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FIFA 15 Review

Kicking virtual balls.

This year’s FIFA release has a golden opportunity. This is the first that’s launching on the same day for all platforms, including the new consoles with their greatly improved processors and memory. Long time FIFA fans might reasonably hope for a revolution in gameplay similar to the move from FIFA 08 to FIFA 09.

So does the new game tweak and tinker, like a mid-table manager masterminding a drive for European qualification? Does it sink those hugely improved resources into a run at the title like a perennial under-achiever with a new oil-rich owner? Is it like Everton or Chelsea? Southampton or Manchester City?

As usual, answering those questions is going to take some intricate unravelling of the various threads that make up the monumental yearly achievement that is the largest, most-beloved football franchise in video games. Initially, it seems that there’s no leap here – it’s very much a case of tiny incremental alterations. Given a bit more play time and those small changes, it becomes apparent, force quite a large change in the way the game wants to be played. Maybe there’s a hint of revolution in the air after all.

Perhaps the biggest change, at least under the skin of the game, is the way momentum and strength come to bear during each on-pitch encounter. This is perfectly indicative of a small tweak that has wide-ranging repercussions in how the game plays. As a defender, it has become significantly more difficult to successfully make a tackle.

Sliding tackles were altered in a previous version of FIFA so that the square button (X on Xbox consoles) basically became “push-to-foul” unless you got the positioning and timing absolutely spot-on. FIFA 15 makes a similar change to the circle (B on Xbox) button. It’s no longer the button to mash when you’re challenging for the ball – that results, nine times out of ten, in shirt pulling, an unceremonious shove or a clumsy entangling of legs and the resultant foul. Circle is also less useful when you need to stick a leg in to win the ball.

If your timing and positioning isn’t perfect, it almost always results in a foul or a completely ineffectual lunge in the wrong direction and several frames of animation priority before you have control of your defender again – now ten yards behind the attacker you were attempting to dispossess. The game never feels unfair about it, but given the robot brains often controlling your opponents, their propensity for mistiming challenges is much less frequent and so it is often frustrating that you’re making errors the opposition never does.

The concept of momentum is also apparent in the movement of your attacking players. If you’ve avoided a tackle, you might need a few yards to regain balance and alter course. That means that groups of defenders might close down your most skilful players and easily win the ball simply by harrying them into stumbling from one tackle to the next. But that creates space to exploit elsewhere on the pitch – just as in real football.

The player strength statistic changes tackling and running with the ball in quite significant ways. Go into a tackle with a player who is slight of frame against a player who’s no stranger to the weights bench and you’ll probably just bounce off him. You’ll likely fall over too. It doesn’t seem to matter how perfect your timing is in these instances, you’re always going to struggle to dispossess a very physically strong player with a very light, weak one. Even a well timed tackle that wins the ball might not ultimately be successful for you if your smaller statured defender happens to clip the strong attacker after the initial challenge – he’ll fall over or stumble off balance just as readily as if he’d missed the timing of the tackle completely. Tiny, fast players no longer have as unfair an advantage because of this – you’ll just need to play slightly differently with the varying types of player in possession.

The idea that you’ll need to readjust your playing style permeates deeper too. FIFA 15’s goalkeepers are not only animated with a wider range of movements and reactions, they’re also more difficult to beat. They seem smarter too, so they don’t rush out quite as readily to meet a striker who is preparing a cheeky lob. At the lower difficulty settings, the improved intelligence of AI opponents isn’t a problem – you can still take on entire teams with your silky skills. As you ramp up the difficulty, though, the whole AI seems to become genuinely more intelligent about the way they approach the game. You’ll need to be patient, build up movements and try to pull a team out of shape before finding space to mount an attack.

Happily, the smarter AI also makes an appearance among your teammates. Everyone moves around a little more than in the past, hunting for space, changing angles and offering themselves for a pass. That’s most noticeable with how strikers will more reliably find themselves space in the penalty area so that your tricky wingers now have a greater chance of finding a finishing touch at the end of their expertly weighted cross.

The penalty area is also home to another far-reaching tweak to the gameplay. There are many more deflections, rebounds and scrappy goalmouth scrambles than in previous FIFA games. Given the newfound intelligence of your strike partners, this tends to mean more goals scored by well-positioned poachers feeding off rebounds but it also makes for some comical, and glorious, looping deflections spinning in over the ‘keeper’s head.

