The yearly FIFA games are simultaneously one of the most popular and biggest selling series year in, year out, and perversely one of the most complained about games at the same time. Every year, there are issues which players pick up on, and every year the team at EA Canada tries to find the root of the problem and fix it.
Rather than applying spot fixes that tweak particular settings and stats (the kinds of changes that are best reserved for post-release patches) each year sees one or two targeted areas within the game to be practically rewritten. In FIFA 14, some of the biggest changes came simply by way of the shift to new generation hardware and the new Ignite engine that powers all of EA’s latest sports games. However, in terms of gameplay it was with the Pure Shot system and the overhauled ball physics when in the air.
FIFA 15 takes those principles and expands them to affect the rest of the game, but it comes by way of a handful of surprisingly small sounding adjustments, which do genuinely seem to push the gameplay on to the next level. Things like adding the stutter steps that players could take in ’14 when shooting to dribbling the ball, allowing the players to use the inside and outside of their foot to better control where the ball will go and increasing player agility when turning, so that defenders will be more capable of keeping track of an attacker’s movements.
However, it’s the game now preserving ball momentum and spin on contact with a player that will likely have the most pronounced effect. Quick passes between team mates can now use the ball momentum and spin to assist them, while deflections off players will no longer just drop to the floor but can spin and arc up into the air, just as in real life. Headers are more realistic too, as this change will reduce their effectiveness in front of goal, while it should be easier to steal the ball in a tackle as, combined with new tackling animations, it’s more likely that you’ll trap the ball and not have it pop back out to another attacker.
While the ball physics will likely go the furthest to answering the complaints of gamers, more items on EA’s To Do list are also being checked off. You’ll be able to flick the right stick at a set piece, control another player’s positioning and run as you call for the ball into the box, for example, and extra settings are enabled on either end of the attack-defence scale, to allow you to go all out in attack or “park the bus” in defence.
This ties in with the further refined AI system which, on the PS4, Xbox One and PC versions, will now think further into the future. Each player will have short, medium and long term goals in the match, which might see them try to beat a defender, rather than merely holding onto the ball, or, if they are in need of a goal, make them more likely to try a longer ball to cut out the midfield battle.
Making much better use of the more powerful consoles, player emotions will also be tracked over the course of a match. If a someone scores an own goal, for example, the other players on the team will think more negatively of him, and while this won’t manifest itself in the team playing any differently, it does count towards the overhauled presentation in the game.
Highlights will stretch beyond shots on goal to include any aspect of a match the game thinks was important, while player reactions tied to a missed shot on goal of a heavy challenge will be determined by factors like the time left on the clock, the score line and how the players have come to feel about each other. Similarly, the crowds will have unique and often team specific animations, with Liverpudlians holding up scarves while singing You’ll Never Walk Alone given as an example.
It’s one facet of a push for greater graphical authenticity that has come through getting better acclimatised with the new console hardware and the Ignite engine, with the stated aim being that you will “feel the game” and be more emotionally invested in a match. Furthering this are more graphical bells and whistles, with footfall and sliding tackles marking the grass accurately over the course of a game – be thankful they didn’t brand this “Pitcholution” – and dynamic lighting from the sun (though no time transitions just yet) and light bloom helping to bring the colours and tone of the image much closer to watching a real life match on the TV.
The graphics are really the icing on the cake to the gameplay, given that FIFA 14 already had the potential to look uncannily realistic at times, and so the alterations to the ball physics and player control and animations will be key. It’s unclear how much of this will transfer back across to the PS3 and Xbox 360, though thankfully they aren’t yet being relegated to legacy status, but the changes here are another step in the right direction, trying to solve the problems in the gameplay at the root cause rather than with superficial tweaks.
Of course, I’m sure people will no doubt find something else to complain about within weeks of FIFA 15’s release later this year…