For a big lad, he's good with his feet
EA Sports' ascent from stylish-but-shallow commercial success story to the best football game on the planet arguably peaked last year with the immense FIFA 13, where a huge range of brilliant game modes coalesced with accessible but deep gameplay to deliver the full package that the studio had been threatening for several years. FIFA 14 isn't that much of a change, but what it does do better is much appreciated.
On the pitch, there is a lot of trademarked talk of Precision Movement, Protect the Ball and Teammate Intelligence, all of which are certainly interesting. The movement sees players shifting weight and angling their bodies realistically, influencing how you move them and the ball, while the ability to shield the ball with the left trigger is useful in various situations and smarter players buzzing around you creates new possibilities as well.
However, the general balance of play feels roughly similar to last year once you get used to these changes. Strength is a more influential characteristic of players across the field, but pace is still a hot ticket, especially on the wings where the ability to change direction more aggressively while sprinting arguably makes it easier to skin full backs. Then when you cross the ball, headed goals flow more easily thanks to the increased strength.
More successful is the range of new shooting options, which allow you to unleash dipping volleys, scooped shots dug out of feet and all sorts of other variations. This is more of a cosmetic change than one that affects your tactics or requires new skills from players, but it's very welcome. Cosmetics is an area where FIFA is very comfortable, clearly.
It's also very good at game modes nowadays. Ultimate Team is the one everyone talks about and the changes here are solid - the removal of fiddly formation cards making space for the more interesting Chemistry Styles, which allow you to boost performance of players in key stats, while the option to search for players by name and compare prices quickly is useful.
Career mode has also been updated with a global scouting network, while Seasons mode can now be played co-operatively and Skill Games have been refreshed. I've played that shooting mini-game more than I've played some things I've spent £40 on this year and it really helps with your finishing. Other disciplines benefit, too, like goalkeeping.
Online play remains extremely solid, whatever mode you undertake, and local games are feverish, like the last five minutes of a tight FA Cup game where nobody wants a replay. FIFA has always has a bit of this harem scarem feel to it, but now that there are also fairly deep and expressive systems at work - like the trick system - it doesn't feel like a diss to say it. It's more of a stylistic choice on the part of the developers and it obviously works for millions of players worldwide who play it day in day out all year round.
This is a game they will continue to enjoy. It's not the most daring sequel in the series' incredibly long history - that honour goes either to FIFA 07, which began the reinvention, or FIFA 11, which introduced the Impact Engine - but it's a decent refinement that keeps things working smoothly. Simulation fans may want to give PES 2014 a look, but if you love FIFA then you won't find anything here to change your mind.
GAME's Verdict: 9/10
- Chemistry Styles are a nice addition to Ultimate Team.
- New shot types add more variety to goal-scoring.
- Animations are more interesting and contextual.
- Extremely similar balance of gameplay after a few hours.
- Most changes are quite conservative.
- Feels like it's waiting for the next generation to hit before going big again.