Review: FIFA 15 (PS4)

fifa-15-review-banner-ps4

Title: FIFA 15
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (TBD)
Release Date: September 23, 2014 (US), September 26, 2014 (UK)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $69.99 (Ultimate Team Edition)
ESRB Rating: E
FIFA 15 is also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo 3DS and PC.
The PlayStation 4 disc version (Ultimate Team Edition) was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Here we go again. The annual battle of FIFA vs. PES is back, and bigger than ever. FIFA was the runaway success of the PS3/360 generation, cementing itself (along with Call of Duty) as a must buy annual release, right across the globe. However, there has been unrest over the past year with the franchise possibly on the wane. As Konami steps onto the next-gen field for the first time this November – reinvigorated with amazing aesthetics and gameplay – the pressure is really on EA to retain their title.

Gameplay:
Strangely, the Vancouver-based developers have decided to tinker with some core mechanics in FIFA that were rarely called into question before. Dodgy keepers have forever been associated with its great rival but EA, seemingly seeing flaws in its own title too, has completely revamped the goalies. Looking to the future, this will prove to be the right move. As of right now it makes for a slightly poorer experience as more polish is required.

The men between the sticks are either making miraculous saves or stupid errors, with no middle ground. The potential is certainly promising though – there’s definitely more variety to save animations, with far more nuance evident. Meanwhile, catches are less common, though this means tips over the bar happen so often they feel scripted, purely to demonstrate the new tech.

E

EA hasn’t really touted shooting as a change, but it’s a huge by-product of the new mechanics for ball contact and control. Previously, there were shots from certain angles that you knew were a goal. There were others that you knew were on target for a specific spot with a 50/50 chance of beating the keeper. Now, the ball reacts far more accurately depending on its contact with the boot which is a very welcome alteration. It’s so easy now to screw shots wide with positioning and power being, as in reality, all important. Watching the changing trajectory of a ball mid-air is pretty special too. Due to all of this, goals are well earned and the matches play out more authentically. The only negative is a tendency for the woodwork and stanchion to act as a leather magnet.

Player physics have undergone major surgery too. Collision detection is simply excellent with each contact playing out in a realistic manner. Physical confrontations will impact players in different ways after taking into account all the usual parameters (weight, size, speed, strength etc.) so you’ll often find smaller players rolling several times after being taken out from behind. Tackling now feels more satisfying too with last ditch blocks bringing supreme joy.

General flow of the play is nowhere near as disjointed as the demo, though some animations are still far less smooth than PES. Passing is another portion of the sport in which Konami’s soccer sim holds a clear lead over FIFA. It simply doesn’t quite ‘ping’ as you’d expect in an era of football where possession-based tactics are king. One touch play with Arsenal, Barca or Bayern (elite sides whose players mostly have high passing stats) is fine, but it’s two touch play that suffers. Especially with the weaker teams it’s almost impossible to find a good rhythm of short passing as everybody’s touch is unfathomably heavy.

B

Other enhancements to the on-field action come in the form of new tactical moves. For instance, late on in a game the AI now focuses on keeping possession, even holding it in the corner. The modifiers on the D-pad (which formerly comprised Ultra Defensive-Defensive-Balanced-Attacking-Ultra Attacking) are now not only more evident in play, but also have two further options: Park the Bus and All Out Attack. Most matches inevitably boil down to one versus the other, which ramps up the tension even against the AI. In the final moments of a game, teams will be camped out in the opposing box, but always susceptible to a deadly counter.

Speaking of which, FIFA’s foul calling seems to be somewhat broken. The aforementioned breakaways late-on lead to many 2-on-1 situations as high as the halfway line. If a player is brought down outside the area, the perpetrator will only receive a booking, but they’re of course denying ‘an obvious goal-scoring opportunity’ and thus should receive a red. These are game-changing decisions that need to adapt now that severe counter-attacks are common because the risk-reward balance doesn’t weigh up. Moreover, penalties are awarded at an alarming frequency, especially in Career Mode. Match officials haven’t been much of an issue in the past, making these new tendencies doubly disappointing.