Most of the game’s presentation is as exquisite as you’d expect. The new Premier League content (all stadia, teams, many more highly detailed faces, etc.) is very welcome, especially as a fan of a team likely to finish in the bottom half of that league. There’s very little about the front-end of the game that’s markedly different, but the menus never suffered from that frustrating moment of lag that has appeared from time to time in past games. Unfortunately, there is a pause in your input as a match goes into half time or finishes up. You can no longer immediately skip highlights and are forced to watch the first several seconds of them at least, as you hammer away at an unresponsive set of buttons. It’s a minor frustration but one that happens in every match and will hopefully be patched out.

One menu system that is greatly altered and improved is the Team Management screen. It’s no longer an exercise in diving through menus, as everything is presented in a much clearer fashion, although formation names and the way it moves players around when you switch could be a little more intuitive. You can give instructions to the team or individual players and they seem to make tangible differences to the way your team performs on the pitch. For the first time in a FIFA game, there is genuine nuance to the tactical system beyond how far your lines sit up the pitch and how often your players make off-the-ball runs.

Another introduction that makes a big difference during gameplay is the new option to switch to the receivers during corners and throw ins. Basically, you’ll lose control of how the set piece is taken but instead you get to engage in a physical battle for position and call for the pass when you want it. It won’t always come to you but there’s great delight in using this system to create space for yourself and just as much joy in using your greater control over a player’s movement to create that space for someone else.

FIFA’s most played (and, doubtless, its most profitable) game mode doesn’t remain untouched either. Ultimate Team has a couple of new additions that warrant a mention, as well as a whole new attribute on every card to bring the new physicality stats to the fore. The first is the addition of loan players which you can now add to your team for a handful of games. You can choose to use these star players, acquired via the game’s catalogue, at strategic moments to enhance your chances of a successful season. You might want to utilise your loanees during the new Friendly Seasons mode, which is a 1v1 version of Seasons, or simply as a way to test a player before saving up the coins to buy him.

One of the most interesting new additions to FUT is that of Concept Squads. You can basically build a squad with whatever cards you want in this, allowing you to experiment with that Spanish/English League squad you’ve been meaning to build and see how the chemistry looks before you start trying to gather the players up for real. Concept Squads can be shared too, so if you’ve got a particularly potent looking group, you can let your friends try to gather the players themselves.

What’s Good:

  • AI improvements all around.
  • Greater skill required for defensive aspects of play.
  • Presentation is as crisp as ever.
  • Newly modelled content makes for greater fan-service.
  • More realistic penalty box play.
  • Better animation means players appear more realistic on the pitch.

What’s Bad:

  • AI opponents don’t make human-like mistakes.
  • Short delays in skipping highlights are frustrating.
  • Not the big change that would have been nice.

FIFA 15 is not quite the great leap forward that many would have hoped for but it’s a bigger jump than it initially appears to be. The changes, although infuriating to begin with as they make you re-learn elements of your game, ultimately make for a more realistic game of football. There’s more nuance, more fidelity in the tactical systems and there’s greater movements from the players on the pitch. In a series that is synonymous with incremental improvements, FIFA 15 manages to feel like more of an evolutionary leap.

Score: 9/10

version tested: PS4

  1. colmshan1990
    Since: Apr 2009

    I can’t wait.

    After playing FIFA 14 to death I have FIFA 15 preordered from the PSN. It’s already downloaded, but the wait until Friday to actually play it is quite frustrating.

    Great review by the way- the changes sound great.

    Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 15:12.
    • Peter Chapman
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      all the changes seem fairly insignificant – or even annoying – to begin with but after a few games, it all starts to fall into place and you realise that this isn’t the “press shoot button for goals” game that some FIFA games were historically, you need to build play much more realistically. It’s much more philosophically similar to PES from about 6 or 7 years ago than most FIFA games of the past.

      Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 15:15.
      • colmshan1990
        Since: Apr 2009

        That really does sound glorious to be honest.

        I really enjoyed the feel of the demo and can’t wait to get stuck into the main game. I even have my Ultimate Team sorted after I got lucky by packing Falcao on the web app! :)

        Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 15:36.
      • Jones81
        Since: Mar 2010

        Have they put the option to create tournaments back in?, I’m not much of a FIFA (or football) fan but I did buy it last year and the fact I couldn’t just play through a prem league season against the computer ruined it for me. I don’t want to do all that become a pro/management crap

        Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 15:56.
      • wonkey-willy
        Since: Jan 2010

        From what I’ve seen and the whispers over the intra web pro evolution is shaping rather.nicely this year..could it rain on FIFA’s parade this year?

        Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 15:59.
      • Stefan L
        Community Team
        Since: May 2009

        From previews and that demo, I agree with Peter. I’d say that if you go into it looking for things like the accurate ball collisions and momentum or the goalkeeper animations – which aren’t seamless or flawless, but do feel and look much better than before – you’ll notice their impact quicker than if you go in without prior knowledge.

        Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 16:00.
      • Peter Chapman
        Team TSA: Editor
        Since: Forever

        you can play any tournament as a single entity without the management stuff and you can create your own too.

        Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 16:08.
      • Jones81
        Since: Mar 2010

        Ok Peter, thank you. I might be tempted into purchase now. Thanks again

        Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 19:12.
  2. tactical20
    Since: May 2010

    Local lad, Johan Ter Horst, made the dream transfer in the Summer from Ryman South’s Folkestone Invicta to the Premiership’s Hull City, so looking forward to seeing him in the game! :-D

    Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 15:16.
    Since: Sep 2012

    I wonder if it’ll let you ‘park the bus’ if you play as Chelsea?

    Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 15:51.
    • Stefan L
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      You can actually do that with any team if you press left on the D-pad enough times.

      Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 16:02.
      • colmshan1990
        Since: Apr 2009

        You can use a headset or the microphone in the camera to call tactics as well, from Park the Bus to All out attack. You can even make a sub via voice commands without ever pausing the game.

        Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 16:14.
      • CR8ZYH0RSE
        Since: Sep 2012

        Lol,i don’t play footy games but my mates love it they’re always playing Fifa.I didn’t even complete the tutorial on the free PES game we got off ps plus,i just don’t see the attraction.Maybe i should sit down one day and give it good try?

        Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 16:34.
  4. JustTaylorNow
    Since: Oct 2011

    If fifa can get a 9 then surely pro Evo a 9.5 or even 10 cause they is no way fifa has improved that much, what was fifa 14 an 8?

    Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 16:25.
    • Peter Chapman
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      I think my personal score for FIFA 14 probably would have been a strong 8 but that doesn’t really matter. FIFA 15 is being reviewed now, not 12 months ago. It’s not a case of the score going up each year if they make improvements, that would be crazy.

      I used to be a huge PES fan so I really do hope this year’s is a significant improvement on some recent offerings – although I didn’t play last year’s at all so perhaps those improvements have already been made. Hopefully we can get review code from Konami and I’ll let you know :)

      Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 17:12.
  5. DividSmythe
    Since: May 2012

    Sorry Peter I don’t understand how it got a 9 myself. I’ve played through EA access and don’t see it as that good. Goal kicks seem to take forever to take. The game just seems a bit buggy. In parts too. Players don’t run on to throughballs. Short over the top throughballs seem to bamboozle good defenders. That’s just a few of my problems with FIFA. Also a few other sites disagree with the review. Note my defence in comments section CVG review round up though. http://www.computerandvideogames.com/477373/fifa-15-review-round-up/

    Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 17:24.
    • Peter Chapman
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      there were a couple of very minor bugs initially in this review code (things like the yellow card disappearing when it’s held aloft) but anything I had noticed as buggy was patched out a day or two after I started playing. The lofted through balls have always been overpowered but that’s actually addressed a little this year – they’ve become less likely to succeed than they were last year, outside of the easiest difficulty settings.
      FWIW, I wavered between an 8 and a 9 for this but as it all fell into place more and more, the longer I played, I felt it warranted the higher score – just!

      P.S. it really doesn’t matter if “a few other sites disagree”, you find the voices that resonate and develop a trust in them. If that’s not me, then that’s fine but I hope (well, I’m fairly sure actually) that my reviews resonate with some people and that’s really all I can hope for.

      Also, anyone who thinks TSA is on the take is profoundly stupid but thanks for sticking up for us ;)

      Comment posted on 24/09/2014 at 13:07.
  6. CarBoyCam
    Since: Sep 2009

    I’m really looking forward to playing this once I’m back from Eurogamer this weekend! Loved the demo and loved the way it felt and looked. Superb effort in my opinion, but after playing the demo, I agree with CB about the robot AI.

    Comment posted on 23/09/2014 at 21:13.
  7. Sympozium
    Since: Aug 2009

    I’ve been playing it for a bit on PC, its a lil shaky in framerates at each goalpost but its a pretty solid game so far. I like how the formations have finally been redesigned but still no PES-like options like auto-subs. I’ll really miss the Liga Do Brasil. I often play as Corinthians along with getting players from the same league in Ultimate Team. That would be one of my many disappointments considering they could’ve just done a PES with the unlicensed teams.

    Comment posted on 25/09/2014 at 16:35.

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