respond to the instructions that you give them and it is instantly noticeable. However, some of the positions have not been given instruction options. For example you can’t tell forwards to free roam, only attacking midfielders and wingers have that ability. Defensive midfielders don’t have the option to drop back into the defense line when defending. These are examples of things you would see happen in the real game, but are not yet possible in FIFA15. Team Sheets are a nice addition allowing you to setup up to five different… uh… well team sheets to have and change between pre-match. You now have the option to setup specific team sheets for differing home and away tactics and starting line ups in Career Mode making it simpler to manage players and formations. This represents a nice touch for tactical junkies and Career Mode fanatics. The final tactical change for this season comes with extended attacking and defensive team mentality which now gives you the ability to “Park The Bus” or go “All Out Attack”.

This year FIFA15 seems to be laying down the foundation for a future with more diverse options. The AI and the tactics have taken some important steps forward, steps the fans have been requesting for some time now. Although we have mainly voiced concern with regards to the AI and tactics we will close this by saying that we have spent a lot of time playing vs the AI and trying to get teams to play the way we would like. This is something that wasn’t possible last season. One mode that is sure to benefit from these improvements is the Career Mode that has always been dependent on a variable and adaptive AI. We would like to seem improvements in player movements, teams adapting to positional changes on the fly and more importantly more accurate representation of team styles both at home and away. Too often teams play a very rigid and mechanical style of play that lack authenticity. Although there is much promise, every year we seem to say next year will be great. Well it is now next year and while many aspects have improved they still left us wanting more, much more.

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Core Gameplay & Mechanics

The next-gen version of FIFA 14 on PS4 and Xbox One provided us with a great indication of what to expect over the next few years from the FIFA team in Vancouver. It took the best of its last-gen sibling and improved not only the visuals but also the gameplay with subtle tweaks that had a significant effect on the overall feel of the game. It was clear the hardware was allowing the development team to make the game more realistic and diverse by having more intelligent players on the next-gen pitch.

This year FIFA 15 has focused on various aspects in order to make the game feel more authentic and realistic. We have already addressed the AI and tactical changes so we will focus on the feel of the game. Starting off with Goalkeepers that have seen some significant changes. In an effort to make the keepers more realistic the development team embarked on a two-year journey to add that “human” touch. The results are mixed, with keepers now reacting more like humans but also making some mistakes that the majority of top class keepers would be able to avoid. History is repeating itself in a strange way again, as EA previously faced the same challenges when they implemented the impact engine (collision engine). In it’s first year we had some odd occurrences that made for very entertaining YouTube content. Although it was a necessary and welcome addition to the sports gaming arena, moreover, it highlighted EA SPORTS dedication to pushing the boundaries of video game development. The goalkeepers in FIFA 15 seem to have a similar problem in that they either perform incredible and realistic saves that have you on the edge of your seat, or occasionally make comical errors that have you pulling your hair out. It was a risk to implement the new keepers but we believe it was one worth taking in order to develop better goalkeepers long term. Recent updates have also addressed some of the goalkeeper issues, a positive indication that the development team will continue to improve this area.

Going hand in hand with goalkeepers is the ball physics, where we have seen some interesting changes. Essentially it is more of the same, but we can’t help shake the feeling that it generally feels more lose. Passing seems to have picked up some pace with the ball moving at high speed on the ground. The team have paid particular attention to the lofted through balls issue which don’t seem to be as effective this season. Shooting seems to be more rewarding this year with semi-automatic controls as you have more control over the overall “looser” nature of the ball physics. We observed some isolated incidents were the ball behaved erratically bouncing between players without anyone taking possession in some online matches. However, we could put that down to some of the online issues that have been happening in the early days following launch. It’s not easy to cater for a couple of million people overnight no matter how well prepared you are. Just ask the Apple guys at Cupertino.

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Our primary gameplay concern however is the pace of the game as FIFA 15 just feels considerably faster than its predecessor, and this feeling is amplified when playing with or against teams with speed merchants. The Liverpool attacking trio of Sturridge, Balotelli and Sterling are literally unplayable especially when your opponent finds a yard of space and flicks the right stick. The overall speed at which the match unfolds is also unrealistic and not representative of the modern game, even if we compared it to a high-octane competition like the Premier League. Where FIFA 14 found a nice balance for pace, this years game seems to have taken two steps back. The pace problem directly highlights one of the game’s biggest shortcomings, the constant bypass of the midfield.

Within a few games it becomes abundantly clear that midfield battles are rare in FIFA 15. Too often the ball bypasses the midfield with one or two passes. Counter attacks continue to rule the proceedings in a manor that does not mirror the modern game. We would love to see the game have more midfield involvement and this could be achieved by reducing the impact of speed and the success of “Hollywood” balls being attempted from defenders. We would all love to see more instances where teams try and attack and have to play the ball backwards as the defensive AI performs a stellar job of blocking the channels and covering players. As it stands FIFA 15 is exhilarating with amazing end-to-end action, particularly online where the possibility of having a match with less that 3 – 4 goals is impossible. But for FIFA to be deemed the ultimate football simulation it has to accurately recreate the action on the pitch by areas and in competitive matches this mainly takes place in the middle third.

