A game as refined as EA’s football series must have a hard time to renew its winning formula each year, yet still feel significant on its own. As a yearly release, this usually involves tweaks and an addition or two. With FIFA 14, novelty continues to seep into a sturdy sports title, with lots to offer the fan of the game. From subtlety to tangible overhaul, this edition stands its own, even with some grievances.
Starting off might be slow, as players are met with a menu interface that values style over substance, hiding its content in unnecessary boxes. Options are illogically sorted; some of them with a scroll bar and some without, making the landing page a maze. Furthermore, this is accompanied with a full score of generic and terribly repetitive songs, built only on a purpose of not standing out, with an edge of hip-hop influences to inflate a sense of toughness. Unfortunately, this will be there the entire time, so learning the outcome of aforementioned maze is a requirement.
This interface sucks.
After some rummaging, it should be possible to find a simple one-off match to play or even dive into some skill games to learn the ropes. Trying out the basic and advanced elements of the game comes in a dozen of tiered challenges, covering pretty much all aspects. Unfortunately, progression to other challenges is locked behind the completion of the former trial, but luckily, each individual component is simple enough to grasp to be able to play. To its acclaim, the understandable basics of FIFA 14 create engaging gameplay for all levels of players. It’s “simple,” but it works on different levels.
Knocking the ball around will work with a few prompts for shooting, passing and so on, with responsive controls for all. A gauge for shot power is timed out considerably to allow for more precise movement on the pitch. A short tap passes to the nearest squad member, while longer presses fling a shot further, at the expense of control.
On that note, FIFA 14 introduces separate ball physics and adaptively positioning artificial intelligence (A.I.), meaning that gauging is a critical skill. According to how a player is standing and how exactly they maneuver will greatly affect the trajectory, as well as subsequent precision in other actions. This engine reacts so vividly that even timing of exactly when to prompt for a shot becomes important, instead of loading up a shot, then waiting for it to play out. This is most apparent with high incoming balls, where a split second between a press or another can mean a killer shot or a weak header. For more advanced tricks, star moves can be pulled off with a series of stick rotations. Pulling off a feint can often be more trouble than it’s worth, but it can sporadically make for an amazing dribble. Versatility in action is guaranteed with these finely tuned designs, certainly as the A.I. is constantly aware of the subtlest of changes, which will make for challenging matches and smart team play all at once.
Tight gameplay is complemented with a series of modes, each altering their format to a certain extent to accommodate all sorts of gamers, both offline and online. Still, some “offline” pegged modes will require a connection to the EA servers, which means the gross majority of this title is spent online, despite noted otherwise. In particular, this sours the otherwise great Ultimate Team or FUT mode, though it is understandable that its player-driven market can’t be run in singleplayer. Here, a manager looks over a squad, built up of athlete cards, depicting their skill and affinity with others. Matching the right cards in the squad enhances team cohesion through chemistry. For instance, members who have played in the same league or hail from the same country get added bonuses to their traits, depending on their skill level. Winning matches will unlock coins to use in the trading market, but it’s also possible to gain auxiliary items like coaches, training advances, healing items and so on. While this offers a Sims-like bonding system between squad members mixed with Pokémon collection from cards, there are some sizable drawbacks. A small issue is that the difficulty ramps up quickly, making it harder to obtain better cards to progress. The larger flaw is that the buying market is shoehorned in hard, with players requiring new contracts frequently, which need to be bought. Microtransactions are creeping in fast in FIFA and there’s no way to stop it. Its redeeming factor is that FIFA 14 will always have a gargantuan player base that floods the market with cheap items, but it is a chore stopping a cleverly redesigned managerial mode from truly collapsing the old model.
Scouting now comes with actual effort.
For a more classic vibe, it’s still possible to partake in a manager or player career. For administrative players, the addition of a global transfer market allows for intensive scouting throughout the year, which works on research basis, instead of instantly knowing the full rating and worth of a potential signing. It’s more realistic to have scouts work for their reports. In a player career, certain objectives are set throughout the season, which yield better growth or rewards if completed. This can mean anything from scoring goals to performing commendably on the pitch. Objectives give that extra push for glory, outside of personal achievement and that makes this mode one of the more addictive ones. A standard view on the field also includes a snapping camera angle that bobs fervently as the action moves towards the goal, though it may be a bit confusing to handle. Luckily, like with the breadth of content in the game, it’s possible to adjust settings to overcome this. Playing with one player is also an option in the manager setting.
Finally, Pro Clubs can take this focus on a single teammate and drop it online with friends or random strangers. While this is a great mode among known parties, it is infuriating chaos with random pairings. This is the mode that should exponentially enhance the star player mechanism, but it is wasted on the most selfish community, who would rather lose than ever pass the ball, even once, even in their own box. It’s baffling to watch at times. It’s best to quickly make a club with acquaintances and forget that highly deterring cesspool, to gain a higher plain of exhilarating entertainment, where almost every squad member is a human challenge, instead of an AI one. These are the football matches that separate the weak from the strong. Much to its commendation, however, FIFA 14 allows for lots of players to chip in on any game mode, given the means are there.
Although this bevy of material is enough for anyone to start with, there are some overarching issues on the game’s curve. Levels of difficulty from one grade to the next spike with wide gaps, where one notch may lead to monstrous victories and the next will feel like a total hell with not even as much as an opportunity. It’s not a problem for all game modes, as it’s possible to stick to the more lenient one, but in cases like FUT, it’s mandatory to take part in these higher challenges, which leave little room for improvement. Additionally, management modes often suffer from tremendous menu slowdown, making it a pain to cycle through lists.
Aside from issues, both big and small, in many of its designs, FIFA 14 does make up a lot by providing expertly produced gameplay in a range of content. It’s fortunate that most flaws are either cosmetic or don’t break down from the core experience in a particular mode, while on the other hand reworking the play for a more genuine feel. Playing is more important than anything in this game and it handles that gloriously on a basic level; enough that anyone can enjoy it, whether it’s the seasoned veteran or the casual onlooker.