From the moment FIFA boots up youíll appreciate the new and improved presentation. Itís the same overhaul Madden received, putting pictures of various modes up on screen that you click on to get started. In the Madden review I referred to it as the ďPSN approachĒ, and it works as well in EA games as it does on the Playstation Store.
Career mode, where you take the role of manager or a single player, returns, and is more or less identical to last yearís career mode. If youíre playing as a manager thereís a new Global Transfer Network (GTN) to come to grips with. The GTN lets you hire scouts and send them all over the world scouting prospective players. You issue them with instructions on the kind of players youíre looking for, and they get back to you with recommendations.
Of more interest is the ability to scout youths as young as fifteen, in the hopes of securing the next budding superstar. Scouted youths show their overall rating as a range (e.g. 39-53), and have a potential range as well; the higher their potential the higher their overall skills can go.
FIFA Ultimate Team returns, and is just as fun as ever. If youíre unfamiliar with EAís Ultimate Team mode, it involves buying packs of cards that contain everything you need to make up a team Ė players, uniforms, managers and consumables to do things like buff your fitness or extend a playersí contract. The cards are your team, and you take to the field with them in online and offline matches, earning FIFA coins that are used to buy more cards in the process.
Itís all great fun, and unlike Maddenís version of Ultimate Team, the barrier to entry in FIFA is extremely low. Youíre given a starting team and if you work through a 13-step managerís challenge that covers the basics of the mode, youíll earn yourself a gold pack of cards. The various competitions available to compete in all have unique requirements, such as having a team of the same nationality, or only bronze-level cards, that have you tinkering with your side constantly.
Co-op Seasons, where you and a mate head online to take on opponents in 2-vs-2 matches, debuts in FIFA 14. Given the popularity of FIFA itís somewhat surprising this hasnít existed before, but itís better late than never and I can imagine plenty of people will love it.
If youíre new to FIFA make sure to check out the Skills Games, which cover just about every facet of the game in a series of increasingly difficult challenges. Dribbling, passing, shooting, defending, penalties, free kicks and more are all here. Many of the games are fun, though at the hardest difficulty they can become extremely tough.
Player physics is something EA has worked on improving in both Madden and NHL, and FIFA 14 is no different. Players move more realistically this year, and strength plays a bigger role than ever before. Stronger players will outmuscle smaller players regularly, taking the ball away from them almost at will. To combat this youíll need to make liberal use of L2, which protects the ball, putting your playersí back to the defender.
The ball also moves more realistically if EA are to be believed. Certainly there are slightly more shot types available to you, and lobbed passes look a little different (flatter maybe?), but the changes seem small enough that unless youíre really looking for them you wonít notice. Generally speaking the changes to physics and momentum make the game look and flow more realistically, though occasionally it does feel overdone.
And that last part leads me to the first of two issues I have with FIFA 14, that is, somehow I found the simple act of dribbling the ball less satisfying than last year. Your players seem content to let the ball get too far away from them, even when not sprinting, giving defenders ample time to take the ball away. In cramped confines itís almost impossible to keep the ball away from defenders as your players simply donít have the necessary ball control.
The second issue is more fun than the first, and a lot has been made of it online already. That is, finesse shooting and headers are both overpowered. These are more of an issue online than offline, where a single moment can ruin hours of progress in a tournament. In offline play it can be fun to muck around with these techniques to try and run up a score against the CPU.
Aurally I didnít notice the music as much this year as last, though there are still some decent tracks in the game. There are only a few bands I recognize Ė Nine Inch Nails and Bloc Party for example Ė but the soundtrack is padded by decent tunes from bands I havenít heard of. The excellent commentary of the inimitable Martin Tyler and Alan Smith returns, without major changes. Thatís fine Ė their work remains among the best in a sports game, and is leaps and bounds ahead of that found in Madden, both in overall quality and accuracy.
EA Canada has done a credible job backing up last yearís exceptionally successful title with FIFA 14. It is by no means a major step forward from last year, but the changes to physics and momentum, along with improved presentation make it just enough different to be worth your attention. That said if youíre not a huge soccer (ok, football) fan and you have FIFA 13 you can probably wait until FIFA 15 (or maybe FIFA 14 on PS4).
Review By: Mike Allison