From a mechanical point of view, FIFA 15 is an absolute phenomenon. The sheer scale of animations that are featured in game and the technology incorporated to make them seamlessly stich together is a master class. The trend continues this year with a game that looks so beautiful to watch. It is a shame however, that we are still not seeing true foot planting which continues to present technical problems in the video game genre as a whole. Dribbling has also seen some nice improvements this year with players attempting to dribble more with their dominant foot and using both the inside and outside of the boot. The ability to turn quickly and at pace has made a bit of a comeback this season. It’s a matter of personal preference with some fans liking that more flexible dribble yet others deem it unrealistic. It’s always going to be difficult to keep everyone happy. We would like to see a refinement in the angle at which players can turn as they sprint, possible having narrower turning angles at high speeds and sharper ones at lower speeds being re-examined. But there are exceptions to the rule, players like Messi, Iniesta and Sterling who can turn instantly at pace in half a yard. How do you incorporate that special ability into the game? Will the player stats be able to take care of that? The simple answer is no. This is where you need to address the unique individuality of players in your game.

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FIFA 15’s biggest technical achievement is currently its Achilles heel. Although it is a mechanical marvel that has set a new precedent for sports games and video games, the game often feels sterile and almost lacking character or soul. The reason for this feeling is that it is difficult to distinguish players in game without the visuals. The perfect mechanical elements of the gameplay that are in place means enormous amount of work and time are required to tweak the mechanics for individuals player to provide them with unique, dribbling animations, running styles and shooting style without breaking the outstanding mechanics in place and being able to adapt to the other mechanics such as the collision engine. Although it’s a hugely time consuming exercise we would like to see this area addressed in future FIFA titles, even if it is for a select few at first. Over time the catalogue of players with unique individuality can be expanded year on year.

Offline Modes

If you’re like me, you love getting some mates round for a good old tournament. It’s more of the same here, but still great to host a tournament with your friends to see who can really earn FIFA 154 bragging rights. Add in the usual exhibition and practice mode, FIFA 15 remains a modern FIFA title with more of the same, yet still essential when friends are over.

Personally FIFA 14 just drifted by in terms of the skill games that were on offer. They were a nice touch, but rarely give me a sense of achievement. Having spent countless time on them in FIFA 15, they really seem to have spent a lot of time adding to the catalogue of challenges. Overall, Skill Games in FIFA 15 give out a much more sense of achievement, whilst also making you feel like whilst not only are you having fun, you are honing on your skills, making your way to be much better in FIFA 15 than you originally thought you were.

FIFA Lounge where are you?!

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Career Mode

As I was preparing to start my AC Milan career mode in FIFA 15, I was initially struck with how similar it all felt to last year, same menus, same options, same bare bones manager creation options.

This feeling of déjà vu followed me into just about every other area as well. Youth scouting, news stories, the Global Transfer Network, transfers, it’s all more or less the same as last year with some refinement added in. I couldn’t help but feel let down by it all.

The only area that has gotten any attention of note in CM is the team management section. Managing your squad has gone from a mundane operation in FIFA 14 to a brilliantly executed one in which it’s now possible to save up to six specific team sheets which allow you to alter your strategy ahead of time based on upcoming opponents.
The improvements don’t stop there. New for FIFA 15 is individual player instruction, where you can apply up to five different attacking and defending options to every one of your ten outfield players allowing for almost endless tactical variety. Of course custom formations, team tactics, and player roles also return but in a more visually appealing and intuitive form.

On the pitch, my bitter disappointment with the lack of improvement elsewhere melted away almost instantly. Career Mode benefits greatly from FIFA 15’s new dynamic match presentation, the new emotional intelligence feature, and of course the new and improved tactical features. Each game feels alive, the crowds are raucous, players are pushing and shoving, its all pretty damn awesome.Tactically, CPU opponents will absolutely park the bus on you, time waste, or even go all out in an attempt to find a late equalizer. The one downside to me at least is that in general the CPU plays with the same style, I would have liked to see more of a difference between playing a club like Barcelona as opposed to one like West Ham United.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention FIFA 15’s new Barclays Premier League integration. All 20 stadiums, individual club chants, match overlays, and over 200 face scans make playing in the Premier League an absolute joy to behold, unfortunately though the downside is that it leaves other leagues feeling a bit flat in comparison.

In conclusion, FIFA 15’s Career Mode is a mixed bag of sorts. Little or nothing was done to improve the game off of the pitch and considering the attention to detail put into other modes like Ultimate Team, that’s discouraging. On the other hand however, the game sucks you in like no other between the lines, drawing emotions out of you that very few sports games can and in the end this is the mode’s saving grace.

Online Modes

FIFA’s online modes come short with no changes (excluding FUT) from previous titles. Online Seasons, Co-op seasons, Pro Clubs, and Online friendlies remain untouched. The modes all work as they should but offer no real depth. Even navigating the menus for the most part have the same artwork as last year. This makes the modes feel dated just from a visual standpoint.

