When I heard that I’d be heading back in for some hands on time with FIFA 14, following on from the preview a while back, I was sure the stars had aligned in my favour. The timing was just perfect, with the event itself a few days after the Xbox One unveiling, and an embargo date which originally coincided with the start of E3.
Admittedly, I had got a little ahead of itself, wondering if I’d be getting to see the X1 in person. Whether I’d like the changes to their controller, as I don’t really get on with the 360’s sticks, and what about the new Ignite engine?
Alas it was not to be, and as I walked through the doorway to see only Xbox 360s. The 1080p graphics, the Ignite engine and all that other potential loveliness popped out of existence as quickly as Schrödinger’s Cat died/lived when the box was opened. That will all have to wait for another day.
Even so, from what EA has already demonstrated and talked about, FIFA 14 certainly had my interest, looking to be a big upgrade from the several year old games I’m familiar with. All of the changes announced so far have pointed towards a more considered, less frenetic game, one which should take another step closer to the real world style of play.
Core to this is the visual feedback which you rely on when playing, as well as the way the new ball physics tie in with a more accurate representation of player momentum, with the just announced Precision Movement, and tweaks to the animation systems.
Though behind the scenes this amounts to a lot of rewritten code, to the player this is really a collage of subtle changes which add up to what feels to me like a big shift. However, I also think that it’s mainly going to play on your subconscious, as many of the small changes will only really stand out visually in the instant replay function.
Of course the changes are still interesting, such as the way the kick of the ball now contains a degree of error, meaning that the player’s animations require blending so that the next kick takes this into account, or how much more contact players have when jostling for the ball, as opposed to the current gentle arm rubbing. Some of you would have enjoyed the tussle I played party to, which saw David Beckham shrugging off Gareth Bale’s challenges.
You should be able to more instinctively understand why something has gone wrong, too. You can turn at any angle when sprinting, but the better animations behind more accurate player momentum will let you know that you were going too fast to pull off a sharp angle, as you’re no longer able to stop on a dime and turn 180º. It’s maybe slightly more pronounced when shooting, as a player will really look out of shape when trying to dig out a ball from behind him, as was demonstrated when I mistimed a shot on goal and saw Ibrahimovic stumble after shooting.
For those who are new to FIFA, it should help them learn how best to play the game, alongside the expanded skill games. Even with quite a short amount of play time, these changes were fairly easy to keep an eye out for.
What will take getting used to, however, are some of the other additions and changes. Since I’ve never really got the hang of using skill moves, it being simplified somewhat to live solely on the right analogue stick might help me down the line, but it also frees up the left trigger for protecting the ball.
Now, either I was doing it wrong, or the alpha build hasn’t quite nailed it yet, but I found it tricky to use this protection mechanic. Admittedly, it’s probably the former, but I didn’t feel that I could get it to work consistently whilst on the move.
The idea is to simplify and extend your ability to hold up play and slow things down a little, encouraging you to work through the midfield, as opposed to the end to end play which can often dominate. It will take someone better than I to pick this up instantly, that’s for certain.
I would have been remiss if I didn’t try and get some juicy tidbits out of the Producer giving us a guided tour, picking out specific examples of the new game elements, and occasionally muttering “That’s a bug,” like when a particularly amusing collision glitch saw a player upended well away from the action.
Unluckily for you lot, he was absolutely on the ball, and wriggled his way through my questions about the commonalities between the current and next-generation versions of FIFA 14. So all you get for my troubles is a lazy football-based play on words.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a truly current FIFA game, with ’10 on console and the old-feeling Vita version of ’13 the only ones I currently possess. Aside from dipping in a toe with the various demos, this was a big step up for me, but it may well be the case that those with an intimate familiarity with ’13 will be looking for grander changes.
For those gamers, it may well be a case of the next generation version bringing a fresher game to the table. However, by rewriting large sections of the core game mechanics, I feel that EA (alongside Konami’s recent announcements) are giving a subtle hint of their intent, that they’re not done with evolving the game on current machines just yet.