Review: FIFA 14 (PS3)

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Title: FIFA 14
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (TBD)
Release Date: September 24, 2013 (US), September 27, 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Vancouver
Original MSRP: $59.99 (US), £39.99 (UK), £59.99 Ultimate Edition (UK)
ESRB Rating: E
PEGI: 3
Extras: PlayStation Move Compatible
FIFA 14 is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PSP, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, PC, iOS and Android.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

As FIFA 14 marks the transition from PS3 to PS4, one can’t help but reflect on EA’s phenomenal soccer success this console life-cycle. From Pro Evo being the definitive sim of the world’s favourite sport throughout the PS2 days, the recovery from FIFA has been nothing short of extraordinary. They’ve always possessed the big money, which in turn secures the big licences. But since 2007, the Canadian developers have fruitfully combined the superficial side of the game with truly amazing gameplay. So, is this year’s iteration a fitting swansong to a glorious generation?

Gameplay:
Whilst EA Vancouver (understandably so) haven’t decided to reinvent the wheel, the seemingly subtle changes have a significant impact on how this game rolls. Immediately apparent is the new “Precision Movement System”; a heightened sense of both realism and challenge make this a neat alteration to FIFA. Players feel weightier, making the play feel more grounded. Credit to the devs for listening and reacting to this complaint from fans; how matches often boiled down to pace, with players almost gliding along the turf.

Relatively, FIFA 14 is like wading through treacle. Thankfully, the gameplay is finally a little slower, with a greater emphasis on technical ability – the overall style leaning slightly away from Premier League and towards La Liga. Perhaps this change in footballing philosophies is not entirely by design; rather a by-product of making FIFA more realistic. The way legs are planted in the ground, and how weight is distributed when pushing off into a different direction, is awesome. Speedsters can no longer instantly halt when at full pace; they actually act like humans, with a stopping distance.

Even as a hardcore FIFA player, this entry in the series felt more difficult to break down defences due to the revitalised movement mechanics. Using trickery in a congested midfield, then biding your time and spotting the run, to which you execute an inch-perfect through ball. It felt so much more satisfying than simply holding down R2 to sprint down the wing in a battle with the full-back.

Balancing needs to be adjusted though as some sides become too overpowered. For example, as attributes such as acceleration and raw speed are now obviously exaggerated, Robben and Ribery run rampant for Bayern. Two flying wingers like that tear most defences to shreds. In all, though the new system is by no means a huge paradigm shift, it’s a step in the right direction. Returning gamers will enjoy the added challenge, whilst naysayers will appreciate the efforts to apply the brakes on proceedings.

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Shooting has undergone surgery, again becoming more realistic. Power and accuracy, as well as the ability to even reach the ball, no longer defy the laws of physics. Previously feeling somewhat ‘scripted’ with finesse shots almost being an automatic goal from certain positions, goalscoring is now more unpredictable. Elsewhere, the changes in mechanics are more minute. A raft of enhancements have been touted by the publisher, but new Shielding and First Touch controls are unnecessary. The re-learning of the triggers and sticks isn’t worth the minimal reward. Furthermore, keepers have a new tendency to parry shots directly into the path of oncoming strikers, which hopefully can be rectified post-launch.

Game modes are largely similar, Career receiving the most notable work. Buried underneath the lovely new menus (which I’ll discuss later) is pretty much the same old Manager Mode/Be A Pro from a few years back. Granted, auto-coach for simmed matches thankfully no longer permanently messes up your squad, and the Global Scouting Network works well, but these aren’t game-changers. People thought Career needed a facelift; it’s now clear it requires a whole new body. Lastly, a quick mention for the Skill Games – an ingenious time waster added in FIFA 13 – which are now even more annoyingly satisfying, and have essentially phased out ‘the arena’.

Visuals:
Slight tweaks aside (we’re talking new graphics for league logos when cutting to replays), the on-pitch action in FIFA 14 is aesthetically identical to the last few games. Player models and faces are largely the same, animations seem untouched and minor grievances (such as crowds) remain present. At this point in the generation, that’s completely understandable – it’s not exactly a bad looking game, so why invest the resources now. Adjustments to the camera angles are present nonetheless, and rage inducing at first, but after a few matches it soon feels normal.

Away from the field though, EA Sports has finally had a makeover. During this generation, the menu system of FIFA, along with its US sporting brothers, has become far too convoluted. The number of modes available to play is fantastic, but trawling through sub-menu after sub-menu is not. In place of those sluggish, linear menus is a brand new set of tiles. Windows 8 being one recent example of a similar UI facelift, this design style is very much in vogue right now.

FIFA 14 makes it work wonderfully well; not only providing a cleaner, uncluttered presentation, but vastly upgraded functionality. As soon as you boot up the game, the last mode you played is the main tile on the first screen. Other intuitive little features include a quick save option in the Career menus and key information (e.g. latest result, in-form teams) on the home screen before you select a mode. Everything is so much snappier, making your experience more streamlined and as a result more enjoyable.

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Audio:
It’s still difficult to fathom just how advanced FIFA’s commentary is. I’m often left scratching my head, baffled and bemused, in awe of what I just heard. When playing with the top teams, it’s sometimes genuinely a struggle to discern the difference between a live broadcast and FIFA. Further enhancing the Sky Sports ambiance – which already saw Martin Tyler and Alan Smith calling the play, who would cut to Geoff Shreeves for touchline reports and Alan McInally for scores of other matches – is the addition of Jeff Stelling to introduce each game.

