Are you a fan of FIFA? Well it's that time of year again so here is my review of FIFA 14 from EA Sports.
The generally recognised rule says 'if it's not broken don't try to fix it.' It's a dilemma, then, when you have the greatest simulation of football ever created to best. Perhaps this is a challenge made all the more difficult when you consider FIFA 13 is widely accepted to be the most feature complete game in the history of the franchise. AFC Wimbledon V Chelsea, then.
You'll be glad to hear that the challenge has been tackled head-on, and in almost every area, succeeds in redefining your expectations from a sports title, and delivers something exceptional.
FIFA 13 was brilliant. The culmination of three years development on the latest FIFA engine, featuring such advancements as the impact engine, greater variety in formations, split defences and the rise to prominence of quick inverse wingers. But therein lay the problem, and a source of absolute disdain for serious football thinkers, and those that dreamed of an online experience that rivalled the spectacle of Super Sunday. All you needed to win, was a quick winger on either side, and a striker capable of shooting from 20 yards. Thankfully, that's a trait left behind in a game that feels like real football, where every player knows their limits, and only the true geniuses stand out from the crowd.
In pure football terms, FIFA 14 is so much more the thinking man's game, where formations make a difference, as do the smallest of changes to player commands. Substitutions can give you the edge in the dying minutes, and the 'B' button doesn't spawn an instant yellow card from the pocket of the referee. It's about rhythm and tempo.
Keeping the ball is easy in and around your penalty area, but with the addition of protecting the ball, and momentum in both players and the ball itself, controlling the middle third of the pitch is a key to success. When the modern game is played predominantly near the centre circle, EA Canada has replicated the importance of this zone with striking accuracy. Lose the ball because you didn't receive it properly, and your opponent can counter attack with pace. The difference this year, over last, is that your defenders don't feel like they're on pre-determined trajectories, and moving forward and back to cover positions, compressing the lines to intercept, while out of position players move to decrease the angles of available passes. The result, is one of the only complaints about last years title is immediately resolved. That's not to say you won't be able to play as Bayern Munich and replicate their quick attacking style, but it's a lot more difficult.
Of course, the most popular mode in FIFA, is ultimate team, essentially, a free-to-play title given away as part of the greater premium product. It's a money machine for Electronic Arts, and it's no wonder there's a big emphasis on the addition of chemistry cards. Addictive doesn't really do the mode justice, but applying chemistry cards to your central midfielder so he stays back and protects the back four, while you send your two remaining midfielders forward to support the attack is going to make online ultimate team matches a thing of beauty. Within reason, you could replicate Chelsea's Champions League triumph, putting everyone behind the ball, protecting the goal, while sending only three players forward on counter attacks. It could be the biggest shake up to the auction house since the mode made its début. Instead of searching for the player with the right skills, you can now apply cards to make your players adjust to your gameplan. Chemistry cards are a brilliant addition, but beware - give yourself a budget for FIFA points, because we can see these cards doing serious numbers online.
The other major overhaul, comes in the shape of the Global Transfer Network in manager mode. As the mode I play more than any other, it's a double edged sword. Firstly, it makes the time between transfer windows more enjoyable, as replicating the real world scenario of scouting and re-scouting players to find the one that fits your system is sublime. Working months in advance, and waiting for the window to open and pounce once again shows that real world systems work in-game, while missing out on targets means you always have a backup. It's a revelation designed to keep you playing, and make the time between matches an integral part of the process.
The downside to this addition, is that in generates email after email from scouts saying "Four more players found in France," or 'now information on short-listed player'. However much it adds to the game play with systems, it takes begins to frustrate, especially when you search terms for scouts are quite broad.
That said, you don't actually have to read your emails, but it checks with you to make sure you want to delete every email individually. A 'delete all' would be highly advised when the first game update rolls around.
I could sit here and name the new stadia included for the first time, or the fact that my team, the magnificent Liverpool are now a partner, and all its players are reproduced digitally to an exceptional standard. I could tell you about how each mode gives you so many more hours of game play than the average game, but the underlying question is all you need ask: is this the best football game available today? Yes. Without a doubt, FIFA 14 is incredible, and despite a spirited effort from this years PES, FIFA 14 overloads the midfield, breaks forward and blasts the ball into the roof of the net.
FIFA 14 - PES Nil.
FIFA 14 will be released in North America on September 24 and September 27 in UK on the Xbox 360 with Kinect, PlayStation 3 with PlayStation Move support, Windows PC, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 2, and PSP. The game will also be available with the launch of the Xbox One on November 19 (North America) and November 21 (Europe), and PlayStation 4 on November 12 (North America) and November 29 (Europe). FIFA 14 on mobile will be available on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch as well as Android devices this fall.
Phew, that's a lot of different formats!
Are you going to buy FIFA 14 (and on which format)? Let us know by leaving a comment below.