Off the pitch, some useful changes have been made. Team Management is now far better as the developers have finally rid us of the listed line-up. It functions pretty well – the only complaint being a slow cursor speed when manually manoeuvring a position. An ability to save custom teamsheets couples this, which is already saving us around two to three minutes per couch multiplayer match. In Career Mode, the ‘delegate to assistant’ option is much improved as the game will now only replace injured/suspended players rather than messing up your entire squad. Overall, the new gameplay features show that EA does occasionally listen to player feedback. They’ll just implement it amidst a raft of flamboyant and almost superfluous modifications.

D

Visuals:
During the demo for FIFA 15, the majority of PS4 users encountered a major problem with the screen size – it was too zoomed in. I can confirm the issue is still there in the final retail copy. I played the game on a 47-inch TV and a 23-inch gaming monitor, so the problem isn’t isolated to a specific display. If a patch is released that corrects it, I’ll update this review but at the moment this is not good at all. Granted, it doesn’t majorly affect gameplay, but one can clearly tell on all menus and during a match that each edge has been slightly cut off.

All that does is deter from the amazing presentation. Ever a strong point for the franchise, this aspect has taken another step up this year thanks to full licensing for the Premier League. Every graphic during a match is official, every stadium has been recreated wonderfully and more than two hundred players undertook full facial scans. Even the real referees have made it in so you can now blame them for your virtual failings as well as your team’s real ones. The level of authenticity, for any fan of England’s Top 20 sides, is an absolute treat.

However, that’s not to say other leagues from around the world have been skimped on. Thirty-three complete divisions across twenty-six countries makes for an awesome array of licensed playable teams in addition to a whole host of National sides. Furthermore, the most iconic stadiums from across the globe are still present so nobody should feel alienated by the Premier League focus.

C

Elsewhere, players now get involved in ‘handbags’ (pushing, shouting and acting hard, without actually fighting) after key incidents, whilst in replays, shirt pulls are noticeable in an attempt to bring players down. These are both nice touches and replicate the sport well. ‘Living Pitch’ just sounds like an over-hyped tick on the box, but the playing surface has been recreated especially well this year. On top of nets rippling and corner flags bouncing, the turf reacts to different weather conditions.

It’s not all good though. Maybe it’s harsh to say, but in terms of its raw graphical prowess, I found FIFA 15 to be unimpressive. If I hadn’t played the game in five years, I’d say it looks phenomenal, but as an avid fan, this essentially looks like up-ressed PS3 title. Some of the character models (i.e. those outside the pitch) even look last-gen. Furthermore, although many of the top stars’ faces are spot-on, the complexion of the players is often washed out and far too pale. It looks unrealistic in the way FIFA 07 and 08 did, before EA rectified the problem.

I found the camera to be slightly off-putting this year, jolting and somewhat undulating with every touch a player makes. It should be far smoother, like watching real sport. When a goal goes in for the home team, the camera shakes, as it would in the real world with the impact of fans jumping up and down. This works very well indeed when there’s a big goal, but when the sixth goal against relegation fodder hits the back of the net, there’s no need for it. Once again, a useful idea ruined by clumsy implementation. Some replays cannot be skipped which amplifies the need for options on the regularity of them, akin to the NBA 2K series.

Another bugbear is the set of cut-scenes, for instance after a yellow card, as the same ones have been used for years. On some of them the animation will end with the referee putting the card near his chest before it disappears into his pocket. If your engine isn’t capable of doing it properly, why not just end the clip with him showing the card in the air? It sounds like I’m beating on the game, but this is borne mostly out of frustration in comparison to the great strides other sports titles have made. FIFA 15 still looks great overall, but it just seems the developers have become complacent. It could be so much better.

G

Audio:
FIFA’s commentary is fantastic. It has been for some time, and as such the only in-play ‘improvement’ to speak of is the annual addition of extra lines. The duo of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith are better than ever, expertly filling dead air moments with interesting discussions, in a realistic and conversational tone. It sounds completely natural and only NBA 2K can compete with this level of commentary. As we’re off the back of a World Cup, this year’s game features a lot of references to the summer tournament, with chats about specific players’ performances the norm.