At one point during a West Brom match, Tyler and Smith remarked about how “there’s been much speculation recently about Anelka possibly ending his career”. These rumours circulated less than a month ago, and yet EA have already squeezed a few lines of commentary about the situation into the game. To me, that is simply incredible. These little details – which occur unbelievably naturally during matches, very rarely shoehorned in – are what makes the audio in FIFA so special.

Furthermore, if the duo are interrupted during one of their conversations due to some important action, they’ll seamlessly return to the subject later in proceedings to finish off the point they were making. Away from the amazing commentary, crowd noise has been improved with real-life chants and songs being instantly recognisable. Menu music meanwhile, is predictably catchy.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Two words arguably make FIFA a must-buy: Ultimate Team. Trialled way back on Champions League 2006-07, the mode has become an absolute behemoth since its first ‘mainstream’ appearance on FIFA 09. Consequently making its way to EA’s other big hitters, NHL and NFL, Ultimate Team remains best at its home. Addictive doesn’t even begin to describe FUT, whose mobile app means you can rarely go a day without tinkering with your team. Chemistry has been refined to exclude formations, with other logical changes also in tow.

EA Sports Football Club, like from FIFA 12 to FIFA 13, carries over your profile and is constantly growing into a fantastic service. Attempting to blur the lines between FIFA and reality are the consistent updates to players and teams, making everyone’s ratings up-to-date depending on real-life form. Challenges and Games of the Week are present again too. These updates each week add such a great new dimension to the experience.

Standard multiplayer (well, if you can call the plethora of modes ‘standard’) is nigh-on identical to previous entries, bar the supplement of co-op seasons. General gameplay is as frustrating and addictive as ever, emotionally closely resembling watching your own team play. Although, those morons online (you know, who do keepy-uppies and rainbow flicks on the halfway line, and watch all the replays of their 2-yard tap-ins) could now get slightly more annoying, with Gangnam Style being one of the new unlockable celebrations. Seriously. Finally, I’d still like to a see a fair system to end laggy games early, by mutually agreeing to a draw. Hopefully next season this can be made a reality.

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Conclusion:
Countless gamers (myself most definitely included) saw September 2013 as the moment the football force would once again shift toward Pro Evo, where FIFA would finally see its string of title victories end. Emphatically, that hasn’t come close to happening. Right now, the quality of the core gameplay (though certainly not the style) is tantalisingly close. FIFA is still the superior overall package. Soccer’s sound and sights are almost as crucial as the actual play, while the public’s view of a player’s talent sways on a weekly basis; EA have these authenticity aspects polished to the nth degree. Added to that is the array of online options, including the outstanding and unrivaled Ultimate Team.

Is FIFA 14 the perfect football sim? No. There remain refinements to be made, which may well be achieved with the power of PS4 and Ignite Engine. While this is a superb game and a must-buy for the vast majority, those who absolutely live and breathe the sport may have their attention somewhat diverted this year. FIFA still doesn’t quite offer the most accurate portrayal of the beautiful game in full flow, it lacks a severe challenge of skill and a sophisticated style based on technique. What it achieves flawlessly, is quality mainstream fun.

I’m so pleased that to round off the PS3’s time in the limelight, we have two fantastic football franchises at very nearly the top of their game. Heading into next-gen, FIFA vs. PES is El Clásico. One epic face-off between two differing ethos, both unbelievably good. When games reach this level, change is often made for the sake of change. It’s not really needed and then arrives at the detriment of the existing gameplay. FIFA 14 however, only makes improvements. EA Vancouver have yet again clinched success, with what is arguably their finest ever glory.

Score:
9.5

 

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Written by Raj Mahil

Game collector. Journalism graduate. Batman addict. Movie goer. WWE nut. Sports obsessive. Arsenal fan. Squawka.com Sub-Editor.

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  • xoiea

    great review, but i was leaning towards PES and their Fox engine first time try and most are saying that the animation and controls seems better there, but I will try the Fifa 14 on Vita i guess, or is it only worth if bought on PS3

    • The Vita version is essentially still a port of FIFA 11 (just with the new kits and players), so it’s impossible to really recommend that at full price.

      If online play is important to you, and having all the real teams, leagues, stadiums etc. then get FIFA. If you’re a more hardcore soccer game fan and want challenging single player and a fresh look, get PES.

      • Jahonius

        During the years of PS2’s reign, we had “PlayStation Rooms” in Korea where people of all ages and gender came in to play PES – (called Winning Eleven in Asia, I believe?). Those were the days when Soccer games and PlayStation were more popular than StarCraft….

        • That’s awesome! Hopefully Winning Eleven/PES on PS4 will become that popular in Asia once again.

  • ChazzH69

    Still can’t decide which to get, I might wait to see which is on offer first? As GTA V is taking my time now anyway.

    Great review by the way.

    • I didn’t know you were into football?!
      Also, if your choice is down to price, PES always drops pretty quickly. Even now, its already £6 cheaper than FIFA on Amazon. I think it’ll be <£20 before xmas, like usual.

      • ChazzH69

        I don’t buy every year but do enjoy a good game of football. 🙂

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