Football is not my sport – my passion lies in rugby union. The closest I have come to truly being passionate about football was watching Liverpool come back from 3-0 down in the 2005 Champions League Final against A.C. Milan. It was heart-pounding stuff. Unfortunately, replicating that in video game form for my preferred sport will likely never happen so I need to rely on EA’s yearly football franchise to get my sporting highs – and I can thankfully report that this year’s iteration certainly achieves that, though surprisingly for a next-gen entry loses something in translation too.
• Developer: EA Canada
• Publisher: Electronic Arts
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
• Also Available On: PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Portable, iOS, Android, PlayStation 2
• Release Date: Available Now
Loading up FIFA 14 for the first time on the PlayStation 4 was a joy to behold. I had begun the downloading process and within what seemed like minutes, I was allowed to play an exhibition game, specifically El Classico (Barcelona versus Real Madrid for the uninitiated). As you might expect from a next-gen console, the visuals are stunning. Watching the teams line up before kick-off, I was amazed at the detail of it all. Of course, once the match started, the viewpoint negated a lot of the visual fidelity by the sheer distance I was away from the action. Regardless, the Ignite engine certainly looks like it was worth the development time.
The gameplay was as impressive as the visuals. The character animations are vitally important in a football game. How easily you can control any incoming pass determines how quickly you can move on to passing or shooting yourself. Momentum and shifting weight from leg to leg impacts your manoeuvrability, which in turn can open up options for you or force you into decisions before you want to make them.
FIFA 14 is flawless here. Each challenge or close shave has an impact on your movement. A clipped shoulder as you break from a tackle can cause you to inadvertently kick the ball too far ahead, allowing possession to fall to your opponents. Your tactics will change based on the player you are controlling at any one time. For instance, if you are controlling a light but speedy winger, you will undoubtedly avoid contact in favour of taking your opposite number on the outside.
The other parts of a regular match have also seen a lot of improvements. The crowd has not only received a face-lift, but their responses seem to be far more realistic too. Home supporters boo decisions that go against their team and go wild when goals are scored. I was also very impressed with the commentary – while they can still come out with the odd clanger, the majority of the time, the banter was natural and relevant.
It isn’t all good news however. Once I got into the game modes, I was flabbergasted to learn of the lack of a tournament mode – it is simply inexcusable. This was one of my favourite modes previously as I would often end up with a buddy, playing through a World Cup as Ireland (well, it’s the only way we’ll ever get there!). The meat and potatoes of the single player is now made up of the Career mode and the Ultimate Team. Though, I have no interest in the latter, I will admit the former is well done. Playing as a younger, far fitter version of myself, progressing through a team and making a name for myself was utterly compelling and oddly addictive. Every time I failed to make a starting team felt like a personal insult; every goal I scored was a redeeming moment of joy. I was turning into my own biggest fan.
FIFA 14 is a polished, well-crafted interpretation of the beautiful game. The visuals are undeniably pretty and the gameplay, while not a galloping mile away from previous iterations, is still noticeably improved. Now, if only EA would do the same for rugby union…