FIFA Soccer 14 Review (Xbox One)
To be truthful, FIFA 14 for next-gen consoles isn't a sports title that's going to instantly make your jaw hit the floor — certainly not in the way that NBA 2K14 has managed to do — but once you start looking at it and playing it on a nice television setup, you start to realize that it's an incredibly versatile and smooth version of the FIFA brand that has satisfied millions for years now. While the new Ignite engine that's powering EA's next-gen efforts is certainly in its early stages here, this is still a strong “launch” sports title, and there's plenty to be happy about when you start playing it.
Don't misunderstand: this FIFA experience on next-gen reveals itself to be quality, but only once you play it. If you own the game on current-gen platforms already, it's probably a tall order to convince you to plunk down a bunch more money to play this version.
But if you find yourself in the market for a PS4 or an Xbox One (especially in Europe, where you could get FIFA for free), FIFA 14 on next generation hardware acquits itself rather well.
The biggest change in FIFA 14 on the new hardware, which I've outlined in my previous impressions, is the way it moves and plays thanks to the added animation fidelity and blistering framerate. Since the shackles of have been taken off the developers at EA, they've been able to use custom animations for many more scenarios, including through passes, lobs, shots, headers, pivots and off-the-ball reactions. Every player moves with an enhanced level of fluidity when compared to the current-gen version, and it's readily apparent when you watch the game back in replays.
Shooting, for example, feels quite a bit different, even though it's rooted in the familiar meters and presentation that users will be accustomed to. Since there are many new animations and reactions, players will actually adjust their body and their feet before releasing a shot, creating a much more believable release the has the appropriate velocity and impact if it hits the bar or ripples the net. I still found that finesse shots could be potted in the same fashion as most FIFA games of the past, but the added fidelity and framerate meant I could plant and manuever in the box with more purpose than before. This created more dynamism in the offensive scenarios, and everything just feels great when releasing a wicked shot from outside the box.
Headers have received a similar buff, as now multiple players — at least four — can go up after a ball. I wouldn't say that this occurs every single time, but it looks really cool when it does. It's also noteworthy that the added animations affect how headers will look and play out, as players will turn their head and contort their body in really specific ways that haven't been seen in previous FIFA games. I found crosses and headers to be slightly less effective than before, which is probably a good thing, since FIFA can get kind of bogged down in corners and headers. Still, you will see plenty of header opportunities, and you'll likely score some smooth-looking goals off your dome.
In general, there are a lot more loose ball situations this year, and you'll actually have to manage your player switching quite a bit to go after errant passes and weird deflections. On the one hand, I'm glad that there is more of this, since it creates some nice variety to the gameplay, but it also causes some aggravation, as you'll sometimes be left waiting for your AI teammates to go after a ball.
I certainly applaud the improvements that have caused things to feel less canned and more organic, but it can be a bit maddening when an AI teammate struggles to find his footing when going after a ball that should be an easy retrieval.
While those defensive teammate AI situations can cause the odd annoyance, it is great to see players thinking offensively by actually calling for passes and cutting for through lanes. Teammates will actually try and get out of the way when you're driving a shot, and they'll wait for their moment to actually get towards the corner and give you an outlet. I found myself waiting on my teammates much less than in previous years' games, and by playing laterally, I was able to open up the field relatively well.
One-on-ones feel excellent this year thanks to the added smoothness and animations, and it's really a pleasure to watch the action in replay and admire some of the fancy footwork and body movement that goes on during some of the close-quarters checking. Physicality continues to factor into these situations, as you'll have to size up defenders and passing lanes before trying to jockey around some of the bigger opponents. I found the AI reasonably good this year, as they use their size and ride you off the ball if you try and force things.
Specific throughs and cuts will still get you money chances if you know how the AI commits, but I did still have fun playing against the CPU, so that's all that really matters. The computer still doesn't commit enough fouls for my liking, but I did see them get called from time to time, mainly for being overly aggressive when jockeying for the ball.
All of these added animations and slight AI tweaks create a pleasing net effect for the gameplay, as I found myself just really satisfied with the action on offer. The building blocks for making star players feel unique have been put in place with this new animation fidelity (and with some presentation touches, as I'll note below), but this is still a core FIFA experience that doesn't vary wildly from one team to the next. Personally, this isn't something that I've ever gotten that hung up on, but I certainly would like to see more role players and team-specific strategies going forward, especially with the added horsepower and unleashed animation potential.
FIFA has always been a sharp-looking game, and this year builds on that winning pedigree with the “living worlds” concept and dynamic presentation elements. To put a bottom line on what the new hardware delivers, you'll see better kit fabrics, more accurate player faces, detailed pitch textures (with grass and water spraying up), 3D crowds, some stadium external presentation and improved camera work during the game.
