It should hopefully come as no surprise to you all that EA have a new FIFA game coming out this year. As part of their yearly diet of huge sporting franchises, it’s probably FIFA which has the widest appeal, and FIFA 14 will see the next step in their inexorable march towards the perfect game… of two halves. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)
With a yearly series running for this long, it will inevitably feel to some that there just can’t be all that many areas left to improve upon.
Yet there is always something to better, and there are plenty of opinions made loud and clear across the internet which help the team know where to focus their efforts. So, at a glance FIFA 14 might initially seem like not too much has changed, but in reality there have been many improvements under the hood which should once again transform the gameplay.
One of the complaints with FIFA 13 was surrounding the already revamped AI, with the defensive AI in particular getting a fair amount of stick. Each defender makes decisions on a frame-by-frame basis and when he made the wrong call, such as that a co-defender would be able to cover for him and he could back off, gaping holes in defence would spring open for a striker to run into.
Similarly, they wouldn’t be as smart in covering players off the ball as you might like, and so in FIFA 14 you should see that the defensive AI does a much better job of taking the whole field of play into account and working as a more cohesive team. It won’t just be you who is marking players, covering runs and closing down the ball.
This should add up to a game where you need to really work the ball through the midfield, rather than too much end-to-end running and incessant sprinting. However, with a tighter and smarter defence, the attack is also going to need a few extra tricks to break through.
Here you should see a few new moves made by strikers which keep their momentum high, such as running along the back line before a timed run rather than just checking their step to avoid the offside trap, or backing into defenders to protect an incoming ball.
Speaking of which, protecting the ball can now happen at any speed, where before it could only really be used when you were stationary. You might be running at full pelt or engaging in a bit of a push-pull battle, but a pull of the left trigger will now let you throw in a step which can sap a chasing defender’s momentum, or let you slow things right down and hold up the pace of play.
When you do need a turn of pace you’ll also be more maneuverable, with tighter turning now possible when sprinting, which is tempered only by the better modelling of player momentum.
This is all wrapped around some new ball physics, which can now more accurately replicate the complicated motions which a ball can be put through in real life. It will slow more naturally when passed along the ground for one thing, and when sprinting the ball won’t be as tightly under the player’s control.
The new ball physics have also opened up the potential for EA to introduce new kinds of shot, with the low rising ball, the dipping shot and even the now infamous knuckle shot being brought into play. Something which would give Gareth Bale a run for his money.
The window dressing to these new kinds of kick comes from Pure Shot. FIFA 13 and before would see players unrealistically snap to a particular animation frame, to get the shooting player into the right place to take a shot, but this method is not only unattractive to see, it simply doesn’t give enough visual feedback to you.
You might miss a shot because you were out of position, but wouldn’t know quite why. Pure Shot sets out to fix this, with new player animations which will see feet getting set more naturally via a stutter step or a slightly curved run, or, if you time your button presses wrong, it will show the player taking the shot off balance. If you see these things, then you can tell that the shot was mistimed, and understand why it tottered past the post like a wonky bike wheel.
In the wider game there are also changes afoot. Although EA aren’t yet talking about online play with Ultimate Team, let alone platforms beyond PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, Career mode sees an overhauled user interface which will hopefully make it more pleasant to use.
The menus are laid out in a fashion which should give much more information at a glance, and be easier to get around. You’ll all be glad to hear that you’ll only get notifications for the really important in-game emails.
Finding new players for your team is also getting a more authentic approach. Now, rather than asking for a player with 80 speed, as an example, it’s a more dynamic approach where you ask after characteristics rather than statistics. Sending your scouts to search for a speedy left-footed winger will take a certain amount of time, depending on where you want to look.
Your scouts will have a good handle on the players in your home league, and the big names like Ronaldo or Messi will also be known quantities. However, if you want to scout around on the other side of the world, in South America, you’ll have to send more scouts down there for longer to find the hot properties.
As always, FIFA is in a constant state of evolution. From one year to the next it will always feel like there are only a few areas which are getting the attention of the developers. Yet the smallest sounding things can sometimes really transform the gameplay, and even just with seeing tech videos and demonstrations FIFA 14 looks like it will have some really tangible improvements over last year. It’s probably going to be the best FIFA yet.
Then again, we get to say that every year…
Check back later this afternoon for an interview with Nick Channon, Producer on FIFA 14.