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A step backward in the endless tug of war between realism and fun
on September 26, 2013
I have been a big fan of the FIFA series dating back to FIFA 10. I buy the game every year and have played thousands of matches over the last several years. Every year the game is fundamentally the same with a few minor differences. Sometimes the changes are for the better and sometimes they're for the worse. This year is pretty typical in that regard. There are some great new features and some shockingly bad ones. Here's quick breakdown of some of the game modes and some of the changes:
- Shot physics have been altered. Now the ball will dip and knuckle more than in previous FIFA games. This seems like it will improve the variety of goals you can score, yet many of the same flaws remain. The finesse shot (curling shot) is still very overpowered. Meanwhile, goalies are still way too good at making quick reflex saves on powerful shots at short range. What that all adds up to is that the finesse shot is still your go-to bread and butter shot in all 1-on-1 situations, so the variety that the developers aimed for wasn't totally achieved.
- Player movement has been altered. More specifically, players have a greater sense of momentum. It is harder to start and stop instantly. Sharp cuts and 180 degree shifts in direction will be more gradual. Some reviewers have praised this as being more realistic than the last few FIFA games, where sometimes it felt like you were steering a race car instead of an athlete. I agree that this change is more realistic, but is it more FUN? I don't think so. The slower movement gives the whole experience a less responsive feeling, which can be very frustrating. Many times you will spot an opening for your player and try to weave into that space, but the slow change of direction will result in him being tackled before he can react. The overall result here is that defense feels overpowered whereas attacking play has been nerfed. One of my favorite things in the game was to pull of crisp skill moves and slaloming runs with speedy players, but now I'm finding the game a bit muddy and slow. It might be more realistic, but it is a lot less fun than FIFA 10-13.
- AI has been upgraded. Computer players will have smarter movement on offense and defense. The good news here is that your computer teammates will be smarter about making runs so you pick them out with a pass. However, the CPU is still far too mechanical and tidy on higher difficulties. They will psychically sense your incoming tackle and change directions at the last moment to avoid you. The whole experience of playing against the computer can be very frustrating due to the lack of random variance and error. Even world class players make bad touches and mistakes in real life, but the CPU in FIFA plays like a machine. I much prefer to play against human players because there is more variety. It's also worth pointing out that many of the same AI flaws that have existed in the game for YEARS are still glaring. For example, defenders are absolutely horrible at making aerial challenges for the ball. So many times when a cross is whipped in, they will just stand flat-footed and let the attacker spike it right over them. In general, players lack awareness of the ball and aren't aggressive enough when it is near them. Many times the ball will squirt loose into space and your players will take steps away from it instead of trying to pounce like they would in real life. These minor AI flaws can really hinder the enjoyment of the game.
- Ultimate Team is back and better than ever. If you don't know what Ultimate Team is, it's a game mode that allows you to collect and trade players in order to build your "ultimate team." However, even though the game mode bills itself as Ultimate Team, there is a chemistry system in place that effectively prevents you from linking players in your lineup unless they play in the same league or have the same nationality. This really limits your creativity and prevents you from building your actual ultimate team. For example, you can't link Ibrahimovic with Cristiano Ronaldo and get full chemistry because they don't share a common league or nationality. Putting that aside, there are a number of nice new features in Ultimate Team this year. There are more leagues in the game than last year, including the Colombian league. The interface and player search feature have greatly been improved. Single online matches have returned after shockingly being left out last season, but now they can't end in a draw like they could in FIFA 12. If you are drawing after 90 minutes, you have to play extra time and go to penalties. Annoying because single matches are supposed to be more casual and not so win-at-all-costs like the tournaments and seasons.
My two favorite new features in Ultimate Team are the new chemistry styles and the removal of formation cards from the game. In previous FUT games, you had to convert your players to the correct formation every time you wanted to experiment with a new formation. Now all players get full chemistry from all formations, so there is much more room to experiment without having to invest a lot of coins in formation cards. The new chemistry styles add a layer of customization to the game by allowing you to apply chemistry styles cards to your players that boost specific traits. For example, you could use a chemistry style to increase a defender's heading and defending. Or you could use a different chemistry style to increase an attacking midfielders passing and dribbling.
Also, it's worth pointing out that while Ultimate Team is technically free, the game is designed to push you towards the pack store, where EA makes a lot of money off people spending points on packs in hopes of finding valuable players. I strongly discourage you from spending real money on Ultimate Team, as the players you get in packs are rarely worth much and your odds of getting someone like Ronaldo or Messi are INCREDIBLY low. It is basically a lottery ticket and not a good value at all. You are always better off saving coins and buying player direct.
- Career mode, skill games, and virtual clubs are back from last year. Clubs allow you to create a virtual pro for use in club games with your friends or with strangers, and to gradually build up his stats by fulfilling various achievements. For example, scoring 25 goals might improve his shooting stats. You can keep this player throughout your entire time using FIFA 14 and it is fun to gradually build him up. The only major drawback is that EA inexplicably ruined the drop-in match game mode by capping the former 11v11 player limit at 5v5 and removing the "ANY" option, which means that if you go into a drop-in match (a virtual pro match where you and strangers play a game using your virtual pro), over half of the players on the field will be controlled by the computer. It used to be that you could go full 11v11 or have one player designated as the "ANY" in smaller games to control all of the computer players. Drop-in games will be incredibly tedious and boring without the any feature, so I will not be playing them this year.
- The EA Sports Football Club that they introduced with FIFA 12 has once again carried over to the new game. With this feature, you'll gradually accumulate currency within the game just by playing FIFA 14. You can then use these points to unlock nice bonuses such as free Ultimate Team coins, extra kits, new celebrations, and extra boots for your players. This is a nice feature that provides another incentive system within the game.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: FIFA 14 brings a lot of new bells and whistles compared to the last few releases in the series, but the gameplay has taken a step backward. Although it might be more realistic than ever, the game is also slower and more methodical than ever. This is especially apparent in Ultimate Team, where lightning-paced high scoring games of years past have morphed into a more sluggish and frustrating experience. There was one stretch of games last night where my opponents and I combined for one goal in six full halves of play. This is the first time in the last five years that I have felt bored with FIFA so early in the release, so I have to consider this version a step back overall despite the aforementioned improvements. Realism is nice, but not if it comes at the expense of fun. So far, this FIFA just isn't that fun to play.