The next-gen hardware has allowed the action to be displayed at 1080p and 60fps, and the new stadium details really help heighten the atmosphere and sense of frenzy. Crowds look very good now, with individual fan sections and a proper variety of animations to make everything seem just that much more alive. It's really cool to watch a replay after a goal and see the crowd slowly rising to its feet and celebrating with the appropriate amount of passion. With the improved animations, character models and jersey fabrics, most players look a lot better now, and you'll get less of the “doll” effect that was seen on current-gen systems. Still, I look forward to the player detail going even further in the future, especially since there are still some wooden-looking animations and 1000-yard stares going on from a lot of the participants.
The stadium externals are an awesome idea, and it's great to see the likes of Old Trafford and Camp Nou visualized this way (especially at night), but it really makes you want to see EA take it further and apply the treatment to more stadiums. What's here is good, but more will be welcome. The camera work has also been improved throughout matches, and you'll see a much better quality and variety of replays, and close-ups will show players a bit more dynamically now (focusing on stars, for instance). The cutscenes and interstitials in FIFA 14 all end up being quite smooth, too, making the action after the whistle as nice as the on-pitch gameplay.
As always, the audio presentation in FIFA is top notch, with the commentary team of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith continuing to impress. There's a lot of great banter and speech for the various modes you'll play in as well, with the duo commenting on your previous loss in “seasons” mode or the fact that you're a new player on a team in career mode.
The cadence of the sport really lends itself to this kind of commentary style, and EA doesn't mess with what works here. Stadium audio also continues to sound tremendous, with chants, songs and everything else sounding appropriately vast or more localized depending on the stadium. The crowd audio reactions to certain plays have always struck me as a particular strength of the FIFA presentation, and that's no different here.
All of the menus are easy to navigate in FIFA 14 on Xbox One, and I found it simple to move between modes and change up settings without waiting around. Also worth mentioning is the game DVR feature on Xbox One, as this is great for saving highlights and memorable moments right after they happen. The Xbox One will automatically do this for you after certain plays as well, but this seemed a bit hit or miss in terms of which plays it would choose. Still, a neat feature that leverages the new hardware in a fun and social way.
All of the modes that FIFA has shown in the past are accounted for on Xbox One, save for leagues and tournaments. EA has said that this was due to time constraints as well as low player usage of the modes, but the omission still means that off-line play is going to be restricted to one of the more lengthy options, which won't suit everyone. On the bright side, skill games are still incredibly well-implemented, allowing you to practice your technique and bone up on your move before matches and when you have some free time.
FIFA Ultimate Team has been augmented this year with legend players, so get ready to see the likes of Pelé, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Luis Figo and Freddie Ljunberg. Even David Seamen is in there for English fans to recreate him missing that floater in the World Cup. The mode is as versatile as ever, allowing you to pop in and out of single-player and multi-player matches and change-up your players and chemistry balance when out of the action.
Career mode continues to provide lots of time-wasting potential, as you can attack it from either the player or manager angle. Dealing with news and transfers is a breeze in the mode (especially compared to the cumbersome menus and interface of NHL 14's career offering), and it's still satisfying to focus on just one player and levelling up your stats. As in the current-gen version, there's a lot more guesswork with the players now, and you'll have to take stock of your scouting to get a more accurate assessment on potential recruits.
Online modes abound in FIFA 14 on Xbox One, with pro club games, seasons (now with co-op), friendlies and FUT matches. EA has already addressed some bugs and crashes that users have been reporting, and there are workarounds for most of the issues. I was able to get into several seasons and FUT matches, but I did have several disconnects before doing so. When I did connect, the action was totally smooth, with only one or two hitches over several matches. Of particular note was how slick all of the transitions were in online matches, as previous FIFA games sometimes got bogged down with all of the loading and transitions. Not the case here.
FIFA 14 arrives on next generation hardware with a very successful first effort, not messing anything up drastically (besides a couple of omissions and online hiccups), and it manages to present and play smoother than any soccer title to date. It really is something you need to play to appreciate in terms of how smooth everything is and how the animations add to the gameplay variety, so if you have the means to do so, you'll likely come away happy with what you get.
Learning Curve: The FIFA series has never really been pick-up-and-play, and this one is no different. The added fidelity and smoothness does make the action a bit more accessible, though.
Control Scheme: As always, there's a lot of controls to keep in mind, and the FIFA team has left things as is for the users this year.
Visuals: Next-gen hardware translates into a buttery smooth framerate, better player models, 3D crowds, stadium exteriors and some awesome new animations.
Audio: A stellar audio package, to be sure, as the commentary and match audio is first-class stuff. The EA Trax are pretty good, too.
Value: While the omission of tournaments/leagues is a bit annoying, there is a ton of variety and depth to FIFA, as is the norm for the series.
Score: 8.5 (Great)
Scoring Note: While I hesitated to give this game “yet another 8.5,” I couldn't really reconcile scoring it any different. The current-gen release provides a very high level of quality, and while I think this franchise is capable of some great things on new hardware, I think this stands as an incredibly polished and playable launch sports game.