In terms of gameplay, the modes all work fine but if you are looking for in-depth creative changes, you are not getting it this year. Which is a real shame because all the modes have been due for a revamp for quite some time. One mode that we were truly hoping would be embraced and nurtured by EA SPORTS into something special is the Pro Clubs. We can’t help but look in envy at what other sports games like NBA 2K are doing with the whole “create your own superstar” modes. With a little attention Pro Clubs could be the biggest and most enjoyable mode, however, all we have seen since its introduction 5 years ago is minor improvements. Our experiences online tell us that most Pro Clubs feature 3 – 4 human players. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to control the forwards, midfielders or defenders thus splitting the work rather than constantly blaming the guy playing “Any” who is controlling all the non-human players!

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Whilst we all realize the importance of Ultimate Team to the EA SPORTS business model, it often leaves many fans (particularly the older players) feeling like the game modes lack depth. There are so many options available to FIFA fans, but they are truly basic in their nature. Win matches and work your way up the leagues is pretty much the concept behind 90% of the modes. Ultimate Team adds the ability to build a team based on the luck of opening packs, which although extremely fun and highly addictive, doesn’t immerse a player like the dream of an online Career Mode.

After launch we have encountered some issues with online play, particularly with instances of lag that have never really been an issue in previous FIFA titles. We envisage that these are teething issues and hope that changes will be made to address the current online issues.

Ultimate Team

FIFA’s most popular mode returns, bringing with it some new features. None of these new additions reinvent Ultimate Team in any way, shape or form, but are welcome nonetheless. The ability to now loan players for a set number of matches is nice, meaning you can get the likes of Messi and Ronaldo into your squad without spending a fortune (real or virtual currency). The loan durations for most players are not that high (something to do with balancing probably), so it’s up to you how and when you use these loan players. Only have Ronaldo for 3 matches? Probably best to use him in a final or another important, must win clash. A small element of strategy is introduced to proceedings which, in a mode that is becoming saturated with identical teams (more on that later), is a cool little addition.

Concept Squads is the next new feature in Ultimate Team, something fans have been requesting for a while. Here you’re given the access to the entire Ultimate Team database and allowed to plan future squads, seeing how the chemistry side of things would come together. Much like the loan players, it’s a lovely addition, especially for players who dedicate their entire FIFA gaming time to this particular mode. God send would be the right word we think. Now you can plan those Premier League and La Liga squads with relative ease.

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The new stuff is rounded off with the inclusion of Friendly Seasons and a PHY (physical) attribute added to player cards. The latter does exactly what you’d expect, as in it adds another number to look at when looking at new players for your squad. PHY covers the likes of stamina, strength and jumping, so if you’re looking for a big strong striker or a beast of a defender, then pay careful attention to this new statistic. Friendly Seasons, like in the normal online mode, lets you go one-on-one with a friend over a season, awarding points for bragging right and eventually a nice virtual trophy. It’s just a nice way of keeping track of who is better, but in the Ultimate Team side of the game.

Apart from the above, the rest of Ultimate Team is pretty much the same. At its core it’s still the same mode everyone knows from last year – a good and bad thing depending how you look at it. If you’re happy spending thousands and millions of pounds, FIFA points or coins (so many ways to get packs) to essentially play the teams full of the same players from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich then you’ll be fine. On the other hand, if you’re looking for Ultimate Team to evolve and actually have some depth/strategy, you might be left disappointed. You might disagree, but the “issue” lies within set-up, a point you’ll come to realise the more time you spend with Ultimate Team.

The fact that there’s no restriction in terms of players from one team ultimately (no pun intended) skews the mode and the types of teams you’ll play once you have a decent one at your disposal. It’s something the development team needs to eventually take a serious look at as it’s impacting the transfer market in the mode too. At one end of the spectrum you have crazy prices for the likes of Messi and Ronaldo, then low prices for pretty much everyone else even though the player is actually very good in real life. It stems from the gameplay, in that the pacey players are overpowered, so (inevitably) that transitions across into the game’s most popular mode. Some blame could be placed at the feet of the type of gamers playing Ultimate Team and exploiting the system so to speak, but they’re just doing what they can to succeed in the mode. It’s a tricky one. We’d like to see a fantasy football style system introduced where a maximum of three players from one team are allowed in a squad. In the long run it would certainly reduce the number of teams of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich players, hopefully also having a positive impact on the transfer market (making it more realistic). It would mean a slight rework of the chemistry would be needed, but we can’t imagine it would be too tricky. Plus, it would get the gamers thinking more about their squad and how to get the right chemistry going.

Now, we imagine some of you might not agree with this assessment of the Ultimate Team and our proposed changes, but it’s needed to freshen up the mode and bring some semblance of sanity back to proceedings. Like we stated above, it’s a tricky one for EA in terms of everything. Do they make major changes to what is their most popular mode in FIFA and risk upsetting some fans, or do they keep it the same again and keep the money coming in? Tough, but we know which one we’d prefer.

As stated in the introduction, we decided to not attach a score out of 10 to this review. We hope our text does the talking, but please feel free to engage with us in the comments section of the review.

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