One great little enhancement though is the team line-ups being read out before kick-off just as you’d hear on TV. It’s not simply a list of names being churned out either; Tyler will say things like, “X comes back into the side to partner Y at the heart of the defence…Z starts up front in a lone striker role”. Yet another level of depth added to an already massive catalogue of commentary. As always, the music in FIFA is an eclectic mix of tracks that – due to the constant exposure – will soon be stuck in the mind forever.

A

Online/Multiplayer:
Playing FIFA online can be an extremely miserable experience. How often do you dominate a game, give up one counter attack goal, then have to sit through an obnoxious opponent doing stupid celebrations and watching every single replay? It’s horrible, yet we keep coming back for more. A large portion of the online community are the same teenage morons that inhabit the Call of Duty servers unfortunately. However, it’s harsh to ding a game for the type of customer who purchases it.

Instead, I’ll praise the series’ brilliant online ecosystem which has been polished to the nth degree. Ultimate Team – now in its eighth footballing incarnation – grows from strength to strength, continuing to be the pacesetter for not only every other EA Sports title, but for the genre as a whole. New introductions include loan players, concept squads (the ability to try out potential new signings) and friendly seasons, all of which are decent enhancements to an already deep distraction.

No matter how big FUT gets though (and let’s face it, this is a runaway behemoth that many gamers purely buy FIFA for), the servers are a perennial problem. Obviously, I couldn’t judge that before release, but if the dreaded ‘EA Servers are down’ message is finally eradicated, this review will be updated to reflect the change.

It would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the ‘Ultimate Team Edition’ of FIFA 15. This is the version I was sent by EA, and whilst it presents decent value for avid FUT gold pack purchasers (admittedly, I am not one of them), the distribution of the packs seems unfair. If one forgets to claim their two free packs each week, they will not stack – you’ll simply lose the chance to open them – meaning you must log in to FIFA every few days to avoid wasting the money spent.

F

Conclusion:
FIFA 15’s alignment with the Premier League is incredibly apt. The tempo, the unpredictability, and the style of play are all reasons why both are so popular – England’s top division in the real world, EA‘s sim in the virtual.

Many gamers complain about the ridiculous scorelines and outrageous goals, but let’s face it, I’m writing this review on a weekend in which Arsenal scored three goals in three minutes and Leicester City came from 3-1 down to beat Manchester United 5-3. Nothing surprises you these days. This is not the Catenaccio era of the ’90s. FIFA 15 can only be praised for replicating the pattern of play (or indeed, the lack of said pattern) so convincingly.

However, for all the fun of the game, it feels like a missed opportunity. As discussed above, there are plenty of problems (unaddressed from 14 and new) which deter from the experience. In fact, EA decided to sidestep any of the small and easy improvements in favour of unnecessary marquee additions. It’s like FIFA 14 went in for a routine check-up and the hospital decided to transplant its key organs.

There is still great attention to detail plus a range of physics systems and core mechanics most sports titles (with far less variables than a football match) can only envy. I’d say the ‘must-buy’ status is absent for most owners of last November’s PS4 iteration though – I’d recommend waiting for the competing effort instead. Hardcore FIFA fans shouldn’t be put off purchasing what is still an excellent game, but it finally needs to be said: this is a series past its peak. The ‘low’ score below shows how tremendously high that peak was.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

Flag_of_the_United_States.svg

Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg

Flag_of_Canada.svg

 

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook
  • John Davidson

    Really enjoyed the review Raj – I enjoyed last years FIFA but having only played the demos of this years instalments of FIFA and PES (Winning Eleven) I’d be interested to hear which you prefer if you get the full version of PES for review. From the demos I prefered the way PES played.

    • Thanks 🙂 Yeah from the demos, PES has superior gameplay. I’d hold off until November to see how that pans out instead of buying FIFA now.

  • Pingback: Review: FIFA 16 (PS4) | PlayStation Nation()