Has Goliath met his match?
Well, well, FIFA it’s quite nice to see you again. But I must be up front—I’ve been hanging out with another. We’re not going to drop any names, but I'll just say it starts with "Pro" and ends with "Soccer." Sometimes "Evolution" is actually involved, but let’s not talk about that… yet. Let’s talk about how you are back in all of our lives.
For some who couldn’t wait until FIFA's official return, a demo for FIFA 14 has been available for the last couple of weeks. As standard with most demos, the bulk of ’14 focuses on gameplay and showcases pieces of the newest updated graphic details. Of course, these modifications are only for the current consoles but I’m sure once the next-gen consoles drop, our jaws will be soon to follow.
The first word that comes to mind when describing FIFA 14 is "shiny"; that is, not particularly "polished." The whole theme this year seems to be “Look at me, I’m adorable. I can do flips and kicks and all the above." There are features, upon features, on top of features. That might sound like a bad thing, and in a sense, it is. To what extent do endless possibilities and variations help make the core game better? And at what point do they become a distraction instead?
On-field, most of the visual action stays the same. This will be arguable to major FIFA heads but through and through when playing this year’s model compared to last year's, there are not many differences. Not to say things haven’t been added or tweaked; they're just subtle, with adjustments made to the moves and abilities themselves.
One of the coolest additions takes a page out of the FIFA Street book by implementing its modified dribble technique. Holding LB/L1 allows your player on offense to finesse-dribble and control the ball in attempt to shake your defender. This is especially useful when approaching the box in hopes of getting around the opposition for a one-on-one score against the goalie. Another nifty skills move is pace control, where you can control a player's stamina by using LT/L2 to slow down when your defender is close and then take off at the right moment to blow past him. In real-life, you'll never see anyone completely running full speed at all times on the field, so neither should you in the game.
The artificial intelligence has been upgraded as well. Sure, your teammates will still pull weird stunts that will leave you scratching your head, but at least they have better reactions. Your teammates should now be able to recognize open space on the field when you are advancing towards the goal and position themselves either to clear out for space or to get ready for a crossing pass. Jockeying and lobbing for the ball on offense as well as defense has taken a step forward. These adjustments will automatically engage themselves for a greater chance at winning the ball but also can be applied with finesse modifiers.
Off-field, it’s all about the game modes. Compared to other soccer titles, FIFA by far has more you can invest your time in, helped by all of the exclusive licensing EA holds with many major leagues and clubs. Making their usual yearly appearance are Ultimate Team, Seasons, Pro Club, Be A Pro, Career, Tournament, Skills Games, Football Club, and Practice—all of which have their own fan following and bring to the table what you expect them to. In a small twist, Be A Pro mode allows you to have a career not only as a player, but as a manager too.
As typical of the series, FIFA 14 offers a wide variety of customization, but it's not like you can change things like the wear of the field's pitch... no, wait a minute, you can. I don’t think there has ever been so many customizing options before in FIFA. Custom uniforms, players, stadiums, pitch patterns, ball types, commentators, broadcast language—you name it, and they probably have it. After scoring a goal, you can even press a combination of buttons and celebrate in a number of ways. Also adding to the authenticity of the match are the crowds, now with improved modeling, who will cheer and boo as wildly as needed to pump up their respective teams to victory.
Other little trinkets of detail have been made focal points this year; namely, the blades of grass. That’s right, check out how they blow in the wind and dance to the music of stomping cleats. Anyone who follows this year's offerings from EA Sports will notice this as a reoccurring theme this season. They must have hired a groundskeeper as a consultant or something...
Despite the improvements in graphical fidelity and presentation, which are sure to be even more amazing on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, FIFA 14 is essentially the same game from last year. EA Sports continues to set the bar for soccer titles, but Pro Evolution Soccer 14 has been doing its fair share of improvements. In fact, I believe a real feud is sure to break out. It's going to be like the old WWF vs. WCW ratings battles back in the 90’s. That's the kind of competition this genre sorely needs.